Filled with imagination, energy, and ambition, Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts is an odd film, even for someone with the filmography that Rodriguez has. Here is a director who either makes hard-R action films or G-rated family friendly films. There’s no in between for the man. Shorts falls into the latter category, and might just be his oddest film to-date. Okay, maybe that title goes to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, but this comes a close second.
The basic gist of Shorts is that a magical wishing rock has fallen on a small community, and that in order for the lead character, Toby (Jimmy Bennett), to tell its tale, he has to deliver it in a series of out-of-order “shorts.” Right off the bat, I’m not sure if this was the best way to tell this story, especially given that this is primarily a film for children. There’s a reason these types of films generally have simple and straightforward stories; you don’t want to confuse the little ones, and I fear that’s what Rodriguez has done here by choosing to mix up the order in which the story is told.
Essentially what happens in Shorts is that this stone falls into the hands of children, adults, and various “creatures,” such as crocodiles and boogers, and then wishes are granted. One kid wishes for a fortress, and one just appears out of nowhere. A couple wishes to be closer together, and the rock literally joins them at the hip. This allows for endless creativity and Rodriguez is someone with creativity to spare. There is never a dull moment thanks to this MacGuffin.
What I found funny was that the town in which the film is set, Black Falls, is where a fictional device called the “Black Box” is created. This contraption is meant to be able to become anything. It functions as any electronic and — within reason — any small non-electronic device you can think of. This allows for some morality lessons about not letting technology rule your life, but will also give you a chuckle given that it essentially becomes completely redundant after the magical wishing rock comes into play.
At least nobody is going to claim that Shorts is dull. Formulaic, perhaps, given that adults will easily be able to see where it’s going at any moment — even with the story told out of order, it’s not difficult to figure out — but not boring. It has energy and heart, and more colors than most films out there. The magical wishing rock works as a crutch; whenever the film starts losing its energy, a character wishes for something strange and then it perks right back up again.
That’s kind of ironic given that the film’s conclusion revolves around telling the children that abusing something for their own gain leads to destruction. And since that “something” is the magical wishing rock, well, you can see how the film as a whole contradicts that message. It only stays afloat because it abuses the rock’s powers to keep us engaged, and it doesn’t really suffer any consequences for doing so. Or is this reading too much into a children’s movie? It probably is.
If you’re older than the age of, say, 12, you likely won’t laugh much with Shorts. Its childish humor won’t appeal to you, and I think that’s okay. It’s a movie for children and that it even has some appeal — its energy and creativity will keep it watchable for adults — for an older crowd makes up for the fact that its humor is aimed at a younger audience. You might not think it’s funny for a giant booger to come to life, but a seven-year-old will eat that stuff up. And then probably pick his nose and eat that stuff up, too, because he’s seven and that’s what they do (I’m told).
Adults will probably also get a kick out of seeing actors like William H. Macy, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, and James Spader trudge their way through this film. All of them get a few scenes where they get to question why they signed that contract, and isn’t it always fun seeing distinguished actors embarrass themselves in a kids’ movie? Well, I think it is, and when the imagination of the filmmakers didn’t hold me, I could count on watching the actors do just that.
For a child, Shorts will be a colorful, imaginative, and possibly confusing watch, given that its relatively simple story is convoluted — for a kid — by being told out of order. It will be somewhat funny and moderately enjoyable. For an adult, its creativity will be appreciated but the humor will fall flat and the only laughs that will be generated will be from watching good actors embarrass themselves in a children’s movie. Shorts works primarily when it keeps us distracted with its magical wishing rock, but rarely when it focuses on other things.