Since children love well-told stories, the art of storytelling is especially important to children's films. The answer to the question "And then what happens?" is paramount.
"The Last Mimzy," it should be said, is exceedingly mild whimsy. It also has a story that no doubt will be too diffuse for small children – or the big adults who accompany them.
Diffuse is not the same thing as complicated. The greatest children's book ever written, "Alice in Wonderland," is certainly complicated, but it has an irrefutable dream logic.
"The Last Mimzy" is, in fact, adapted from a story by Lewis Padgett called "All Mimsy Were the Borogroves" that is derived from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." The resemblance ends there. The film that director Bob Shaye and his screenwriters have come up with should have been called just plain "Jabber."
It begins at the Seattle summer home of the Wilder family, where a strange black box is discovered by little Noah (Chris O'Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn). The box is inscribed with inscrutable symbols and contains all sorts of oddities, including a stuffed rabbit called Mimzy that appears to be some sort of ambassador from the future whose mission is to rescue Noah and Emma's world from the effects of pollution and disease.
Pretty soon, with Mimzy leading the way, both children become prodigies. Noah, a so-so student, wows his science class with a project that uses high-speed frequencies to alter spider's webs. Using crystals, Emma generates laser beams that afford glimpses of the future.
Mom and Dad (Joely Richardson and Timothy Hutton) are flummoxed by their children's newfound New Age-y geniuses. Not so Noah's science teacher Larry (Rainn Wilson) and his Buddhist girlfriend Naomi (Kathryn Hahn), who think the children are, literally, stars.
Shaye last directed a movie, "Book of Love," in 1990, but he is best known as the founder and co-chairman of New Line Cinema (the people who brought you the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy). His swashbuckling reputation as a businessman does not prepare one for the blandness of this confection.
That flatness extends to the cast members, who, except for Wilson and Hahn, might be performing in an after-school special. Even potentially edgy plot developments, such as the FBI raid of the Wilders' home after the kids cause a blackout, are unexciting.
There is a dearth of good children's films right now, at least of the nonanimated variety, and undoubtedly "The Last Mimzy" will fill a vacuum for some families.
But it's a default choice, not a prime pick. Grade: C
• Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild peril, and language