"The Last Mimzy" is science-fiction for kids, which means a couple things. First, I suspect a lot of it will go over some children's heads. Second, since it's a kids' movie, it's OK that the conflicts are resolved easily and that the young protagonists are never in any serious danger. You want a little more thrill in a regular sci-fi flick, but for kids, this one's OK.
Based rather loosely on an old short story by Lewis Padgett (the pen name of husband-and-wife writers Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore), this charming, intelligent adventure is about 10-year-old Noah (Chris O'Neil) and his little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn), Seattle kids who find a strange box on the shore while spending Spring Break on a small island off the Washington coast. The box looks alien in design and contains a few odd toys and a stuffed bunny rabbit that can, apparently, talk to Emma. What's more, the toys look and sound different to the kids from the way they appear to everyone else.
Soon Noah and Emma are exhibiting unusual talents. Noah doodles patterns on the back of his school work that are identical to ancient Tibetan mystical schematics. Emma can communicate telepathically. Noah can control spiders. Emma can levitate. And they know, through the stuffed rabbit (called Mimzy), that someone, somewhere, needs their help with something.
The kids' parents (Joely Richardson and Timothy Hutton) and Noah's science teacher (Rainn Wilson) are eventually involved, as is the FBI: Evidently you can't use the space toy you found at the beach to inadvertently cause a massive power outage without the feds thinking you're a terrorist. Emma remains sublimely childlike through it all, wanting nothing more than to play with Mimzy, and as her big brother, Noah must evolve from nerd into protector.
It's refreshing that the film doesn't take the usual route of having the kids' ideas and abilities doubted by the adults. I always get frustrated watching that kind of movie, knowing that the truth will inevitably come out and wishing the grown-ups would quit being so obtuse. "The Last Mimzy" lets the adults catch on fairly soon, and Emma is so delighted to have magic powers that she doesn't even try to hide them. (Her brother is a bit more circumspect, at least at first. He's old enough to know how adults usually react to strange or magical things.)
Li'l thespians Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn give sweet, unselfconscious performances as Noah and Emma, and the adults do more than just bumble around the fringes, the way grown-ups in kids' movies often do. There are weak spots in the story -- for example, the children's father's workaholism is established and then never addressed -- but it's such a fun story, and there's so much warmth in the characters' relationships with one another, that it hardly matters.
Watching the film a second time, I was struck again by its charm and magic. Children's science-fiction stories are relatively rare on the big screen (fantasy is something else), and children's movies as intelligent as this one are even rarer. The film was hard to sell in theaters, with its odd title and unusual subject matter, but I hope it finds new life on DVD.
There are no alternate language tracks, nor are there any subtitles of any kind, which is a bit odd.
VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is pristine and beautiful, with perfect contrast and sharp colors. No significant edge enhancement is visible, and there are no blemishes anywhere.
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Stereo Surround are your options. The sound mix is perfectly adequate, the digital effects coming through crystal-clear.
EXTRAS: In terms of content, the extras on this DVD are absolutely fantastic. New Line went all out to produce interesting features on every angle of the movie -- the scientific principles in the story, the production design, the composing of the music, everything.
Unfortunately, the extra features are very badly arranged on the disk. We'll get to that later.
First, director Bob Shaye's audio commentary has exactly what a film lover wants: interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes, explanations of how special effects were done, how he guided the actors, which parts were ad-libbed, the whole nine yards. If you love the moviemaking process in general, or this movie specifically, you'll find the commentary highly enjoyable.
(Sample trivia: The teacher from the future seen in the opening and closing scenes is Werner Herzog's wife! Who knew?)
Shaye is a New Line executive by profession; this is only the second film he's ever directed himself. It's interesting, therefore, to hear him talk about the test-screening process. Studios executives love it because it lets them turn the movie into something that will appeal to the maximum number of people, but directors usually hate it because they know "creativity by committee" just waters down their artistic vision. Shaye, being both an exec and a director, exhibits mixed feelings -- and in some cases, the things he says were changed or added due to test screenings actually do improve the film. Other times, he openly scoffs at the silly comments people made and is clearly glad he didn't listen to them.
