By Lindsey Bahr
Updated October 10, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT
Dale Robinette

This may not be the simply told tale you remember from all those childhood bedtime readings, but in expanding and modernizing Judith Viorst’s 1972 classic, Disney and director Miguel Arteta have fashioned a sweet, wholesome story about an awkward 11-year-old who endures a rotten 24 hours. Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner anchor the swiftly plotted movie as the (mostly) calm-under-pressure parents of Alexander (newcomer Ed Oxenbould). The grown-ups are just trying to temper the storms that hit their six-person clan, which also includes a baby, a too-cool teen (Dylan Minnette), and an eager theater kid (Kerris Dorsey, excellent). Whether it’s a diaperless tot succumbing to nature’s will, a bratty girlfriend, a disastrous driver’s test, or a calamitous job interview, each extreme situation is handled with deft slapstick timing and surprisingly relatable humanity. Alexander is pleasantly devoid of the vulgarity and too-current pop culture references that are the default mode for many contemporary live-action kids’ pics, and its earnest celebration of family gives the movie a comforting throwback vibe. Like the source material, this is one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that families just might find themselves revisiting often. B