Disney's 'Odd Life of Timothy Green' aims to be 'touchstone' for families with adopted kids
The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the latest live action movie from the House of Mouse, has a lot of the characteristics you’d expect from a family Disney film – uplifting, cute, with a little heartbreak and a few messages fit in there by the end. But it also touches on, even centers on, subjects not often broached in kid-friendly flicks: couples who aren’t able to conceive their own children, and parents – good parents, not the evil stepmother – who make lots of parenting mistakes.
The movie, which hits theaters Wednesday, Aug. 15, tells the story of Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), a couple who receives the tough news from their doctor that biological children are not in their future. In a final attempt to accept their fate and move on, the Greens dream up their child (“Our kid would rock!” “Our kid would be honest to a fault.”), writing all these attributes on pieces of notebook paper, then placing them in a box they bury in their garden. And as things happen in magic-tinged Disney movies, a child sprouts from the garden that night, 10-year-old-appearing Timothy (C.J. Adams).
Some parents may be wary of a film that gets so close to the topic of conception, but it’s easy enough to make appropriate for kids. At the movie’s Monday premiere in Hollywood, Lin Manuel-Miranda, who plays a botanist in the Greens’ small town, told EW, “I think it’s really well-handled,” attributing the “heightened, fable form” in which the story is told.
Garner has played a woman unable to have her own children before, memorably as the adoptive mother of a pregnant teen’s child in 2007’s Juno. Since then, she’s given birth to two more kids (she’s the mother of three with husband Ben Affleck) but has had many encounters that prepared her to play another woman trying to start a family.
“I have even more friends who have struggled with infertility since [I filmed] Juno,” Garner said on the premiere’s Astroturf carpet. “If anything, I just brought [to Timothy Green] an even deeper respect for the frustration and the heartbreak and the determination and everything that they go through. I just tried to do them right. That’s all I hope – that they see it and don’t say, ‘You were so off-base.’”
Countless films feature families that audiences can see a bit of themselves in, and now the makers of Timothy Green are hoping their film is relatable for an increasingly typical kind of family.
Miranda expects Timothy Green to become “one of those movies that parents with adopted kids or non-traditional parents with non-biological kids – it’s gonna be their touchstone. It’s gonna be the movie they watch together I think for years to come.”
Ahmet Zappa, who created the film’s story for a script by director Peter Hedges, told EW one of his main goals for the project: “I wanted to explore parents making mistakes,” said the father of a 19-month-old. “It’s about making mistakes and learning from mistakes. And as parents, I’m sure we’ll be dealing with a lot of the same things that the Greens deal with.”
It’s certainly not the first time kiddie entertainment has delved into the idea of making mistakes (who can forget the mantra of The Magic School Bus’ Ms. Frizzle: “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”), but Timothy Green is unique in how it makes the Greens’ parenting missteps a prevalent theme. Cindy and Jim give Timothy questionable advice, they let loose a spousal fight in his presence, they are overbearing when they should back off, and they give him space when maybe they shouldn’t. And just as integral to the film as their mistakes are the way they learn from them.
Whether this one is bound for the classic status of films Hedges said he strove to emulate (E.T., The Wizard of Oz, Field of Dreams) or achieves the “something for kids, something for adults” genius of Pixar films is yet to be determined. But parents, are there enough mainstream movies featuring families with non-biological children out there for you? Or ones where parents make well-intentioned mistakes?