Two children find toys that make them more intelligent and powerful and send them on an adventure in this fine story for 4th-8th graders and their families. After he plays with the toys, Noah (Chris O’Neil) doesn’t need his glasses any more. He can hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods. Instead of struggling in school, he puts together a science fair project that could earn him a Nobel Prize. Noah’s little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) can make the rocks that came with the toys spin. She can create some sort of vortex and stick her hand inside, making its atoms come apart. And one of the toys seems to be a kind of a generator, so powerful that it blows out all the electricity in the city.
These are not the kind of toys you can find at the store. Noah and Emma find them in a box washed up on the shore near their family’s weekend home on the coast of Washington state. And shutting down the electricity in Seattle is not something that goes unnoticed, not in these days of the Patriot Act, where, as Noah’s father is reminded by Nathanial Broadman of Homeland Security (Michael Clarke Duncan), the government no longer needs a warrant to search your house.
Noah and Emma will need all of their new powers and the help of some grown-ups — their parents (Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson) and Noah’s teacher Larry (“The Office’s” Rainn Wilson) and his wife to solve the deeper riddle behind the toys and help save those who sent them.
The very part of the story that is most likely to appeal to children — making the kids the central characters and giving only them the power to save the day — is also its weak point. A great deal rests on its young actors, and Wryrn falters in the big scenes, seeming to be repeating her lines rather than feeling them. The updates to the 1943 short story feel shoehorned in and the scenes of the government coming in to investigate are like an echo of the unforgettably powerful scenes in E.T. But the film wisely does not try to wow the CGI-savvy audience with its special effects, keeping them low-key enough to feel enticingly possible. And its respect for studying science, for taking responsibility for addressing the problems around us, and for family commitment, communication, and loyalty are lessons this toy of a movie teaches very nicely.
Parents should know that this movie has some tense scenes with some mild peril. There is some kissing with a very mild sexual reference and an unmarried couple lives together.
Families who see this movie should talk about the idea of “cultural pollution” and how each of us can take responsibility for protecting our environment and our communities. Why would someone send such an important message in the form of toys?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Edward Eager’s delightful Tales of Magic books. The title of this movie comes from Lewis Carroll’s famous Jabberwocky nonsense poem from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.