“I looked through the Looking Glass, Mommy. I looked through it.”
The Scoop: 2007 PG, directed by Robert Shaye and starring Chris O’Neil, Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, Joely Richardson, Timothy Hutton, Rainn Wilson, Kathryn Hahn and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Tagline: The future is trying to tell us something.
Summary Capsule: Two kids lay their hands on a toy box from the future. Lots of stuff happens.
Deneb’s rating: 4.8 blue sluggy-thingies out of five.
Deneb’s review: Movie watching is an all-but-ubiquitous pastime these days, and into just about everyone’s life there will eventually come at least a few movies that could best be described as The Ones That Got Away.
You probably know what I’m talking about. You see them when they first come out, you think ‘that was pretty good’, you recommend them to your friends, and you expect them to achieve the success that they clearly deserve. And then… they don’t.
That’s it, really. I’m not talking about movies that you thought were good, but which flopped hard; I’m talking about ones that do their time in the theaters and then just sort of vanish into rental obscurity. You remember them a bit later, and you wonder ‘just what happened to such-and-such? It was cool’ – and yet apparently only you and a handful of others even remember it.
Such a movie, in case you hadn’t guessed by now, was The Last Mimzy. At least, it was for me.
As the story opens, Noah Wilder (Chris O’Neil) is living a pretty normal life. Oh sure, he’s got a few gripes, but they’re ones a lot of other ten-year-olds can relate to – his sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) gets on his nerves at times, his dad (Timothy Hutton) is a bit of a workaholic who is seldom around, and, oh yeah, he’s spending spring break with his family at the beach instead of hanging out with his friends. Nothing too earthshaking.
Things take a decided turn for the stranger, though, when he and his sister find an odd-looking box half-buried in the sand. Upon opening it, they find that it contains a collection of weird objects, along with a stuffed bunny rabbit that Emma quickly claims as her own.
At first, these things are just really cool toys – each has some sort of strange ability attached to it, such as teleporting things, levitation, and talking to bugs. What’s more, the rabbit’s name is Mimzy, which Emma knows because it talks to her in a curiously adorable purr-growl that only she can hear or understand.
However, it quickly becomes evident that they are changing the children themselves in ways they don’t quite understand. Noah suddenly becomes really smart, and begins to conceptualize some truly amazing scientific notions, while Emma has been paying close attention to that new best friend of hers, and has learned some interesting things (and how to do some interesting things) in the process.
That toy box, you see, is more than it seems. It and its contents aren’t just any random conglomeration of miraculous powers-causing junk; they’ve been sent back to our time from the far future – which, as far futures tend to, kinda sucks. Each of the ‘toys’ is part of a process of vital importance to the world-that-will-be – a process that said world is depending on Noah and Emma to complete.
Up to this point the two have kept their discovery a secret, but assorted bizarre occurrences have a way of drawing attention – not just from their parents, from everybody, including (after one particularly dramatic stunt) the government. Can the kids figure out how to use their new powers and save the world before it’s too late?
OK, before I get into why I personally like the movie, let’s delve a little bit into other people’s reactions to it. From what scant research I did over the course of preparing this review, I learned that some reviewers were not very kind to Last Mimzy – the two main complaints, as I understand it, were, from conservative writers, that the film was ‘promoting liberal propaganda’ or some such, and, from sci-fi enthusiasts, that it was too-loosely adapted from its source material, ‘Mimsy were the Borogoves’, a classic little short story collected in volume one of the venerable anthology series ‘The Science Fiction Hall of Fame’.
To the first allegation, I can only sort of blink and scratch my head and go ‘uh – what?’ Followed by ‘good grief, get a life’. There is not the slightest hint of politics in this movie, save for a brief (and, at the time, topical) mention of the Patriot Act – the only thing that’s ‘liberal’ at all about it is that it’s set in Seattle and invokes Buddhist imagery and culture. But I guess that was just a step too far, ‘cause goodness knows people can’t be allowed to (gasp!) live in Seattle or practice a belief system other than Christianity – feh.
In all seriousness, folks, unless you are a major right wing hard-liner who absolutely refuses to countenance even the hint of other ways of living, there is nothing whatsoever to offend those of any political stripe in Last Mimzy. It has nothing to do with politics. Nothing. Nothing at all. I’m not exactly what you’d call an assiduous student of the Seattle area, but I’ve been there before, and you know what its depiction in this movie invoked in me? ‘Yeah, that’s Seattle, all right’. As for the Buddhism – well, what’s wrong with Buddhism? I don’t get some people.
As for the second complaint, I kinda understand that one. I’ve read ‘Mimsy were the Borogoves’, and yeah, the film does veer off pretty dramatically from the source material. I suppose that’s kind of a shame, but really, ‘Borogoves’ is thirty-odd pages long and mainly concerned with the mental and philosophical differences between adults and children. It’s a good story, but it doesn’t offer a screenwriter all that much to go on except the bare bones of the situation – I don’t think, therefore, that anyone can really blame them for taking the ball and running with it. Would it be cool if someone succeeded in a strictly faithful adaptation of the tale? Absolutely, but Last Mimzy ain’t that movie; it’s its own beast, and you can either accept that or sit in a corner and sulk. Your choice.
