By Don Simpson | March 22, 2007
Director: Bob Shaye
Writers: Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore writing together as Lewis Padgett (short story) Bruce Joel Rubin, Toby Emmerich, James V. Hart, Carol Skilken (screenplay)
Starring: Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, Chris O’Neil, Rainn Wilson, Joely Richardson, Timothy Hutton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Megan McKinnon, Marc Musso, Kathryn Hahn
“Now you will see a film for children…perhaps.”
–Jan Švankmajer’s “Alice”
In 1943, Lewis Padgett (a joint pseudonym of married science-fiction authors Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore) published the short story “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” in the magazine “Astounding Science-Fiction”. The title is a quote from the final stanza of “Jabberwocky”, the portmanteau-riddled poem found within Lewis Carroll’s (pseudonym of Charles L. Dodgson) Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.
In the Padgett story, Alice Liddell (the real-life presumed influence for Carroll’s Alice) acquires strange “toys” from the distant future. Unable to decipher the “toys” herself, she explains them to her friend Charles Dodgson. Based on Alice’s descriptions Dodgson proceeds to write Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Another box of “toys” is discovered decades later by a brother and sister. The “toys” teach the children to think in a highly evolved, non-Euclidean logic. Following coded instructions within the “Jabberwocky” poem, they are able to develop a pathway to travel to a distant future (whence the “toys” originated).
The Last Mimzy is the cinematic adaptation directed by Bob Shaye (founder, Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of New Line Cinema) and produced by Michael Phillips (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). This version, among other things, changes mimsy (an adjective created by Carroll combining the words “miserable” and “flimsy”) into the name of one of the mysterious toys, Mimzy, a stuffed white rabbit (arriving to a theater near you just in time for Easter 2007). I can only assume someone involved didn’t like the word “borogove” (the noun from Carroll’s original text) and/or didn’t want the toy to be “a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round, something like a live mop” (Carroll’s definition of a borogove). Besides, what does a bird have to do with Easter – a holiday about multi-colored eggs and marshmallow chicks? (Actually, The Last Mimzy only contains one mention of the vacation during Easter break; there is no discussion or celebration of the Christian holiday.)
The only reference to Carroll/Dodgson in the film is a glimpse of a photo taken by Dodgson in 1860 of Liddell holding a Mimzy rabbit. The lack of any literal “Jabberwocky” ties is a disappointing omission, since the original story was ultimately in homage to Carroll’s complex and inventive children’s stories (written way above traditional standards, especially when compared to modern children’s literature).
While the toys in the Padgett story are a vehicle for mentally advanced humans of a distant future to educate children in the past, The Last Mimzy opts for a less optimistic view of the future. A desperate scientist (Tom Heaton) in a future dimension – where humans have been irreparably altered by pollutants — seeks a pure specimen of human DNA to save the human race from their near extinction. He sent several Mimzy rabbits into various pasts. With no written instructions, it is up to the imagination and ingenuity of the children to figure out their purpose and destiny. No Mimzy rabbits have been returned; only one hope remains…
Noah Wilder (Chris O’Neil) and his younger sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) find the last Mimzy while on Easter vacation. Like the kids from the Padgett story, the Wilder children exhibit extraordinary talents, but it is undetermined whether their above-genius abilities can be attributed to the “toys” or if they were predestined (Buddhists would claim the children exist closer to the “Universal Truth”).
Their mother (Joely Richardson) and father (Timothy Hutton) do not take the time to truly pay attention to Noah and Emma. When they finally do take notice, the kids are perceived as acting strange when in fact they are exhibiting signs of above-genius activity. The only adults that recognize the children’s talents are “enlightened” ones: Noah’s science teacher (Rainn Wilson) and his fiancée (Kathryn Hahn). They exist on a higher level of consciousness – they meditate and recently vacationed in Tibet.
Both the original short story and film adaptation present the neurological theory that children’s brains, thanks to their access to exponentially more neurological pathways, have the ability to adopt a more advanced logic than adult brains. This theory is based on the scientific fact that a one year old child’s brain consists of approximately one billion neural pathways transmitting and receiving information. By age seven the number decreases to about 900,000, and continues to diminish as age increases.
According to the publicity and marketing, The Last Mimzy is a children’s film; yet the plot is much more complex than children are given credit to be able to comprehend — the young audience will be utilizing their additional neurological pathways. Finally, a positive Hollywood film aiming intellectually above its audience! Hopefully children are cognizant enough to recognize and ignore the embarrassingly shameless product placements (Sprite, Intel).
The Last Mimzy is sure to prompt many questions from children (“Are hamburgers really mashed up cows?” “What is meditation and can I really levitate?”) Hopefully this film will peak children’s interest in Buddhism, nature, astrology and vegetarianism. Most importantly, it promotes the importance of listening, perceiving and creativity.