Shorts (2009)

Film maker Robert Rodriguez is known for making family-friendly flicks as well as violent adults-only movies. His family films are always super family friendly and full of fantasy. Shorts (also known as Shorts: The Adventures of the Wishing Rock and Shorts: A Not-So-Tall Tale) is arguably his most original idea. The film is full of fantasy, adventure, humor, comedy, and life lessons. The film didn’t make a huge impact when originally released and yielded mixed reviews from critics. It’s a shame, but in a way, Shorts seemed destined for obscurity: it’s too awesome for it’s own good.

The film stars a variety of actors, from Jon Cryer, to Leslie Mann, to William H. Macy, to Kat Dennings, to James Spader. Of course, those are the adult actors, when the film really belongs to the kids: Jimmy Bennett, Jolie Vanier, Devon Gearhart, Trevor Gagnon, and Jake Short among other names that may not be familiar. All the actors, young and old, do a fantastic job without being annoying or even exaggerated. If I could name any stand outs, I think I’d name Jolie Vanier (who had apparently never done a film before) as Helvetica Black as excellent and Trevor Gagnon as the hilarious Loogie Short, but that doesn’t seem fair since every actor does an equally great job in their respective roles.

Wait, I haven’t even gotten to the story.

Toby Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) is our narrator and lives in the community known as Black Falls, which manufactures the Black Box, a black box that can do just about anything (I mean this literally). The boss, Mr. Black (James Spader) heads the whole operation and wants this thing in every home. I thought the whole Black Box idea was extremely clever, since in today’s society all we do is play with black boxes that claim to do anything. The film definitely makes a mockery of the suburban subculture many of us endure, poking fun at said black boxes, TV, video games, relationships, school, and so on. It also makes fun of our self-fish attitudes and ignorance  towards certain things, such as what’s really important and what really matters.

Of course, at the center of all these lessons and jokes is the Wishing Rock, a rainbow colored rock that, when held, can grant you any wish imaginable. And I do mean any wish, even if it doesn’t go quite the way you wanted it to. The rock manages to teach many lessons to its users as it passes through a variety of adventures, but not everyone who uses it learns something out of it (Toby’s older sister Stacey played by Kat Dennings is one of these characters). As expected in family movie lore, the adults are the ones who can’t control the rock properly where as the kids know better (or at least some of them do or at least their intentions are good). Also as expected, small quips of “I wish…” often lead to crazy results that lead to hilarity which then also lead to life lessons. This whole movie is wrapped in life lessons that I couldn’t help but nod and agree to.

The style of the movie is what probably stands out most. Due to the narrator being slightly confused and unreliable, the film is not told in order and is instead told in series of shorts (get it?), fast forwards and all. Something that struck me as strange was how the film began — or better said, how it didn’t begin. The movie is divided into five episodes, but before the movie actually starts, we see episode zero, which consists of two siblings (Cambell Westmoreland and Zoe Webb) competing in a never ending blinking contest. Does this ever affect the plot? Does it have anything to do with the plot? (I’ll give you hint: Not really.) Needless to say, the short short known as episode zero gives the audience a good idea of what kind of movie they’re about to watch. The music is also excellent, right from the opening logos establishing a cool but menacing tone that echos those family friendly movies that themselves have a bit of darkness in them. However, the film it self is no where near dark (not if you don’t count the Black family), so the soundtrack ends up merely sounding very awesome as opposed to menacing, which I think was the point. I think the movie being silly and ridiculous was also the point, since the movie has an extremely care free and fun attitude about everything it does, save for those aforementioned life lessons.

What stood out most for me was the movie’s humor. Normally, family films for kids have terribly lame humor that makes me cringe uncontrollably. No, Shorts is extremely witty and clever, but that not only has to do with the script but the actors too. Many times, it’s the actors that make a line great or horrendous, and just as many times, young children screw things up. Rodriguez is lucky that his young actors don’t, if you’ll pardon the phrase, suck at acting. The actors themselves might be what makes the movie as funny and fun as it is.

Other things of note: Did I mention this movie is funny? Well it is. It’s also colorful and fun. I would recommend it greatly to just about anyone. Seriously, anyone could watch this movie and (hopefully) enjoy it in some aspect or other…or they could hate it. Either way, there isn’t anything in Shorts that I find bad enough that I couldn’t recommend it to literally anyone (although, that last episode could have been handled better, but it’s alright). In short (O I’m so clever), while it’s not perfect (one of the many themes the movie mocks), Shorts is an excellent family film that can be enjoyed by anyone for it’s unique presentation, clever humor, comedy, and life lessons that never seem to get old. As an added bonus, there’s social commentary that pokes fun at modern suburbia and its inhabitants. So what’re you waiting for? Give this over looked Rainbow Rock its wish.

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