Right-o, that’s that dealt with. Moving on. Ignore those people; Last Mimzy is awesome and here’s why.
Main reason? It takes its subject matter seriously. This is essentially a family movie, but it doesn’t dumb things down or assume that its viewers will be mindless idiots; it treats the more… well, not ‘adult’, exactly; that’s a loaded term, but mature aspects of the film exactly as they would be treated in a PG-13 or R-rated picture. Sure, there’s no blood and guts or sex or anything, but Last Mimzy takes a perfectly respectable science-fiction story and plays it straight. No pop-culture references, no comic relief, no fart jokes, none of that – this is a movie aimed at kids, but not pandering to them, and personally, I find that immensely refreshing. I can’t speak for everybody, but I hated the pandering treatment – had this movie come out when I was ten or eleven, I have no doubt that I would have greatly appreciated it if only for the lack of that aspect.
It wouldn’t have been the only thing, though. Last Mimzy doesn’t talk down to kids, or grant them mindless giggle-fodder, but it does give them a story and concept that they can appreciate. I mean, think about it – toys from the future that let you do awesome things and make you smarter? That is plugged straight into just about every kid’s ‘wow, I wish that would happen to me’ socket. Heck, I still wish something like that would happen to me, and I doubt I am the only one. This is sci-fi fantasy-fodder at its best.
Furthermore, it takes a page from a very old book in that, like many classic kids’ stories, it can be boiled down to ‘kids VS authority’. The main thing driving the plot besides the toy box and its contents is the inability of most people to understand or recognize the aforementioned for what they are. While the Wilder siblings are perhaps a little frightened of them, they instinctively grasp their true potential and quickly learn to use them for their intended purpose – the adults, meanwhile, react in ways ranging from incomprehension to outright panic. Hence, Noah and Emma are perfectly justified in keeping their discovery a secret; when it does get out, things quickly snowball in ways that could ultimately become disastrous. The conflict is between childhood innocence and willingness to embrace the unknown, and adult fears of the unusual and unpredicted – and naturally, our sympathy is mainly with the kids’ side of things (although we do get a fair amount of the adult viewpoint, too).
Indeed, it’s this latter willingness to see both sides of the issue that makes Last Mimzy a far more mature film than it might otherwise have been. The best term I can think of to describe it is ‘fair-minded’; there are no bad guys in this movie, just regular folks coming face to face with the irregular. The government agents probably come the closest to filling the role, but they’re not (as Liz Kingsley of ‘And You Call Yourself a Scientist’ memorably puts it) “evil gub’mint sp00ks”; they’re just people with a job who are doing it to the best of their ability during an extraordinary situation that they really don’t understand. The film’s world is mostly populated by people who mean well – clearly fallible, as the future shows, but nonetheless bumbling along as best they can and trying to make the best of things. It is a story full of grey areas, which is probably a pretty good description of life in general.
Now that I’ve brought up the issue of people (and you know, it’s kind of difficult to talk about… well, anything really without bringing up the issue of people), I suppose it’s about time to talk about characters. As this is very much an ensemble cast, I won’t be focusing on the individuals this time around so much as how they interact and relate with each other.
Let’s start with the kids. I must congratulate the casting director on this one, because he or she did a pitch-perfect job. Noah and Emma are not only visually believable as siblings, the two actors have a definite and believable chemistry with each other. They feel like brother and sister, and that’s no small accomplishment.
It’s a little difficult to say which one of the two is the ‘main’ character, since they both carry a fair chunk of the narrative. Still, a fair amount of the story is seen through Noah’s eyes, so we’ll start with him. Noah is a pretty fair example of the classic Average Kid, at least at first – he loves his parents, gets along with/tolerates his little sister, does OK, but not spectacularly, at school, etc. There’s nothing particularly unusual about him, but that’s intentional; it allows him to be our viewpoint character – and we do get a pretty good feel for him as the movie goes on, so it’s not like he’s a blank slate or anything.
His sister, in contrast, is clearly a rather exceptional child from moment one. That’s partly because Rhiannon Leigh Wryn is cute as a li’l button, but mainly because she displays impressive acting talent for a girl her age. Her Emma is clearly a gifted young lady even before she gets hold of Mimzy – she’s interested in science and music, and it’s obvious that she’ll be quite the brainy sort once she gets a bit older. Still, she’s basically just your average little girl, up until the stuffed rabbit from the future enters her life – then, to the movie’s credit, she remains just your average little girl, who now happens to have a stuffed rabbit from the future in her life. Her basic character doesn’t change now that she’s got a time-traveling bunny toy for a best friend; she’s still the same sweet kid that she always was, it’s just that now she has to deal with the knowledge that Mimzy has given her, some of which frightens her or is beyond her comprehension, but all of which she accepts as the truth. She’s an innocent who manages to maintain her innocence in the face of huge and troubling responsibility, and that is both interesting and refreshing.
