Little Miss Dolittle
Itís hard to predict how kids will react upon visiting Nimís Island, the latest family flick from the specialty division Fox Walden. This adult -- burdened with being a parent and a professional movie critic (who tries not to be jaded and dismissive) -- found one vital piece of the tale to be ridiculous and the entirety to be only marginally successful.
Based on the book by Wendy Orr, itís a grinder about a tyke (Little MissSunshineís Abigail Breslin) and her marine-biologist father (Gerard Butler) who live on an idyllic plot in the South Pacific and are visited by a phobic authoress (Jodie Foster). But a girlís own adventure celebrating self-reliance and displaying a modicum of imagination is rare enough that careful handling is required.
Adults shouldnít worry about children being marooned at the multiplex since suitable platitudes about self-actualization fly -- ďBe the hero of your own life story -- along with lizards and a trusty pelican that sounds like a parrot. (So do the lizards, come to think of it.) Plenty happens to limit unnecessary trips to the concession stand or toilets, though the best time to duck out is during one of Fosterís embarrassing stabs at physical comedy.
The animals will probably be what captures the attention of younger viewers, especially during the segment in which a flatulent sea lion tries to ward off corpulent Australian tourists. Itís a kidís movie, so there must be gas.
Except for mourning her scientist mother who perished at sea, Nim and her father enjoy a carefree existence on their private tropical enclave. To make the parallels with Robinson Crusoe more obvious, their surname is Rusoe. Dad collects plankton for his research while Nim converses with a menagerie of local fauna and eagerly awaits the latest installment in a series of adventure books featuring an Indiana Jones-like hero named Alex Rover.
The author is Alexandra Rover and strapping Alex (also portrayed by Butler) is her fictional alter ego. Alexandra is extremely neurotic and finds it difficult to function in a world she dreads pathologically; living vicariously through her creation is a necessary outlet and, itís implied, an admirable artistic feat.
Up against a deadline and severely blocked, she contacts the Rusoeís via email to get some background research for her latest story, which involves a volcano much like the one on their island. This coincides with a mini tsunami that lands Nim and her dad in a spot of trouble. Nim, posing as her fatherís assistant, communicates with Alexandra in cyberspace until eventually the author realizes somethingís amiss and Nim issues an S.O.S.
Urged on by Alex, Alexandra packs her bottles of hand sanitizer and cans of soup (the only thing she eats) and boards a jet. Itís the first time the agoraphobic has stepped foot outside her San Francisco home in sixteen weeks. Guess what? Sheís not coming back.
As far as the narrative goes, Nimís Island has a relatively sophisticated meta- quality. There are multiple stories embedded within the story; itís a pint-sized version of Stranger than Fiction meets Doctor Dolittle. In addition, the character of Alexandra raises a mature theme: How we are to distinguish between sanity and creativity, between illness and wishful thinking, using oneís imagination and simply being crazy?
Itís nice to see Breslin looking relatively healthy and suntanned, while Foster and Butler are clearly seeking to atone for their recent, brutally adult roles in the vigilante drama The Brave One and the epic 300 respectively.
I predict that even the most innocent child will see through Fosterís stilted mugging -- itís no wonder sheís avoided comedy during her magnificent career. Yet asking kids to believe that instant romance will blossom when Alexandra and Mr. Rusoe meet is the biggest whopper in Nimís Island.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG" for mild adventure action and brief language.)