Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
— Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky”
A sort of E.T. updated with CGIed effects, The Last Mimzy offers up another sort of alien visitor. Mimzy isn’t wrinkly or strange or even very mobile, nothing that might frighten the All-American youngsters who discover her on a beach near Seattle. Instead, Mimzy is a stuffed bunny, named after Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and brimming with secrets she means to dispense to those youngsters.
Based on Lewis Padgett’s story, “All Mimsy Were the Borogroves” (originally published in 1943), New Line founder Bob Shaye’s movie is a mix of science fiction, fantasy, adventure, and threats to national security. Mimzy arrives in a black box configured with mystical-seeming geometrical designs; it splits apart and rejiggers itself like a transformer when touched by too-cute siblings Noah (Chris O’Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn), then spits up the bunny and a few other magical-seeming items. The kids look on in appropriate acting-in-green-screen-sets awe, the items light up and catch the sun in well composed low angle shots. Suddenly, the kids have something to do during their otherwise very regular-seeming weekend away with mom, Jo (Joely Richardson).
Indeed, by the time their workaholic dad, David (Timothy Hutton) arrives, Emma and Noah offer him only a brief and authentically excited hello! before they’ve scurried back to their bedroom, eager to explore more tricks available from the gizmos, stones, and Mimzy. The bunny speaks pretty much exclusively to Emma, she being the designated Very Special One (a palm reading reveals this later), while Noah will be her “engineer,” absorbing all manner of amazing mathematical and scientific knowledge. When they get back to town and school — which has heretofore “sucked” — Noah devises the most amazing science fair project ever, impressing not only his more or less pleasantly flummoxed mom and dad but also his science teacher, Larry (Rainn Wilson).
As it turns out, Mimzy and her box of stuff are from the future, sent back in time to save humanity from itself. The fact that it needs such rescue is made plain by the very existence of a stern-seeming Homeland Security office, presided over by the even more stern-seeming Nathanial Boardman (Michael Clarke Duncan). When one of Noah’s experiments one night shuts down Seattle’s power grid, all alerts are sounded, with the full surveillance forces of the government set to determining the source of the problem. Descending on the family’s residence with a typical SWAT-looking apparatus, the feds recall the white-suited haz-matters in E.T., though now they’re dark, heavily armed, and loudly aggressive, not even pretending to be scientists. (As the film points out, the Patriot Act allows invasion and search of the home based on “probable cause,” no warrant necessary.) Boardman and his team drag the family down to their lab, where the people and the bunny are tested and probed. Microscopic scrutiny of the bunny reveals — lo! — that it its center is inscribed with an Intel label, revealing that, just as you suspected, the future has already been patented.
This heavy-handed business mostly serves to smooth out the kids’ previously rocky relationship with mom and dad: now, they see, a kind of intuitive faith in the bunny is much preferred to any sort of trust in the noisily rational government. The movie’s narrative structure is nearly as flatfooted as its look (the CGI is adequate, the camera rather complacent, spending too much time gazing on Emma’s pretty wide eyes, as means to “emotional” development). It’s the usual sort of parents-down storytelling, remembering childhood whimsy and exuberance with more nostalgia than accuracy.
The only adults in the film who break out of this loop of remembering and recontaining are Larry (who explains to the Homeland Security interrogators, “I went to Nepal once”) and his scrumptiously new-agey fiancée Naomi (Kathryn Hahn). She not only meditates and reads palms, but also sees in the children immediately a kind of intellectual brilliance and potential for spiritual guidance.
Naomi is rather marvelously jaunty, as she and Larry enthusiastically describe connections between Noah’s notebook scribbles and ancient, highly complex mandalas. She’s also the most able to see past her daily life, understanding Larry’s seeming dreams as messages from somewhere else, encouraging him to break laws and follow bizarre courses of action, thrilling to the whole late-at-night mystery of their adventure. Even more than the kids, who are very willing to do what they’re told by Mimzy, Naomi is a radiant rule-breaker.