Next we have the grown-up Wilders, David and Jo. Again, we have good casting to thank here – Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson are both good actors, and they inhabit their parts well. More importantly perhaps, they come across as equally creditable parents as O’Neil and Wryn are creditable siblings. They love their children, and their children love them – simple and uncomplicated, except for the morass of conflicting emotions they’re plunged into when things start getting weird. These two go through an emotional rollercoaster in this film – one moment they’re proud of their kids, the next they’re worried about them, the next they’re freaked out and paranoid – but all backed by very understandable parental concern. These two are good parents, which naturally means that they don’t have a very good time of things in a movie like this.
Finally, we’re down to the supporting cast, which largely consists of Noah’s science teacher Larry White (Rainn Wilson) and his girlfriend Naomi (Kathryn Hahn) – also Michael Clarke Duncan as an FBI agent, but we’ll get to him in a minute. Larry and Naomi are two characters who could very easily have jumped the rails into stereotype territory. Why? Because they’re vaguely hippyish New Age types with Buddhist beliefs, and Hollywood has had a long and storied career of turning such people into ‘peace out, maaaaaaaan’-style what-someone-who-has-never-seen-a-genuine-hippy-or-anything-remotely-resembling-a-genuine-hippy-thinks-a-hippy-is-like hippies. In short, irritating stoners who babble on about crystals and aromatherapy and always have sitar music going in the background. That kind of hippy. (Note to self – never use the word ‘hippy’ that many times in short order again.)
Here’s the thing, though – they’re not that kind of hi- *ahem* that kind of person. They’re not cartoons; they’re perfectly sane, regular folks who happen to be into things like meditation and palmistry and such. The area I live in has a plethora of such people, and I can recognize Larry and Naomi as actual character types that I’ve met before. They’re perhaps a tad exaggerated, but that’s to be expected in a dramatic medium. The point is, they come across as human beings, not stereotypes.
Furthermore, there is actually a very good reason to have them in the story – namely, out of the entire cast they are most equipped to deal with what’s going on. They have an alternative viewpoint to offer that ultimately turns out to be very useful, because things are getting weird here, and a strictly rationalist interpretation of them is not always workable. What’s going on doesn’t actually involve mysticism, per se, but it might as well so far as its effect on things is concerned – as such, while they’re as astonished about it as anyone else, they at least have a working set of standards for what it might be and its possible meaning and effects. They’re not experts, they’re dabblers, but they’re the sort of dabblers who, under such circumstances, it might be handy to have around.
Almost the polar opposite of that is Michael Clarke Duncan’s Agent Nathaniel Broadman (see, I told you we’d get around to him). He is a strict rationalist, at least so far as his job demands him to be, and as such, he’s the absolute last person you want to have around when, as it were, the Mimzy hits the fan. As mentioned earlier, he’s not a bad guy – he’s really a pretty decent fellow – it’s just that he Does Not Understand (capitals very much intended) what is going on, and what the government Does Not Understand, they have a poor track record of dealing with properly. As such, while it would be an overstatement to label either Broadman or those working under him as outright antagonists, they are definitely an impediment to the main characters – and given that said characters ultimately become responsible for the future fate of the world, that is a bad thing to say the least.
As you may have gathered, I really dig The Last Mimzy. It’s the rare sci-fi film that’s soft enough for kids, hard enough for adults, and juuuust right when it comes to the in-between thematic area that ensures you’ll have stuff to talk and think about afterwards. It’s a Goldilocks film, basically. If you want to introduce younger viewers to science fiction that’s more than just bang-boom-zap, or you’re in the mood for a slightly gentler watch that will still hold your interest, I can whole-heartedly recommend it. (If nothing else, it’s got some truly beautiful special effects and design work.) I’m sure there are those out there who will shout ‘lame! Boring!’ and throw their beer cans at the screen, but I have never catered towards that particular audience, so what do I care?
So that’s that. And the next time a movie comes out that looks potentially intriguing, but it’s sandwiched between two others that you know you’ll want to see, and you’re not sure you’ll have the time – well, make time, if you can. Chances are, it’ll need all the support it can get.
- String theorist Brian Greene makes a cameo appearance as a scientist working for Intel.
- Mimzy’s communications with Emma are actually bits of Rhiannon Leigh Wryn’s own dialogue from the movie, sped up and manipulated in various ways.
- This is only the second film Robert Shaye has directed; he is best known as a producer, and the founder and former CEO of New Line Cinema.
- One of the biggest changes made in the adaptation is the nature of the toys; in the original they were a random collection of junk and included such things as a rubber cap, a physics-defying puzzle, and a doll with break-away parts to show internal anatomy.
Larry White: What am I doing here? You’re asking me what am I doing here? I don’t know what I’m doing here – what am I doing here?
Emma: I looked through the Looking Glass, Mommy. I looked through it.
Larry White: That. Is. Weird.
Emma: But I don’t want the world to end – ever. I love the world.
Larry White: Noah, you’re not an amoeba.
Agent Broadman: Am I the only one here who doesn’t have a clue to what’s goin’ on?
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Bridge to Terabithia