The film follows the exploits of 11-year-old Alexander as he experiences the most terrible and horrible day of his young life—a day that begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by one calamity after another. But when Alexander tells his upbeat family about the misadventures of his disastrous day, he finds little sympathy and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him. He soon learns that he’s not alone when his mom, dad, brother and sister all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Anyone who says there is no such thing as a bad day just hasn’t had one.
Inspired by Viorst’s sons Alexander, Anthony and Nicholas, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” was published in 1972. With more than 2 million copies in print, it became an ALA Notable Children’s Book and won a George G. Stone Center Recognition of Merit, a Georgia Children’s Book Award and distinction as a Reading Rainbow book.
“The book has a wonderful following,” says Miguel Arteta, who directed the big-screen adaptation. “So many people grew up with it in the ’70s, remember it fondly, and now, as parents, are reading it to their kids. It resonates with people because it makes it okay to admit that sometimes things aren’t going to go your way.”
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is the first live-action film adaptation of the beloved children’s classic. Filmmakers knew Alexander’s day would have to get much worse than the original 32-page picture book. “How do you take a short picture book and make it into a full feature film?” asks producer Lisa Henson. “The idea for the film adaptation was to use the story in the book as the first act of the movie. The second two acts of the film had to be a completely original storyline set during a second day that is even worse than Alexander’s first terrible, horrible, very bad day.”
Enter Rob Lieber, a graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts film program, who had adapted children’s and young adult books like “Septimus Heap” and “Jeremy Cabbage” into feature scripts. “What everybody loves about the book is that it is about a kid who seems to have a dark cloud over him,” says the screenwriter. “He feels like he can do no right and everything’s going wrong. I think most of us have felt the same way some days, so I really identified with Alexander. He was having a bad day and his family couldn’t understand what he was going through. That was the spark for the rest of the film’s story.”
Filmmakers, while keeping the spirit of the book, opened up the bad-day potential to the rest of the family. “We wanted this to be a family movie that parents would enjoy as much as their kids,” says producer Dan Levine. “So each of the other family members—the brother, sister, parents, even the baby—endure their own special disasters for the day.”
“I have four kids myself and we’ve had lots of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days,” adds producer Shawn Levy. “We wanted to make a movie that’s ultimately funny and sweet in the way that a family can unite around a catastrophic 24 hours.”
“There’s a sense of safety when it comes to family,” says Arteta, “though it’s easy to lose track of that sometimes when everyone is wrapped up in their own lives.”
Arteta treats the film’s disasters with his signature independent moviemaking style—infusing a blend of irreverent humor and enough heart to keep viewers invested in the characters’ off-road adventures. “There’s something very madcap, hectic and delicious about day two in the movie when everybody is having a terrible day at the same time,” he says. “Every family can relate to that feeling of chaos.”
Opening across the Philippines on Oct. 15, 2014, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.