The Last Mimzy

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PARK CITY -- New Line Cinema honcho Robert Shaye makes a rare appearance in the director's chair (his first since 1990's "Book of Love") bringing the well-regarded short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" to the big screen as the family-friendly fantasy "The Last Mimzy."

In the process the Lewis Padgett piece, first published in a 1943 science-fiction collection, has been turned into a reasonably engaging movie filled with fun visual effects and an appealing tone reminiscent of a certain Spielberg movie about an out-of-his-element extraterrestrial.

While the Shaye picture, which was given an advance preview in conjunction with a New Line 40-year retrospective conversation hosted by Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore, won't be phoning home those "E.T." figures, "Mimzy" packs sufficient whimsy to make it a solid performer when it lands in theaters on March 23.

Despite the spelling change, screenwriters Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost") and Toby Emmerich ("Frequency") are unlikely to offend many purists in their update of the original work, about a box of educational toys that have been sent back from the future to the present. The original title took its cue from a line in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky."

Here, the Mimzy in question is an innocuous-looking, well-traveled toy bunny found among mysterious items in a box that turns up floating behind the Wilder family waterfront vacation home in Seattle.

Opting not to share their discovery with their workaholic dad (Timothy Hutton) and overly cautious mom (Joely Richardson), siblings Noah (Chris O'Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) soon discover that playing with the newfound objects has a profound effect on their intelligence levels.

It's a development that doesn't go unnoticed by Noah's teacher, Mr. White ("The Office's" Rainn Wilson), who detects a higher purpose in the boy's complex geometric doodles that bear an eerie resemblance to the ancient configurations that keep popping up in his dreams.

Emma, meanwhile, has been picking up telepathically on Mimzy's warnings regarding the survival of the inhabitants of the future and has to act fast before special government agent Nathaniel Boardman (Michael Clarke Duncan), who's investigating the source of a citywide blackout, gets to her.

Viewers willing to go along for the ride should be agreeably charmed by the yarn. And whenever developments threaten to push the boundaries of credibility a little too far, Wilson's character reins in the excess with his sardonic line delivery.

But even he can't salvage a jarringly clunky bit of product placement concerning Mimzy's internal make-up that yanks older viewers out of the mythology with little time left to bring them back into the fold.

Fortunately, Shaye ultimately manages to win enough of them over with the help of his inventive visual effects team, his energetic cast and a gently expansive Howard Shore score, assuring "Mimzy" a promising future.

THE LAST MIMZY
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema, Michael Phillips Prods.
Credits:
Director: Robert Shaye
Screenwriters: Bruce Joel Rubin, Toby Emmerich
Based on the short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" by Lewis Padgett
Producer: Michael Phillips
Executive producers: Robert Shaye, Justis Greene, Sara Risher
Director of photography: J. Michael Muro
Production designer: Barry Chusid
Editor: Alan Heim
Costume designer: Karen Matthews
Music: Howard Shore
Visual effects supervisor: Eric Durst
Cast:
Jo Wilder: Joely Richardson
David Wilder: Timothy Hutton
Nathaniel Boardman: Michael Clarke Duncan
Larry White: Rainn Wilson
Naomi: Kathryn Hahn
Noah Wilder: Chris O'Neil
Emma Wilder: Rhiannon Leigh Wryn
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
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