After disappearing from films after his Grindhouse contribution, Robert Rodriguez finally returned to the movie circuit with another children’s film: Shorts. Despite being known for such violent masterpieces as Desperado and Sin City, Rodriguez has found quite a bit of commercial success with efforts like the Spy Kids series as well as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Shorts performed so abysmally at the box office, bringing in barely over $25 million worldwide.
In the suburb of Black Falls, all the houses look the same and everyone works for BLACK BOX Unlimited Worldwide Industries Incorporated, whose Mr. Black’s BLACK BOX is the ultimate communication and do-it-all gadget that’s sweeping the nation. Other than keeping his parents employed, however, Mr. Black’s BLACK BOX has done nothing for 11-year-old Toe Thompson, who just wants to make a few friends… until a mysterious rainbow-colored rock falls from the sky, hits him in the head and changes everything. The Rainbow Rock does Mr. Black’s BLACK BOX one better: it grants wishes to anyone who holds it. Before long, wishes-gone-wrong have left the neighborhood swarming with tiny spaceships, crocodile armies, giant boogers… and outrageous magical mayhem around every corner. But it’s not until the grown-ups get their hands on the Rock that the trouble really starts. Now Toe and his newfound friends must join forces to save their town from itself, discovering along the way that what you wish for is not always what you want.
Vague title aside, Shorts was advertised in a similar fashion as Rodriguez’s other films, although I can’t say I actually saw much advertisement for it on television. Maybe it was just too confusing of a film to present; after all it’s presented completely out of order and with such a rapid fire pace that even those without ADD would feel completely and utterly lost. I was able to keep up without much trouble, but I can only imagine what kind of mind melter this is for someone who is less adept at following such a helter-skelter pacing of events.
Quite literally the film is made up of a series of shorts that all tie together. Hell, the film even abruptly starts out with one before the intro/credits roll. It’s actually good that it’s done this way, however, as that short is referenced repeatedly throughout the movie in such a manner that it helps remind the audience just what kind of movie this is. Honestly though if you can follow shows like Lost without a problem then Shorts should be fine—it takes a bit of work, but you get a pretty enjoyable film out of it in the end.
Sadly the momentum that Shorts builds up is…well, short lived. By the time the film gets to the giant booger sequence, it’s all but fallen apart in terms of cohesiveness and point. I did enjoy the whole angle that kids seemed to have more morality and a better grasp on life than the parents did for some reason, simply because that harkens back to the days of Home Alone and other John Hughes films where children aren’t painted as completely helpless beings. But Rodriguez seems to have lost the overall point of the film (if there was one) somewhere around the halfway mark. I mean I’m all for a giant booger and all, but something just seemed overly odd about this entire film. I’m even used to Rodriguez’s always cheerful and sometimes kooky CGI from his Spy Kids films so it wasn’t even the visual elements that were strange (although the wall climbing crocodiles were a bit much, admittedly). But there was just more confusion pouring out of this film than sense and that’s probably a big reason why it was hammered on so harshly by critics.
But, really, that criticism was all earned. The film has a pretty humorous and basic concept at its core and the baby talking to everyone with her mind was probably one of the funniest baby visuals since the Look Who’s Talking movies (in fact she reminded me a lot of the Roseanne baby from the sequel), but the execution is flawed. Perhaps if the shorts were presented in chronological order it wouldn’t have felt so disjointed (literally) and it probably would have felt less gimmicky at that.
The film is definitely great for kids though. Short attention spans are more prevalent today and the sugar rush pace that this film runs along will definitely appeal to a younger audience. Unfortunately unlike Rodriguez’s other kids’ movies, this one isn’t accessible by an older audience…and I’m probably one of the biggest kids there is. Recommended for a young audience, a Rental otherwise.
Egad, another combo pack! At least it’s not as crazy as Disney’s recent four-disc sets. Shorts arrives with a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a digital copy so there are plenty of options for viewing this one if you so desire. The set itself is crammed inside a standard Elite Blu-ray case and the usual inserts (firmware upgrade notice, digital copy code, etc.) are all included. Also included is a cardboard slipcase, although there is nothing fancy about it (as in there’s no embossing/foil reflection).
Video is a VC-1 encoded transfer and it looks quite nice. As previously mentioned the visuals are all pretty cheery (aside from the internal Black Box segments), so the colors and elements of the world all pop out at you. Plenty of great detail is abound as well, with hair and clothes looking fantastic on screen. Of course the clarity of the transfer does hinder some of the CGI work, such as the alligators and giant booger, but, again, that’s just part of Rodriguez’s “style” (I think…or maybe he just doesn’t get that big of a budget).
Audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and with the film being as Ritalin deprived as it is, it’s no real surprise that it is quite rambunctious around the room. Plenty of surround work, whether it’s the environmental sound effects, the throwing of stones or a parade of alligators, the film has plenty of enjoyable aural elements. There is frequent bass work as well which only furthers to make the film enjoyable. As with almost all of Rodriguez’s productions, the A/V elements are very, very enjoyable. Also included are English, French, and Spanish DD5.1 tracks.
The Magic of Shorts – See how the movies incredible creations – Crocodile Soldiers, a Giant Dung Beetle, a Big Bad Booger and a Huge, Rampaging Black Box – are brought to life on screen.
Shorts Show and Tell – Hang out on the set with the film’s young stars and uncover moviemaking secrets only insiders know.
Ten Minute Film School: Short Shorts – Learn all about the making of the movie in a relatively Shorts time.
Ten Minute Cooking School: Chocolate Chip Volcano Cookies – the Rodriguez family teaches kids how to bake cookies.
The first two pieces are relatively brief in nature, albeit entertaining, so it’s the last two I’ll focus on the most. But, you may ask, what’s so great about ten minute pieces? Well Rodriguez includes these on every (to my knowledge, at least) one of his films and they’re always just a hell of a lot of fun to watch. These are much more kid and family friendly than the ones he did for Once Upon a Time in Mexico obviously, but they’re entertaining nonetheless. He manages to pack in a ton of interesting information into the film school and make a pretty delicious looking cookie in the cooking school, so both pieces will leave you feeling quite satisfied (or hungry…or both).
Overall Shorts is an uneven film but if you’re kids enjoy it then this is a Recommended package. Three copies of the movie to spread around plus some entertaining extras make for a good time. Sad there’s no commentary though.
Shorts arrives on Blu-ray on November 24th.