Video Review: Disney’s The Kid
by Jonathan Walker

I have an assertion that may surprise you. Hollywood can produce good family films and occasionally does. However, I think it can’t market them. For well over a decade, the best family films made in Hollywood fail to reach the people that would really enjoy them. In the trailers and commercials, they look banal, pedestrian, or even lame. One of these films, that almost certainly got overlooked by most of you (as it did me), was Disney’s The Kid.

The film is about an image consultant Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis). He has a knack for getting public figures out of bad publicity and he performs the service with cold calculation. He has no time for sentiment, and no time for people. He sees a problem and he fixes it. One day, a different kind of problem confronts him. Himself at eight years old (played by Spencer Breslin) comes into his life. He’s a pudgy, clumsy, and adorable boy. The forty year old Russ and the eight year old Rusty together must find out where their life went wrong.

Similarly outlandish films often suffer from the main character refusing to accept what the audience knows from the trailer. As a result, these films tend to drag. Another problem is that the whole mess becomes so silly as to make us lose interest. The Kid avoids both pitfalls. The film never explains how the boy could have come into the future, and so we are never inclined to fight it. Like Russ, all we can do is accept the truth that is placed before him.

Jon Turteltaub (Phenomenon and While You were Sleeping) directs the film with a soft hand. He does not force moments, but allows the simple story to tell itself. And so much of the story revolves around Russ and Rusty. Breslin does an excellent job as the boy. Turteltaub helps him maintain an innocence and likeability that other films usually rip out of childhood. The film never succumbs to the temptation to put adult jokes or crudeness in his character. Instead, he is left to be a kid. And a good kid at that.

Willis also does an admirable job. Though, I admit with some guilt that I found him most entertaining as the sharp-tongued consultant. Nevertheless, his journey to become a good person is refreshing and rewarding. Lily Tomlin is a highlight as the even-keeled assistant.

As soon as the boy comes into Russ’ life, the adult is convinced that his younger self was sent to him to get an image make-over in order to improve his life. Russ desperately tries to figure out how he will fix this frumpy kid. Rusty seems unaffected by all of it and soon puts his finger on what Russ does for a living. He helps “people lie about who they really are so they can pretend to be someone else.”

But, significantly, Russ turns to the one person who he has advised to be herself when he is in so much need for advise. When he talks with the news anchor (Deirdre LaFever played by Jean Smart) she helps him realize that the boy has come to help him remember something from his childhood. Now, Russ and Rusty must find out what he needs to remember.

Throughout the film, characters frequently mention “growing up.” Russ, for all his attempts to be someone cool, has failed to grow up because he has forgotten his childhood. Without a childhood one can never gain full maturity. Social and moral maturity isn’t gained simply by getting older. This maturity can only be gained through accepting the experiences of childhood and accepting who you are. The true adult does not long to be someone else, he’s comfortable being himself. From there, the next step in maturity is attempting to be the best version of yourself.

Rusty pleads with Russ: “When do we ever stop blowing it? Russ! We’ve got to change.” He was only half right, though. Rusty has no need to change. He is only a boy-and a good boy at that. Russ, on the other hand, from the turning-point in his childhood (which I will not reveal) has refused to be himself.

Growing up isn’t about being who we dreamed we would be when we were kids. Like Dierdra says, “How many of us grow up to be what we expect – astronauts, prima ballerinas?” But, things turn out. We come to find out that those dreams don’t have to define us. The young wise Rusty doesn’t dream to be wealthy and powerful when he grows up. He dreams of having a dog, being married, and being a nice guy with a truck. Indeed, when Russ’ girlfriend (Amy played by Emily Mortimer) comes to love Rusty she can only lament. “Do you want to know what the saddest part of this whole thing is? You could have been great.”

Fortunately for Russ-and for the rest of us-there’s always time. We’ve got to dislike “messing up.” We can’t “ever stop asking for help.” We’ve got to realize that “what’s done is done” and that “we’re okay.” Then, wherever we may end up we can gloriously scream, “I’m not a loser!”

 


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