Note to Bruce Willis: make sure all your future movies have kids in them. Willis has great talent as an actor and enough charm to keep him on the A-list despite a few clunkers, but he is simply the best there is when he plays opposite a child actor, as he did last year in “The Sixth Sense” and as he does here in “Disney’s The Kid.”
Most actors are afraid of appearing with kids. There’s a reason for the legendary advice to stay away from kids and animals on stage, because they will draw all the attention away from even the most accomplished adult performer. Some actors who appear with kids can’t resist showing off or trying to out-adorable them (think of Bill Cosby). But Willis treats his kid co-stars as though they are the only two people in the world. He is not afraid to let the child actors get the attention. The result is two terrific performances at the heart of a surprisingly funny and endearing movie.
Willis plays Russ Duritz, an “image consultant” who spends his time (1) helping miserable (but rich and powerful) people get out of public relations disasters, (2) making the lives of everyone who knows him as miserable as possible, and (3) being miserable himself. At least he would be miserable if he ever allowed himself to think about it, which he doesn’t.
Duritz is doing his best to hide from his hurt and loneliness by working all the time, being thoughtless and insensitive to everyone he meets, and putting a lot of energy into forgetting his feelings, even forgetting that he ever had feelings.
But one of the insights of this movie that is well worth discussing with kids is that feelings will not let you forget them. If you don’t look at them directly, they will come and find you. In this case, that happens literally. Duritz is buzzed by a bright red airplane, a full-sized replica of his favorite childhood toy, and then he receives a visit from a pudgy, unhappy little kid named Rusty (Spencer Breslin) who turns out to be none other than Duritz himself, circa 1968.
At first, Duritz is embarrassed by his younger self. He says, “I look at him and all I see is awful memories — memories I’ve been spending most of my life trying to forget.” He decides that Rusty can’t go back until he helps him. But he learns that Rusty is there to help him, too. Duritz has spent his entire professional life making over other people, with his first subject himself. But he needs to remember who he really is inside that image. Why does he have a problem with dry eyes? Why does he get so angry when people cry? What is it about his past that “doesn’t want to stay in the past?”
This is a Disney movie, and it has an old-fashioned Disney ending. Only the hardest hearts will refuse to be warmed. It is also very funny and genuinely insightful.
Families who see this movie should talk about the importance of understanding your past. Kids who see the movie will want to know whether their parents are neglecting their childhood dreams, and they may want to talk about what they can do now to stay in touch with what is important to them and to feel happy with themselves when they grow up. They should discuss what makes people mean. As this movie shows, it is often because they are insecure and in pain. Some kids who have experienced or observed bullies at school may want to talk about why kids behave that way and how to respond to them. Older kids may also want to talk about the difference between “spin” and accountability and the way that image consultants change the way that people feel about celebrities.
Parents should know that there is some rude and PG-rated language, a school-yard scuffle, a sad off-screen death, and a parent-child confrontation that may be upsetting.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy an old Disney classic, “The Shaggy Dog.”