Does anyone else remember gathering around the television on Sunday evenings for the Wonderful World of Disney? For decades, Disney issued only 3-6 films a year, so seeing one of its shows was a special event. Production started ramping up in 1994, when Disney premiered 9 new films. In 1997 there were 12 new Disney movies and in 2000 there were 24 (!). Disney has 15 films listed for release in 2012. With such quantity, could it possibly be difficult to maintain quality?
One of the 15 this year is The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which opens today. Mel and Keiko have written why they won’t see it. And were I still in the throes of infertility, having my dysfunctional relationship with Hope (if I hope hard enough I can make this happen! Not this month? Crash. But I’ll come back to you, Hope. I always do.) I would have found the wishful manifesting hard to take.
Synopsis: Jennifer Garner (at risk of becoming typecast as a adoptive mama wannabe — remember Juno?) and Joel Edgerton as Cindy and Jim are given the bleakest possible prognosis about ever having a baby (hit a little too close to home, anyone?). In order to move on, they write down several traits their never-child would surely have had, and stuff the handwritten slips in a box, burying it in their garden, which is then drenched by a hyperlocalized rainstorm. A boy sprouts from that garden that night and proceeds to charm and vex everyone in town, demonstrating his heartwarming traits, each possibly tied to the peculiar presence of leaves budding from his ankles.
Various elements of storytelling just don’t live up to Disney standards:
- Setting (Time): As evidenced by ubiquitous falling leaves, the tale begins in September and ends in the early Fall, before cold weather arrives — not long for a story to arc. We see no other times of year (to my recollection). Cindy speaks of finally finding her parenting groove, but really, the film is stuck on September, so her parenting groove seems quite shallow. And the odd life of our title character seems asynchronous to nature (thought he’s clearly tied to it) because of the non-passage of time, of three missing seasons.
- Symbolism: What, exactly, precipitates and foreshadows events in Timothy’s odd life: water, wind, standing like a tree? The leaves at his ankles, nature in general? The intended symbolism didn’t click for me.
- Character and sub-plot: An intense and mysterious relationship between Timothy and a girl a few years his elder is highlighted (could it be romantic? Cindy and Jim debate which of them should have the Birds & Bees talk with their son). Yet the relationship is never quite developed, and that particular plot line fizzles.
- Adoption: Some lines of dialog played into stereotypes and were insensitive to people living in adoption. Cindy’s overachieving Queen Bee sister-in-law says, “I thought you were trying to have a REAL kid. One of your own.” She adds, with distaste, “You never know what you’re getting.”
The leaves on Timothy’s legs must, for some reason, stay hidden. Even thought Cindy and Jim became parents to a 7 year-old overnight and somehow avoid explaining that, they don’t want people to see these leaves because then there might be questions (huh?). The leaves are a source of secrecy and shame, and late in the movie a bad-guy-type tries to out Timothy by exposing his lower legs in a public forum. Timothy doesn’t mind — he happily shows his fanciful extremities — and the power of the secret is gone.
This is one lesson I did appreciate from the movie because it applies to openness in adoption. Remove shame and secrecy, and people (in this case, the parents) are free to blossom.
I came at this movie with a critical eye. Others who saw a screening at BlogHer12 enjoyed the film immensely, and maybe you would, too. Here’s the trailer to help you decide.