Disney’s The Kid, which could easily have been psychobabble claptrap about confronting a pesky inner child, is instead a surprisingly adroit tale about the never-ending process of growing up. In this sentimental yet clever fable about thwarted expectations, adulthood isn’t magically bestowed at a particular age, yet some very odd things are happening to Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) as he nears his 40th birthday.
A series of strange occurrences (a cherry-red propeller plane seems to swoop down at him, an old-style diner appears then vanishes into thin air) culminates in the arrival of Rusty (Spencer Breslin), soon to be 8 years old and the embodiment of everything Russ the image consultant (it’s all about control) would strive to fix. Pudgy, clumsy and socially inept, Rusty is also sweet-natured and enthusiastic about life’s possibilities.
It doesn’t take long to guess that Russ-Rusty are actually the same person and that, yes indeed, they have much to learn from each other. But director Jon Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping) uses a light touch with the fantasy elements, which serves the film well. As one outlandish situation is piled on top of another, the cast treats these events as not only possible but plausible, which grounds the film in an emotional reality.
Along with the just-right Willis, who’s ditched his role as a one-note action hero to become a bona fide actor again, and Breslin, who infuses his wisecracking tyke with the awkwardness of a shy outsider, The Kid features a trio of wonderful actresses: Lily Tomlin as Russ’ acerbic, miracle-working assistant; Emily Mortimer as his spunky, morally righteous co-worker; and Jean Smart doing double duty as anchorwoman and advice goddess.
Screenwriter Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Guinevere) flirts with but ultimately skirts the usual clichés and creates a feather-light comedy about some weighty issues. Life, she proposes, is not only a work in progress but an ongoing process, one which could stand the occasional upheaval in order to reconsider the struggles of the past and let the future take flight.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.