"The Last Mimzy" | An X-file for the small set

A very well-meaning film that may nonetheless miss the mark for its target audience, Bob Shaye's "The Last Mimzy" attempts to evoke the warm, otherworldly spirit of Steven Spielberg's "E.T." Based on a 1943 story by Lewis Padgett (actually the writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore), it's the science-fiction tale of a young brother and sister who find a box filled with mysterious objects on the beach. Five-year-old Emma (adorable Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) embraces a stuffed rabbit; its name is Mimzy, she says, and it "teaches me things." Ten-year-old Noah (Chris O'Neal) is fascinated by a seashell and a pile of spinning rocks; from them, he learns principals of science that help him shine in school, where he was previously an indifferent student.

Soon Mom (Joely Richardson) and Dad (Timothy Hutton) begin to notice changes in the children, as does Noah's trippy science teacher (Rainn Wilson) and the Department of Homeland Security. And this is where the movie starts going off the rails a bit, with the grown-ups going on about subjects mostly alien to small children: ancient Buddhist teachings, astrology, polluted DNA, palm-reading. Black-uniformed officials burst into the children's home, in a rather frightening scene, and take the family into custody, and Noah and Emma must drive away in a car that they steal (!) in order to make things right.

All this might work in a movie aimed at older children, but "The Last Mimzy," with a stuffed bunny and a 5-year-old at its center, drew a younger audience at a preview screening last weekend. It's hard to imagine that this film would make any sense for young grade-schoolers or kindergartners; nor would many older kids want to attend a movie seemingly aimed at their little sisters.

Shaye gives the film a message well worth hearing: Today's kids, constantly distracted by electronic devices, don't spend enough time connecting with each other and with their families. But this idea is buried among too many talky scenes with the adults, which overpower some charming scenes with the children. Overall "The Last Mimzy" feels slow and a bit awkward, rather than magical.

One final note for local audiences: "The Last Mimzy," filmed in Vancouver, B.C., is supposedly set in Seattle. But the filmmakers are a tad ham-fisted in proving this to us: The kids attend "Seattle Elementary School," the researchers work at "Seattle Research Facility," someone makes reference to "The Music Experience," and gratuitous shots of the Space Needle keep popping up. It's a funny distraction in an otherwise earnest movie.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Last Mimzy," with Timothy Hutton, Joely Richardson, Rainn Wilson, Michael Clark Duncan, Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, Chris O'Neal. Directed by Bob Shaye, from a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich, based on a short story by Lewis Padgett.

94 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild peril and language. Several theaters.