(Author's Note: Calling this post Through the Looking-Glass seemed a little too Narnian. Using a Jefferson Airplane reference was more appropriate.)
Early reviews of The Last Mimzy draw (unfavorable) comparisons to E.T. There are similarities, plotwise, but they never crossed my mind when I saw an advanced screening last weekend. I prefer to think of it as something like Contact or The Fountain, only for kids.
I'm not sure how this family film manages to make metaphysics so accessible, but it does. Noah and Emma Wilder (Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) live with their parents (Joely Richardson and Timothy Hutton) in an impossibly gorgeous island estate near Seattle. By the water they find a box with elaborate, mysterious carvings, as if it came straight out of the best prop department in Hollywood. They open it to find some curious items they regard as toys, including a stuffed white rabbit named Mimzy that talks to Emma in a buzzing undertone.
The children develop unusual skills as a result of their play, and they straddle the line between genius and supernatural. I can't elaborate. There's a subplot in which Noah's genetics teacher (Rainn Wilson) faces the combination of hard science and his own mystical beliefs, and devotes more attention to what these kids seem to know. But not in a creepy way.
It's based on a short story called "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," which takes its title from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" and seems to address Alice in Wonderland. (Emma is surprised to to see an illustration of Alice Liddell holding a Mimzy of her own.) I don't know how much comes from the source material, but the movie presents a nice conflation of ideas. Naturally, they throw in the national security angle (in the form of a government agent played by Michael Clarke Duncan) for contemporary relevance. The ending is a bit too pat, but I give a little latitude to a family movie with such a dazzling premise.
While perhaps marketed as the little film that could, there are some big names from New Line Cinema behind its creation. The movie was co-written by production head Toby Emmerich and directed by Bob Shaye, founder and CEO. (Their combined clout may have persuaded former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters to contribute an original song.) Interestingly, Shaye exec-produced 1988's Hairspray; Emmerich did the same for the 2007 remake.