Disney's The Kid (2000)

D: Jon Turtletaub
S: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin

A successful image consultant (Bruce Willis) about to turn forty is confronted by his past in a most unusual form when his eight year old self (Spencer Breslin) turns up at his exclusive home where he lives isolated from everyone including his own father. Understandably upset, the man must find a way to cope with the boy with the help of long-suffering secretary Lily Tomlin while juggling a troubled relationship with lovely co-worker Emily Mortimer with his professional commitments. Why is the boy here? What lessons are to be taught to the youngster to make him go away? Or is it the man who needs help and the boy who is here to give it? The boy meanwhile has to cope with the fact that he sees his future self; forty years old, no girlfriend, no dog, and not a jet pilot.

Relatively harmless high concept drama vaguely reminiscent of the eighties 'body swap' films, the leading light of which was Penny Marshall's Big. Though not quite in that class, Disney's The Kid (so named evidently to avoid comparison with Chaplin's 1921 classic... no fear), is a pleasant and relatively reflective tale directed with the usual professionalism by Jon Turtletaub (Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping) from a script by Audrey Wells. It is filled with nice details and buoyed by good performances from all concerned, but there's still an overall feeling of inevitability about the proceedings. This throws even more weight onto the basics, which, thankfully, are solid enough to hold it together.

Willis works with well with young Breslin, and both are ably supported by Mortimer and Tomlin. The core relationships are believable enough to sustain the drama even though the moral and ethical quagmires represented are too familiar to really make an impact. Wells also fills the film with little moments which work nicely, such as the initial confrontation between the two leads where they compare scars and facts about their lives or a nice scene between Willis and Jean Smart as a newly-minted News anchor to whom he has given advice. Turtletaub directs each scene with a patient eye for pace and rhythm.

The biggest flaw in the script is the relentless negativity which it attaches to its leading character throughout. Although redeemed (natch), the embittered, self-involved Willis is not a lot of fun to be around most of the time, and one often finds oneself thinking that rather than an ironic visitation from his younger self, a good kick in the pants might have been required. Still, on the whole the story holds up, and there is a quietly understated note of fantasy established by the recurrent symbol of a biplane which seems to pursue our heroes (and provides the film with an effective climax).

The film may have some difficulty finding its audience though. Marketed with the Disney brand in the title will mislead parents into thinking this is a film for the young ones around the age of the younger star. But really it is aimed at an older viewer, based as it is upon basic psychoanalytical notions of the 'inner child' and based upon the premise of a mid-life crisis. However, these viewers will probably not find the film as thought-provoking as it seems to hope to be, primarily because the tone is still mostly broad farce rather than bittersweet drama and the dramatic content too easily reduced to simplistic aphorisms.

Overall, Disney's The Kid is a watchable time filler with some fun moments and a general sheen of a professional production helmed by capable artisans. It lacks the delicate balance of Big and portrays its protagonist in excessively negative terms to generate real sympathy, but it works well enough to get where it is going. The performances are fine, the script is reasonable enough, it's directed with a steady hand... the kind of film which fills out the middle rank of contemporary mainstream American cinema without really drawing much attention to itself in spite of its star power and studio muscle.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.