1994 Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Bates, John Ritter, Kelly Mcgillis.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 22, 1994
Rob Reiner goes out on a limb and finds he exceeds the maximum weight requirement for sapling-climbing. In this surreal childhood fable, Wood is young North, an 11-year-old boy who takes off on a global journey to find new parents after he decides his biological mom and dad don't really appreciate him as much as they ought to. At one point or another, this is every kid's fantasy, and it lends itself well to the medium, but Reiner fumbles the ball: North can't decide what it is, a comic fantasy or a painfully self-aware set of tired life lessons. After the boy declares himself a “free agent” (much to the surprise of his previously inattentive parents, played by Seinfeld's Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus), he teams up with pal Winchell (Mathew McCurley) and ambulance-chaser (literally) Lovitz to seek out a new homestead. The first half of Reiner's film shows us the various family situations North encounters, from Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire as a pair of rich Texans to Graham Greene and Kathy Bates as an Alaskan Inuit family (along with Abe Vigoda as grandpa, who ends up set adrift on an ice flow to await death, “before he starts embarrassing himself”). Bruce Willis keeps popping up as the young boy's guardian angel figure and is engagingly silly in the multi-character role (everything from a department store Easter Bunny to a FedEx courier). Unfortunately, the film takes a screechingly hard right from the sublime to the ridiculous when it begins to play up a subplot regarding the conniving Winchell and Lovitz's shyster. Reiner keeps the pacing up and the fantasy conceits in the fore, and up to a point, it seems as though North might actually overcome its innate mawkishness. “Seems” is the operative word here, and Reiner wraps it all up with one of the most tired, trite, and downright annoying endings I've encountered in a while. Young kids will likely enjoy watching all the hubbub the gutsy protagonist stirs up and identify with his plight, but most anyone over the age of 14 will find the film alternately too cute for its own good and too blind to quit while it's ahead.