The jury is out on whether "The Last Mimzy" will be commercially viable, but similarities to such 1980s family-aimed fantasy films as "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," "D.A.R.Y.L." and "Explorers" give it a welcome sentimentality toward the days when movies of this ilk weren't solely about toilet humor, selling soundtrack albums, and being hip for hip's sake. Based on the short story, "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," by Lewis Padgett, this filmed adaptation is perhaps a little too tame and plodding to wholly satisfy my adult instincts, and yet I can imagine myself loving it had it been released when I was a child. "The Last Mimzy" doesn't talk down to younger audiences and, instead, actually presents them with a relatively challenging premise involving science, mysticism and time travel.
When two Seattle-based siblings, 10-year-old Noah (Chris O'Neil) and 6-year-old Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn), happen upon a mysterious box floating near the ocean shore, they make a vow to keep their findings secret from parents Jo (Joely Richardson) and David (Timothy Hutton). Containing strange objects that they treat as toys and a stuffed rabbit named Mimzy that somehow speaks to Emma, the box seems to have come from a distant world where the atmosphere is in collapse and the population is dying off. The longer Noah and Emma are in contact with the box's items, the stronger their adopted powers of telepathy and telekinesis grow and the vaster their intelligence levels become. As Jo and David search for answers and Homeland Security officials led by Nathaniel Boardman (Michael Clarke Duncan) try to track down the source of a city-wide power outage, Noah and Emma move closer to fulfilling the destiny of Mimzy.
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin (2002's "Stuart Little 2
") and Toby Emmerich (2000's "Frequency") and directed by New Line Cinema founder and CEO Robert Shaye (it is his first film at the helm since 1990's "Book of Love"), "The Last Mimzy" is one-part bizarre, one-part cheesy, and one-part thoroughly whimsical. The bizarre side deals with the fantastical story itself, which takes its time in revealing to the audience what is going on and comes off at certain points like a kid flick in the style of David Lynch. Some viewers will be mesmerized, while others will lose patience quickly in a movie that is leisurely paced and not easily summed up in one sentence. The cheesiness, while not overbearing, is present in its more preposterous flights of fancy, as well as in the rooting drama involving the survival of Mimzy. This is a stuffed animal we're talking aboutan inanimate object who mumbles in a language only Emma can understandand isn't exactly as endearing as a friendly alien named E.T. who wants to go home.
Once unveiled, the central conflict that Emma and Noah face is less intriguing and more predictable than it would seem during the sketchy first actthe outcome is a given after the pieces are all collectedbut "The Last Mimzy" is resourceful, imaginative and sincere. A particularly clever running theme is in its connections to "Alice in Wonderland," from the appearance of Mimzy in an 1860 photo of the real-life Alice, to the reference of "Mimsy" in the "Jabberwocky" poem from "Alice Through the Looking Glass." On another note, the back-and-forth sibling banter between Noah and Emma is natural and authentic to the way brothers and sisters of their age communicate to each other; these are smart kids, certainly, but they aren't written as weathered and overly sophisticated middle-agers stuck in the bodies of children.
Newcomers Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn carry the film as Noah and Emma, a tall order for young actors with little to no experience. Able to believably convey the wonders of childhood and the ability to open their minds to the extraordinary circumstances they face, O'Neil and Wryn may not be seasoned vets, but they fill their roles quite well. As their worried parents, Joely Richardson (2000's "The Patriot
") and Timothy Hutton (2006's "Last Holiday
") don't have a lot to do besides react to their onscreen children's increasingly curious behavior. Making strong impressions are Rainn Wilson (2006's "My Super Ex-Girlfriend
") and especially Kathryn Hahn (2006's "The Holiday
"), injecting quirky humor and energy to their parts as Larry White, Noah's science teacher, and his New Age-studying girlfriend Naomi.
With the core mystery dissipated but the stakes raised, "The Last Mimzy" improves as it edges into its taut climax. The Homeland Security inquest subplot is abruptly dropped in too easy a fashion, but otherwise the movie makes good on conjoining all of its story threads and sending the audience out on a magical note that is just right. Additionally, the wonderful original song, "Hello (I Love You)," written and performed by Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters and featured during the closing credits, beautifully compliments the film. "The Last Mimzy" is a tad unorthodox in today's times of fast and furious entertainment for kids, but those who take a chance on it will be pleasantly satiated by the low-key pleasures it has to offer.