One of the biggest problems that I tend to have with children's movies is that they don't respect their audience. Kid's films tend to talk down to children in an attempt to talk at their level; the problem is that they usually miss and assume that kids are stupid. “Shorts” seems to pretty evenly hit that 10-12 year old groups that it is aiming for without talking down, and that's largely because it seems like it was written by an actual 10-12 year old instead of Robert Rodriguez.
When you first arrive in Black Falls, home of Black Inc, maker of the iPhone killer the Black Box. You're going to recognize a lot of the town's residents including Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Leslie Mann (17 Again), William H. Macy (Fargo), Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), and James Spader (Boston Legal) all play prominent roles, but it is really the kids the film focuses on.
The main focus of the movie is Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett: “Star Trek”), who serves as the narrator for the disjointed series of vignettes that tell the story of the wishing stone and the effect it had on his hometown. Toby is a bit of a loser; he plays cards with imaginary friends, and regularly gets bullied by the children of his parents' boss, Carbon Black (Spader). It is this torment by Cole Black (Devon Gearhart) and Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier) however that leads him to discover the stone that grants any wish, even if they are wrong.
“Shorts” is easily the best film I've seen this year that features a giant booger monster. The film masterfully weaves together a series of connected stories (although not in chronological order) to lead to a climax featuring a fifty foot tall man, a mecha, an army of alligators, a giant wasp and dung beetle, a fleet of little green men, and two kids having a staring contest.
It's hard and somewhat pointless to look at a movie like this critically. As I have already said, it feels like it was written by a 10 year old, and features a lot of gross out humour, silly jokes and puns, and people falling off of/running into things. There were however a couple of things that bothered me.
First off, and I acknowledge that this is kind of dumb on my part, there is a scene in with Loogie (Trevor Gagnon: “The New Adventures of Old Christine”) and his brothers “playing” “Fable 2”. I have a number of problems with this scene, all petty; 1. They are not using XBOX 360 controllers to play it, 2. They are playing it on four screens that are basically just showing random clips from the game, and 3. It is an M rated title, and none of these kids appears to even actually be teenagers. This has no bearing on the movie, it just bugs me as a gamer.
The other problem I have is with the story's moral. This movie in no way attempts to handle it's moral with any sort of subtlety, but instead out and out bashes you over the head by plainly stating a couple of times how all of our advanced communications technology (cellphones, texting, etc) actually leaves us more disconnected than we would be otherwise. This moral could have been left unstated, and the movie would have been that much better for it since it only really relates to two of the shorts anyway.
Other than those things, “Shorts” is a fun movie whose out-of-order manner of story telling sets up some funny jokes. There is more than enough gross humour, slapstick, and action here to keep all but the most ADD riddled kid entertained for the film's 89 minute duration; plus Helvetica's theme song is just a little bit of awesome.
“Shorts” is rated PG, so unless you really object to booger jokes and mild violence there is not likely to be anything in this film that is objectionable. If you are looking for something to take the kids to that is neither a sequel nor an hour and a half long toy advertisement, you could do a lot worse than this. “Shorts” wishes its way into theaters on Friday, August 21st.
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