Movie Review: The Last Mimzy
FILM REVIEW: THE LAST MIMZY
By Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"The Last Mimzy"
How could the moviemakers who adapted Lewis Padgett's "Mimsy Were the Borogroves," one of the undisputed classics of 1940s "Golden Age" science fiction, come up with a new title for the movie version like "The Last Mimzy" - a change that not only sounds weird and off-putting but gives little idea of the magic and wonder they're trying to convey?
The original "Mimsy" was a novelette about a set of toys from the future that fall into the hands of some contemporary children and drastically alters their perspective on the world. It was a boyhood favorite of mine - as it apparently was for both director Bob Shaye and producer Michael Phillips ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") here. But this movie, which tries to cross-breed the tale with "E.T." and other modern movie fantasies, botches a grand opportunity to update it for the post-Spielberg era. Kids may like it, I imagine, maybe for no better reason than it puts them center stage. Yet it doesn't use the material imaginatively - despite a lot of attention paid to gadgets, crystals, mandalas and futuristic visions.
"Padgett" was the joint pseudonym of the top-of-the-charts husband-and-wife sci-fi writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. (Kuttner was assigned sole credit for the story in the recent Del Rey paperback reprint.) And "Mimsy" centers on a set of toys that come from the future accidentally during a time-machine experiment. Two sets of futuristic playthings go out and one falls into the hands of little Alice Liddell and author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a. "Lewis Carroll"), who uses them in his "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" stories and poems - including "Jabberwocky," the narrative poem that's the source of "Mimsy." The other goes to some modern children, who begin playing with them, learning from them and ultimately become alienated from their own parents and world - our world.
"The Last Mimzy" keeps that broad outline, but, in the movie, the toys are no accident. They're part of a desperate effort by people from the future to rescue their messed-up world, blighted by global warming, pollution and other catastrophes wrought by humankind. Mimzy is a stuffed rabbit that is being primed to gather information and return it to the future. And the children here, Seattle youngsters Noah Wilder (Chris O'Neil) and his sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) not only befuddle their parents (Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson as bright, well-meaning David and Jo Wilder) with their new knowledge, but fascinate their science teacher, Larry White (played with vim by Rainn Wilson of "The Office"). They also accidentally trigger a statewide blackout and bring down a Patriot Act arrest of the family by a beefy giant of an agent named Nathanial Boardman (Michael Clarke Duncan).
The original "Mimsy" was a fantasy about the generation gap; at the end, the children simply vanished into thin air, leaving their dad horror-stricken. Here the screenwriters, Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost") and Toby Emmerich have festooned the tale with modern political parallels and pop mythic touches including an upbeat song by the film's composer, Howard Shore, and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters called "Hello (I Love You)." (It bears no resemblance to The Doors ballad). Our glimpses of the future show us the world after it's been rescued, a `60s fantasy of sunny fields, beaming tots and a landscape that Al Gore would love.
So the sense of horror and the unknown that "Padgett" created are largely absent. And the movie also doesn't supply us with a villain or antagonist - not even Boardman for part of the way - to work up some dramatic conflict. Nor are the toys themselves very interesting. They're garden variety effects stuff and Mimzy is a floppy toy bunny of no distinction.
Shaye, the founder of New Line Pictures and one of the most successful and often imaginative moguls of our era, does an adequate but uninspired job of direction, but given the script, you can't blame him. (Then again, he is the New Line boss.) The children themselves and the sometimes childlike Wilson and Kathryn Hahn, as Larry's girlfriend Naomi, give the most engaging performances. But "The Last Mimzy" ends up as a picture worthy of its dorky-sounding title. It's a mimzy of a movie.
"The Last Mimzy"
Directed by Bob Shaye; screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich, based on the short story "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" by Lewis Padgett; photographed by J. Michael Muro; edited by Alan Heim; music by Howard Shore; production design by Barry Chusid; produced by Michael Phillips. A New Line Cinema release. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: PG (some thematic elements, mild peril and language).
Noah Wilder - Chris O'Neil
Emma Wilder - Rhiannon Leigh Wryn
Jo Wilder- Joely Richardson
David Wilder - Timothy Hutton
Larry White - Rainn Wilson
Nathanial Boardman - Michael Clarke Duncan