Be sure to listen to Shaye's commentary on the deleted scenes, too. There are 11 of them, and many of them were cut because test audiences felt they were too suggestive for a PG movie, or because they didn't like to hear the married couple bickering in a kids' movies. You can hear Shaye the studio executive at war with Shaye the director: He doesn't want to cut stuff just because a bunch of prudes didn't like it, but he definitely wants the movie to have widespread appeal, too. Most noteworthy: Rainn Wilson's leopard-print underwear were digitally added because audiences didn't want to see his naked butt in a family movie.
There are six featurettes totaling about 26 minutes that cover the science of the movie, including DNA, sound waves, nanotechnology, and wormholes. University professors, scientists, Buddhist monks, and other experts are brought in to discuss the physics and metaphysics involved. The science is dumbed down just enough to be accessible to the average viewer, but not so much that it's obvious. It's very appealing to the nerd inside all of us.
Then there are six more featurettes, totaling nearly an hour, dealing with the production of the film: adapting the story, casting the actors, creating the visual effects, and so forth. Again, it's solid, substantive material, not just the usual fluff about how the actors loved working with the director and everyone was so amazing and all that.
The film seems to have been an actual labor of love. It was in development for 12 years, and Shaye -- who is not usually a director by trade -- took the project on himself because he loved the story. That spirit of genuine affection for the material comes through in these featurettes.
For kids, there's an "Interactive Challenge," three simple games of memory and spatial perception. They're science-based, so they're probably, you know, educational.
There is a music video for Roger Waters' song "Hello (I Love You)" in which shots of Waters recording the song in a studio are intercut with shots from the movie.
Finally, there are apparently some DVD-ROM features that do not work on Macintoshes (even though, amusingly, a Macintosh computer is clearly visible in one of the still shots from the movie used for illustration purposes on the part of the DVD that talks about the DVD-ROM features). Since I'm a Mac guy, I'll have to take the DVD's word for it that there are, in fact, DVD-ROM features that the PC-using majority can access.
Now, back to the organization. The arrangement of all these marvelous extras is absurdly complicated. Rather than just calling them "special features" or "extras," New Line calls the whole thing "Infinifilm." If you watch the "Infinfilm" version of the movie, you'll get occasional (optional) prompts to watch brief extra elements -- a small deleted scene that would have gone here, for example, or a little interview with one of the actors about this scene. All of these elements are simply chunks from the featurettes I already mentioned -- that is to say, if you watch all the featurettes and deleted scenes, you don't need to turn on the "Infinifilm" option on the movie.
There's also what they call a "Fact Track," which, when activated, causes factoids to pop up occasionally while you're watching the movie. They're not usually facts about the film itself, but about elements in the film. For example, Emma picks up the stuffed rabbit; we see a factoid about the number of rabbit breeds in the United States. That kind of thing.
If you turn on the Fact Track, it also turns on the "Infinifilm" thing. You're not obligated to actually watch any of the extra elements, but the prompts do still show up.
There is no convenient way to listen to the director's commentary AND have the Fact Track on. You have to turn on the Fact Track, start the movie, then press your "audio" button to get to the commentary. But if you ever follow one of the onscreen prompts to watch a supplemental element, the commentary will be off again when you come back to the movie, and you'll have to use your "audio" button to find it again.
The point of all this is to make the DVD seem more special than it is. It's not just a movie with some extras; it's an "Infinifilm"! But they're overselling it. The extras really are very good, and New Line doesn't need these gimmicks to sell them -- especially not when the gimmicks make the DVD more complicated to navigate.
If you and your kids missed it in theaters, you should definitely give it a shot now that it's on DVD. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. And the DVD treatment, awkward navigation aside, is stellar.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched it in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)