Review: Shorts All Amped Up on FX and Booger Jokes—With a Message!

Director Robert Rodriguez hams it up, visually, with a high-energy kids flick about a magic wishing rock

By Matt Stevens Aug 20, 2009 6:00 PMTags
ShortsWarner Bros. Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Be careful what you wish for, kids! That's the moral of this gleefully goofy flick about a rainbow rock that grants wishes and unleashes CGI craziness. It's like a live-action cartoon all amped up on sugar—but in a fun way, not an aneurysm-inducing Speed Racer way.

The Bigger Picture: For his return to family fare, writer-director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids) draws inspiration from The Little Rascals—archetypal kids having neighborhood adventures, as told through a series of episodes. Or shorts.

Now imagine Our Gang uploaded into a digital world, since Rodriguez tends to overload his not-so-tall tales with slapsticky special effects. Still, who could resist shenanigans with tiny aliens, upright crocodiles and a giant booger monster?

Eleven-year-old Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), the narrator of these interlocking stories, lives in the white-picket-fence community of Black Falls. He's terrorized daily by bullies at school, especially arch nemesis—so future crush—Helvetica Black (promising newcomer and Wednesday Addams look-alike Jolie Vanier). Toe's harried parents, like everyone else's in town, work for Black Box Industries, makers of the ultimate do-it-all gadget phone and run by Hel's megalomaniac dad, Mr. Black (James Spader). Things here are just that, well, black and white.

Then a multicolored wishing rock falls from the sky. Discovering its awesome power, Toe and other kids produce a huge castle with a moat, a jet bike, pterodactyls and other cool stuff. Havoc ensues—even more so once adults get their hands on it, namely Mr. Black, who craves absolute power, natch.

Rodriguez knows how to captivate kid audiences who barely have the attention spans for a Skittles commercial. As eager a storyteller as his geeky protagonist, he revels in all the silliness and plays up his hypervisual style, often rewinding and fast-forwarding the action, but always taking us along for the wild ride.

He suffers a lack of imagination only during the final showdown, an excessively busy free-for-all that features, yes, another Transformers-like creature—the second recent family film to do so. (See also: G-Force. Or rather, don't.)

The 180—a Second Opinion: Apparently, you can't have children's programming without annoying ads. Shorts, too, resorts to blatant product placement, for Reese's candy bars and Ikea, among others.


Also out this week: Inglourious Basterds.