This movie plays like a feature-length candy commercial shot on home video.
Rhianwen Benner: THE LOWDOWN
When a rainbow-colored, wish-granting rock mysteriously enters the life of a boy, everyone in town wants to get their paws on it. Told in five short films (hence "Shorts"), the story of the wishing rock feels half-baked and slapped together.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT
Every child dreams about wishing their wildest desires into being. In that sense, "Shorts" is an entirely relatable film for kids, allowing them to live out a wonderful fantasy. Parents telling you to clean your room? Wish it spotless. Ever dream of flying? Say the word. Want an endless supply of candy? You get the idea. The young actors -- particularly Jolie Vanier, the talented young lady who plays bully Helvetica Black -- generally appear to be having the time of their lives, which might encourage your children to be creative.
WHY YOU'LL HATE IT
"Shorts" shamelessly plugs several brands and products, most outrageously when a boy wishes for an endless supply of chocolate bars, and a particular brand sticks around for the whole movie. Elsewhere, there's some not-so-subtle branding placed in prominent, even less subtle, spots. And where are the role models? Nearly every character is self-interested and sarcastic. Siblings treat each other terribly. Children live in constant fear of bullies. Adults are ruthlessly competitive and greedy, some so addicted to their BlackBerrys that they text-message each other while in the same room. Of course, there are last-second attempts at redemption, but after 80 minutes of this behavior, it feels cheap and empty. The film goes for the lazy gag more often than not, preferring to spoon-feed children a diet of tried-and-true potty humor rather than exhibit true creativity and wit. Examples? There are plenty: dinosaurs poop on children, an entire short is dedicated to a booger that transforms into a walking monster, and a major character is called "Loogie." Unfortunately, he lives up to his name.
Strangely enough, not once during the movie did I hear a single person laugh. If you're looking to enjoy this film with your kids, you're out of luck. The pacing can only generously be called frenetic, and otherwise gifted comedic actors (Leslie Mann, James Spader) go to waste. Try as they might to give you a few moments of enjoyment in this cavalcade of flashing colors and loud noises, they feel shoehorned in at best. And last but not least, the language: while there's nary a curse word to be found, the children are aggressive with the insults. Eventually "loser," "freak," and "you suck" give way to barbs like "hillbilly teeth" and "Dr. Dumb Butt." Just like the movie itself, the insults make less sense as they progress.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After the film, I turned to a nearby 9-year-old boy whose father had fallen asleep (wise choice) and asked what he thought of "Shorts." "Disgusting and weird," was his answer. That pretty much sums it up.
|Though technically an adult, Rhianwen Benner voraciously consumes children's media with the passion and wonder of a child. As a researcher at Temple University, she has studied the relationship between media and children's development. She has witnessed many special moms and kids navigate the often complex world of children's entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, she is here to serve as your field guide to what kids watch.|