In its 75-year history, Disney has rarely swayed from its formula: make good movies for kids, but make sure the movies have some depth. Laugh a little, cry a little, maybe get scared a little, but always leave the theater smiling a little.
We all know what happened to Bambi’s mother and Old Yeller, and even the Fox and the Hound eventually understood that they couldn’t be friends forever. But Bambi did just fine for himself, Travis adopted Young Yeller, and we’re all pretty sure that Tod and Copper sometimes snuck off together in the woods to remember the good ol’ days.
Maybe there should have been a ‘Spoiler Alert’ somewhere in there… but parents should be well aware that The Odd Life of Timothy Green is not a lighthearted, tied-up-with-a-bow bit of unadulterated happiness. They should also expect a fair amount of post-show discussion with their kids about adoption, infertility, and Timothy’s ‘departure’ at the end.
Timothy Green is told in flashback, as Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) Green are meeting with an adoption agency. On their application they answer the question about prior experience only with the word “Timothy”. When their caseworker questions it, they launch into their tale. (So, yes, right off the bat we understand that something must have happened to the lad.)
The childless couple lives in the ‘pretty how town’ of Stanleyville, apparently just up the road from Lake Wobegone. Everyone knows everyone, and (bonus!) it’s the self-proclaimed Pencil Capital of the World.
Times are tough at the factory where Jim works, but they’re even tougher at home, where years of trying to have a child have proved fruitless. One night Jim and Cindy decide to say goodbye to their dream, by dreaming of the child that might have been. They make a list of qualities their kid would have had (he would ‘rock’, he would love and be loved, etc.), and then bury it in the backyard.
As with most mystical happenings, the winds blow, and the picket fence creaks on its hinges. POOF! A ten-year-old mud-boy appears, and the Greens finally have a real, live child. Sure, he has unsnippable leaves growing on his ankles, but otherwise, he’s all they ever wanted.
After brushing off his sudden appearance with a hearty ‘It was all so sudden!’ to friends and family, Jim and Cindy go about being the best (but not too good) parents they can be. Timothy (CJ Adams), meanwhile, is like a junior Forrest Gump. He’s doe-eyed and innocent, tells it like it is, and slowly starts opening the eyes of the one-dimensional townsfolk.
Garner and Edgerton both bring a fun quirkiness to their roles, and Adams is a real find, but unfortunately, that’s where it ends. The rest of the top-shelf cast is either wasted (Dianne Wiest, M. Emmet Walsh) or saddled with a buffoonish role (former Standoff co-stars Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt).
Director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life), who wrote the script from a story by Ahmet Zappa (son of Frank), lays it on pretty thick throughout; it’s a saccharine-fueled field day. Everywhere you turn, there’s a sun-dappled meadow, a too-cute parental moment, or the kid who can charm the socks off an Eskimo.
But, alas, Timothy’s beautiful life can’t go on forever (it wouldn’t be Disney if that happened). Before he ‘leaves’, though, he successfully touches the lives of everyone around him. Glass-half-fulls will see it all as sweet and cute, while glass-half-empties will see only sappy and cloying.
It may have the Disney name on it, but Timothy Green ends up feeling more like an Afterschool Special than something Walt would have been particularly proud of.