boy named Timothy Green with his falling sock and leafy leg was intriguing. Ah,
sez I, a tale of a Magical Child, an Elf child, the quirky misfit kid who
somehow changes those around him. Which is pretty much what it is. Sort
Jim and Cindi, a couple who can't have biological children, commiserate their
Awful Fate of not being able to pass on their Highly Unique DNA to someone else.
I am appalled by the 7 billion people overburdening the planet already, so I
find myself shouting at the screen, "Oh just adopt a frickin' puppy already!" To
which Cindi wails, "I don't want a puppy!" (really, she says that). Jim draws
Cindi into a game, a rite of passage, in which they state All the Things Their
Child Would Be If It Had Been, write it on pages of a small notebook, place
those in a box, and bury it in Cindi's garden. Now they can Move On.
The setting here is a sort of generic fairy tale American rural town, rather
like Charlotte's Web was a generic American fairy tale 20th century farm, or
Brave was a generic pan-medieval fairy tale Scotland. All the apple pie and
soccer mom and sunshine through autumn leaf stuff you remember, or wish you had.
And the Dad who doesn't understand you, the sister who's kids are always better
than anyone else's, the tough coach, the school bullies, the snotty boss, and
the other quirky kid who develops a relationship with the Magical Child. The
actors are fine, the kids are excellent (especially the young boy who plays
Timothy), and NotMom Cindi is overdressed, (like, does she even own jeans?!?) as
if she's always on the verge of attending a party in some posh part of New York
rather than living in a rural town in Middle America with garden in back and a
horse across the dirt road.
Jim and Cindi go forth to an adoption agency, and are on the verge of being
rejected because they haven't filled out their paperwork quite fully. They fill
in the gaps with the Timothy tale. Here is where my suspension of disbelief had
a Major Epic Fail.
In fantasy or science fiction, you must have "suspension of disbelief". The
fictional world created, with its sun and moon and trees and familes... and its
Godzillas and Spiderman and Elves... must be believable. In fact, you work
harder, as a fantasy writer, to make the audience believe a guy bitten by a
radioactive spider can now stick to walls and shoot webstuff to catch crooks. Or
that a radioactive dinosaur rises out of the sea and sqashes cabs and busses in
Tokyo. Or that the Elf in the Fellowship really can bring down one of the
Mumakil with a single bow shot.
Sorry Disney; your framing story of Jim and Cindi explaining to Adoption
Agency Corporate Heads how they became better parents because a magical kid
emerged from the garden, with leaves on his legs, and Changed Their Lives is
just plain ^%$#^%#!!! stupid.
If you felt the need to have them tell the story, that is, narrate the film
we are watching so we get more Deep Insights, then have them tell US the
story... or narrate it to an unseen viewer... and in the end, we can see that
they were telling this "fairy tale" to their now adopted daughter.
There is also a bit of Epic Fail in how the magic is presented to other
people in the town, near the end of the story. Ooooooo, look, there are leaves
on his legs. I would have liked to see some more intense effects there: some
viney greeney stuff growing up from his feet, rootyer, Entyer (you surely
remember the Ents from Lord of the Rings?) greener stuff coming up (still
disguisable by the hilarious socks) and turning into a kid. There is one nice
little scene where they try to cut off the very odd leaves, so he'll be a Normal
Kid and the pruning shears suffer a Catastrophic Fail. They could have used that
idea again, in the town meeting scene, where a few people look at the last leaf
stuck on Timothy's leg and ooooo and ahhhh and Believe.
Or maybe he just used some super glue...
The film does have some lovely cinematography; that Fairy Tale America we all
want to believe in, especially in an election year. It also has an Epic Scene in
Timothy's arrival in the teeth of a gale. Kind of like Beowulf, only Timothy
isn't trying to row a Viking longship while also sailing it (impossible) or
standing in the bow in 100 pounds of chainmail (glub, glub). There is thunder
and lightning and rain (which at the end falls up), and the fertile soil
of the garden bulging like a treasure chest. We cut away before the emergence of
Timothy: a child rising from the earth would just be too zombie flick. Here in
the storm, the rain and the fertile soil the film hits deep mythic notes. In all
those ancient tales, the sky gods rain down and make the earth goddess fertile,
and she brings forth riches. In Norse myth, Thor is the storm and Sif his golden
haired earth goddess wife.
Gene Rodenberry (Star Trek's creator) once observed that you a cowboy doesn't
stop to explain how his six-gun works, he just uses it, you see how it works. So
Captain Kirk doesn't explain how his phaser works, he just uses it. We also
don't see how it works that Timothy gets into school and soccer and other bits
of normal life without some sort of history, birth certificate, social security
card and vaccinations. We just see that it works. It's not the point of the tale
anyway, the point is how he changes those around him. And he does, whether it's
turning the school bullies' Attack of the Killer Lunchables into an art
installation (he's the installation), showing the hidden beauty (and chin hairs)
of a prim museum manager, jumping off a diving board and finding he's never
learned to swim (gaining the attention of the other Weird Kid... and kicking her
in the head), or kicking the winning goal ... for the wrong team, he makes
everyone around him rethink their reality.
The avancing autumn, and the turning of Timothy's personal leaves to gold and
red and brown is a lovely little bit of storytelling. He has not come to stay,
but only for awhile, to teach them something. He is a Force of Nature, an
Elemental, something magical and archetypal, something tied to their dreams. And
like all dreams I have had, the reality is not better or worse than the dream,
only slighly sideways of it.
There is a wonderful relationship between the Girl With the Raspberry
Birthmark (Joni) and Timothy. She is older, taller, beautiful like a young Arwen
Undomiel (the Elven princess who Aragorn fell in love with in Lord of the
Rings). Their pure, innocent relationship causes Jim and Cindi no end of
education in the Art of Parenting Preteens and the Discussion of Romance Etc.
The kids create a wonderful sanctuary in the woods, an art installment made of
fallen leaves, lines of them stiched through branches, panes of them hanging and
catching the last autumn light. Leaves are the iconic image of this film: the
red and gold trees framing the country house, the autumn woods that are a
backdrop to the bicycle journey of Joni and Timothy, the leaf pencil that saves
the pencil factory (um, yeah, a pencil factory figures largely in the plot...
seems Stanleyville is the pencil capital of the world).
Timothy's tale, like all good fairy tales, has a point; it shows the parents
doing Dumb Parenting 101, the mistakes they make, well-meaning mistakes, and how
it is resolved, and how they really are pretty good parents after all. He is the
Magical Child, wiser than his apparent years, quirky, odd. He lets them make
their mistakes, he shows them a purer way, and the joy ripples out to the whole
It's a quiet little film. Nothing blows up. No Grand Quests. No huge tears.
Timothy is everything Jim and Cindi have written on their slips of paper and
buried in the Box in the Garden... only different. Like all kids, he manifests
those dreams in his own unique way. He has a fresh viewpoint. He is the sword of
the hero (or maybe the pruning shears), cutting away the outworn, the old, and
replacing it with something new.
At the end, Something new arrives in the form of Jim and Cindi's new child,
adopted, not a bit like Timothy. Possibly none of the things they wrote on those
slips of paper in the box in the garden, or maybe all of them. She's carrying
her own brand of magic.