Despite a good concept, sometimes a studio releases a film that isn’t quite ready to be seen. Such is the case with Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green. While the plot is both ingenious and original the final copy needs some polishing.
A good portion of this is due to the narration. The film is told through the eyes of Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), a small town couple desperately hoping to have a child. Rather than keep the element of surprise, the tale is told after the fact to a representative from adoption services. It is through this story that they are hoping to convince her to let them adopt a child.
The fact that the couple begins by telling her that they know the agency won’t believe their story, allows the audience to become more skeptical too. Had the director chosen to let the story develop naturally, I feel it would have greatly improved my viewing experience.
The plot itself seems to move at breakneck speed. Five minutes into the film the couple is distraught that they cannot have a child, 10 minutes in they make a list of traits they would love in their ideal child, and 15 minutes into the film or less Timothy (CJ Adams) arrives. While it is understandable that this pacing might have been done to jump into the thick of the plot or cater to the young children in the audience with limited attention spans, I felt it limited the film’s potential.
Similary, by the time Timothy arrives he is a fully-grown 10 year-old boy that completely accepts Cindy and Jim as his parents. Timothy seems to be a composite of all the traits the couple imagined for their child, except for the fact that he has leaves growing from his legs. This rather large character trait is brought up but never really explored, which is a shame because it could have potentially been an amazing story.
Instead the story turns Timothy into a walking catalyst, actively changing the lives of the people around him in the small town of Stanleyville. The fictional town is the “Pencil Capital of the World” and currently going through very hard times. The main factory is about to close putting everyone’s jobs on the line. Since this is a Disney movie instead of showing a town in strife, all we see is mostly happy go lucky people working their farms and enjoying small town life. Jim works at the factory as a pencil inspector and Cindy helps curate the local pencil museum. Cindy lives in fear of her overbearing boss, Bernice Crudstaff (Diane Wiest, trying her best to be a worthy Disney villain) while Jim must deal work for her immature and spoiled son Franklin (Ron Livingston).
Despite being two of the most crucial supporting characters in the cast, both are horribly underdeveloped. At one point during what could be considered the climax of the film, both must react to a heinous claim and neither of them seem to be that involved. It is as if the studio told them they were making a live action version of one of their cartoons and they must act in extremes at all times. Wiest is always supremely disapproving and uptight while Livingston looks droopy and untrustworthy and that is the extent of both characters.
Both Cindy and Jim also have family issues to deal with that Timothy allows them to deal with head on. Jim has a father who, even though he is constantly accused of being non-supportive and absentee, shows up on a regular basis throughout the film. Than there are Cindy’s relatives, Uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh) and Aunt Mel (Lois Smith) and her workaholic sister Brenda Best (Rosemarie DeWitt), all of which are portrayed essentially as caricatures with very little motivation or backstory. There are two more subplots involving Timothy falling in love and attempting to play soccer that aren’t ever fully explored.
Timothy himself is a blank slate. This is a shame because he has one of the most interesting character arcs in the film that is just barely touched on. Even though he is portrayed as a 10 year-old for some reason his parents treat him as if he were about five. It doesn’t help that on many occasions he acts like he is much younger as well. Granted, this could have something to do with how new he is to the world, but he comes off unrealistically innocent rather than magical.
Keeping in mind though that this is in fact a Disney film may be its one saving grace. Certain elements of the film, like when it rains backwards, can be enjoyed if you realize the film is going for a campy tone rather than serious. Whether or not that is the case is hard to tell but it certainly makes the film a lot more enjoyable. The film seems to be caught in a push and pull between being a serious film about parenthood and attempting to be a children’s comedy. That balancing act means a constant change in tone that will confuse most viewers, especially younger ones.