Toby Thompson has a tale to tell. In fact, it's a yarn so wild and jumbled that he has to frequently stop, rewind and restart it in a series of overlapping short stories that are often out of order.
Our hero lives in Black Falls—a company town filled with company employees who are focused on nothing but the whip-cracking commands of tyrannical company owner Mr. Carbon Black. Black's company has created an all-purpose whiz-bang device that can transmogrify into anything from a cell phone to a nose-hair trimmer. It's the biggest thing to ever hit store shelves. But the competition is catching up, so Black wants it upgraded. Pronto!
Now that's not really Toby's story. It's more of a preamble that reveals why the storytelling youth has been neglected by his workaholic parents. It's a prologue that explains why everyone looks the other way when Toby is tormented daily by Black's mini-bully of a daughter, Helvetica. It's a preface that helps us grasp the importance of a colorful rock that unexpectedly drops from the sky.
And that's what Toby's short stories are all about—a rainbow-colored wishing rock that keeps changing hands, and a whole bunch of silly wishes that keep changing ... everything.
Toby's parents are initially set up by Mr. Black as leaders of opposing creative teams, which causes them to drift apart. But ultimately they refuse to work against each other and become a closer, loving couple. The whole town of Black Falls learns that selfish wishes cause more bad than good and ultimately aren't worth making.
There's a brief nod to the concept that it's really important for parents to listen to their kids.
The multicolored wishing rock is imbued with a finite amount of magic that can fulfill all manner of requests—for a while. (It falls mysteriously from the sky and the magic's source is never explained.) Among other things, it conjures from thin air a castle and a catapult. It turns a girl into a wasp, a boy into a dung beetle and a baby into a genius. It merges Toby's mom and dad into one person.
Toby's full-figured sister wears form-fitting tops.
Along with "facedown in the mud puddle" spills and splats, Shorts contains tons of bonks and pratfalls. Toby is cuffed, punched, dunked headfirst in trash cans and pummeled with dirt bombs and rocks. (And it's all played for laughs.) In one drawn-out slapstick scene, Helvetica threatens to swallow Toby's favorite fish from the science lab fish tank. While attempting a rescue, Toby tumbles over school desks, and he causes chemicals to explode, blowing Helvetica and himself through a window to the pavement below. The two both end up in the hospital with arm casts, but are back at it in the next scene.
Some of the violence is a bit more dangerous looking—thanks to high-end computer graphics: Toby's friend Lugi wishes upon the rock for a castle surrounded by snakes and other beasties. Lugi and his brothers then find themselves snapped at by dozens of hissing cobras and giant marauding crocs.
Crude or Profane Language
When Helvetica's family members truncate her name, they're not really doing it to swear. But I'm not entirely convinced that Robert Rodriguez wasn't when he wrote their lines. A bully calls Toby "Dr. Dumbbutt." Other name-calling includes "dork," "loser," "idiot," "freak" and "he's a virus." Somebody blurts out "holy peanut butter cup!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
There are plastic cups seen at an adult costume party, but moviegoers will have to decide for themselves if they conceal alcohol or not.
Other Negative Elements
Gross-out humor regularly punctuates Toby's tales. For instance: A dad discusses nose picking and booger eating with his son. Later, that same boy's "pickings" grow into a sloppy, kid-terrorizing monster ("Now your booger's trying to eat you!"). A kid jumps into the mouth of a giant crocodile and comes out covered with the contents of the creature's stomach. And each new short starts with a farting noise.
Mr. Black tells his daughter, "It's not bullying if you win."
One thing's for certain, Shorts is definitely not apologetic about what it is. In fact, this pic could give Popeye a run for his money in the "I yam what I yam" department. The formula is simple: Mix as many outlandish imaginings (A boy wishing for a friend "as unique as I am" instantly receives a gaggle of inch-high, green alien pals) with tons of scatological and otherwise gross humor (A kid gets glopped, head to toe, by the droppings of a passing pterodactyl), then hold your nose while stirring vigorously for 90 minutes. Voilà! You've got a goofy kids' flick that Nickelodeon will snap up the TV rights for quicker than your 10-year-old can belch out the alphabet after dinner.
The average adult will look at this movie and see little more than layer upon layer of pointless nonsense. And that's pretty much exactly what writer/director Robert Rodriguez is shooting for. "You'll see it once in the theater and you'll go, 'Hey, that was a good film.' But your kids watch it over and over," he said in a videotaped press interview. Why will they watch it over and over? For the same reason their parents won't—because of the goo, of course.
There are a few positive messages present. The ideas that selfish wishes make for unhappy wishers and that bullies are themselves hurting inside give moms and dads something to ask their kids questions about as they leave the theater. But before they get a chance to do that—while the germaphobic scientist is waging war against the giant booger monster—they'll be wondering why in the world they laid down a different type of green for this particular movie night.