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The Odd Life of Timothy Green: entertaining for kids, adoptive families & infertile people?

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.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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19 Responses

  1. Great review Lori. I haven’t thought much about whether I will see it, but reading your thoughts a s analysis are helpful. I had no idea Disney was producing that many movies these days! That is a lot!

  2. Lori, thanks for linking up! I only just learned of the adoption angle this morning, while reading a review of the film on the Boston Globe. Reading more about how adoption has been framed… that’s disheartening and honestly, not surprising.

    I really don’t feel like spending $20 to go see this in theatres – if you’d like to spoil the ending for me (and I have my guesses, now that I’ve read yours and the Globe’s reviews), feel free to on Facebook or email 🙂

  3. Great review— great perspective… one I did not have the eye for … I went in with pure entertainment and fiction in mind but wow… such a great, thought-provoking and insightful review. THANKS!

  4. Yeah, I have to admit that I’m still holding tight to skipping this one. Which is a shame since magical realism is normally right up my alley. But this feels too much like emotional button pushing.

  5. I’m still undecided about this one – not for the emotional button pushing that Mel references, but because I can’t see this being “and they lived happily ever after” story. Maybe someday, when it shows up on the the Disney Channel…

  6. I have to admit, I have no desire to see this movie. While I appreciate that the subject of infertility is addressed (in that the two people can’t have children and want to desperately) in this movie it just feels like a means to an end; it doesn’t sound like the movie is about their story but instead their infertility is just a vehicle for their acceptance of this boy in their lives. I also think the magical ease with which he appears helps solidify the stereotype that couples can “just adopt” like it’s so easy. I think a lot of people really do believe that you can decide to adopt and POOF! A baby arrives at your house the next month. I realize this movie is not about adoption per se, but I feel like it helps promote that idea that infertilty can be resolved just by wanting and then letting go, which is just not true.

    It also manages to make commentary on adoption without having to acknowledge the very real and important other half of the process, the birth parents, who are already looked over in so many conversations about the subject. By having this boy magically appear, it allows people to believe that adopted children also come with “no strings attached”.

    Thanks for the review. I appreciate hearing what a mother who has been through adoption thinks of the movie.

  7. I am with you on the tree thing- I kept thinking about it, and I’m not sure I get it. I mean, there were plenty of trees and leaves in the movie, and I know he had the leaves and I got what was happening when his leaves started turning brown…

    I don’t know. I think it could open discussions about adoption, but everyone involved would need to be ready for that.

    And yeah…a few years ago, I would have walked out an emotional wreck after the first 10 minutes. It reminded me a lot about the opening montage in UP. Disney seems to have a unique knack for blindsiding me….

  8. I’m glad I had a chance to read this review, it sounds to me like some pretty sensitive topics are brought out by the film but . Children aren’t “built to order” & they don’t just appear as if by magic. Infertility & adoption are serious topics, sounds like Disney missed the chance to seriously address these issues.

  9. I have wanted to see this movie since I first saw the trailer. I was still in the trenches and sometimes in a bad place. I understand there are sensitive topics, but who doesn’t like to dream and hope? I know I will cry and some things may hit me hard, but I still want to see it. Maybe some day Disney will do a little more than just touch on things and maybe in a better way, but for now I will take a heartwarming movie and have a good cry too.

  10. I’m so glad I got to read your point of view! It really makes me think of it in a different light. Your review was also very well thought out, great job.
    I remember being younger when production heated up and quickly losing interest in them. I think the last one for me that was a big deal was Aladdin.

  11. Interesting review. I know when I saw the previews I actually thought that I really wanted to see the movie. I love Disney and it looked interesting. Granted I have permanently stepped away from infertility and am in a pretty good place right now. I also am often able to watch something and not take it personally or necessarily see it as a reflection of my life. I will still likely see the movie although it’s doubtful I’ll go to the theater as I almost never do anymore. To easy to wait for it to come out on pay per view.

  12. I read your review and all the comments. I’m really not sure how I feel either. I do agree with much of what Esperanza said. But I also see that the movie might be good for the dreaming and hoping side of life. I can understand that adoption and infertility may not have been presented in the most realistic light but I guess I don’t really expect that from Hollywood. Wouldn’t it be great if someone finally wrote a screenplay that told the story of IF and perhaps adoption as well? I believe someday it will happen.

  13. So, this is what the movie’s about, huh? I couldn’t exactly tell from the trailers, but I had an inkling. I won’t be seeing it because I think the premise is preposterous. Us “desperate infertiles” have to forge our own path, we don’t get 7-year old miracles popping out of the ground. I should maybe mention that a 5 second joke in the “Avengers” movie came close to ruining the entire movie for me. (maybe it was more the laughing moviegoers around me and I didn’t even think it was funny…and believe me, I have the funnybone of a 16 year old boy) I’m currently hypersensitive. Maybe in a few years?

  14. I really enjoyed reading your perspective! These are things I didn’t think about, but now you have me thinking. I can agree with some of what you said, like especially the time/season thing. I felt that seemed a bit off too…and I would have liked to have seen more of relationship with him and the girl. Overall, I enjoyed the movie and took from it different things, such as seeing your child as amazing, supporting your child even if they are so-called “different”, and being proud of who you are (who your child is). I’m thinking this is definitely a movie that different people will see totally different things.

  15. I’ll admit, I was there but haven’t written a review yet. Why? Because I’m unsure how I felt about the movie. It’s strange because I have many of the same issues you have and yet I found it entertaining and cried like a freaking baby at the end. In time, I’m hoping to write up something about it, but not yet.

  16. Interesting point of view, Lori! I’m guessing I probably won’t see it, unless it came out on video. It didn’t really catch my eye to begin with – not sure why.

    I totally used to watch the Sunday night Disney specials – loved those!!

  17. I know I’m way late to this discussion. I reviewed the Odd Life of Timothy Green on my blog a while ago and just now found Lori’s review. Like Lori says, there are some oversimplified and overfanciful aspects of the movie that don’t really do justice to the depth of adoption. The movie does include Cindy’s sister saying insensitive things about Timothy, but Timothy does stick up for him well. I was glad for that. Cindy and Jim try to have Timothy keep secrets; that’s unfortunate, but it mirrors behavior (or at least wishes) of families that I’ve worked with. I appreciate that Timothy finds freedom in releasing the secrecy.

    One thing that I really do like about this film is that Cindy and Jim do actually sit down and do a bit of a grieving ritual for the child that they dreamed of, but didn’t have. Sure, they plant what they write in the ground, and Timothy grows from it. But before the magic happened, it was actually a really good example of a couple joining together to face their infertility, and confront and share their sorrow. It’s not a perfect movie, but there are some good things to take from it.

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