What It Is
Shorts is yet another romp through the gleefully childish imagination of Robert Rodriguez. Like Spy Kids, it offers up a family that needs to spend more time together—though the members don’t know it yet. Toby (Jimmy Bennett) is feeling lonely and sad, ignored by his workaholic parents (Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann) and older sister Stacey (Kat Dennings). As Toby—nicknamed Toe—tells it, the story is fragmented and out of order, essentially a collection of short chapters, stitched together as he remembers what he’s left out, fast-forwarding or rewinding as he goes.
As Toe’s adventure begins, his mom and dad are under pressure at work, ordered by Mr. Black (James Spader, slickly villainous, with reference to It’s a Wonderful Life’s Mr. Potter) to come up with a new design for the super-duper all-purpose gadget, the Black Box (it’s a cell phone, TV, computer, baby monitor, vacuum cleaner, paper shredder—essentially anything you want, whenever you want, the iPhone on CGIed steroids), which leaves Toe mostly on his own. Embarrassed by his braces and bullied at school by Mr. Black’s completely black-outfitted kids, Helvetica (Jolie Vanier) and Cole (Devon Gearhart), Toe does his best to keep a low profile.
That is, until he finds a magic rainbow-colored wishing rock, which lets whoever has it have whatever he wants. As the rock is passed around Black Falls, various users are more and less precise about what they want: Toe gets “friends,” a crew of tiny aliens who hover about him in teeny flying saucers; three brothers conjure a fortress, an army of crocodiles, and a swooping, child-grabbing pterodactyl; and Stacey accidentally directs her boyfriend to “grow up” (leaving him to turn taller and taller, until he looms over houses and trees). The rock has consequences for adults too, as when Toe’s mom wishes she and her husband might be “closer” and they’re suddenly conjoined at the hip, or local befuddled scientist Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy).
The lesson they all learn, of course, is the importance of families and friends coming together—without hi-tech gadgets, media distraction, or magic rocks.
Why It’s Fun
The channel-surfing organization is both thematically useful and formally inventive. The CGI is basic but colorful, and the fantasies are more entertaining than a barrel of Adam Sandler movies. If the ideas (take care of your siblings, watch out for dinosaurs) sometimes seem obvious or repetitive, the gags are fast and goofy.
Who’s Going To Love It
This is a movie made for kids with a point for parents. The spastic pace and disjointed storytelling may take some getting used to if you’re over six or seven years old. But once you settle in for the ride, Shorts is straight-up kid-oriented rambunctiousness.
What To Be Aware Of
The kid characters’ interests are incessantly kidlike, ranging from an ongoing staring contest between a brother and sister (this jumpstarts the movie, as Chapter Zero), some fart jokes, mild name-calling (”metal-mouth,” “weirdo,” “dumb-butt”), and a lengthy adventure featuring a booger that by silly science becomes a big-mouthed googly monster and wants to eat the boy, Nose Noseworthy (Jake Short), who pulled it out and left it unattended. There are some explosions in a scene that shows how Toe imagines running from the bullies’ rock-throwing as if he’s scampering through a battlefield, and cartoony violence (Toe gets bonked on the head and falls from a tree). None of this exceeds the lunacy of Saturday morning TV fare.
6 out of 10
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jimmy Bennett, Jon Cryer, Kat Dennings, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader, Jolie Vanier
Studio: Warner Bros.
US Premiere: August 21, 2009
UK Premiere: August 21, 2009