Film & TV

Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’: Sometimes Disney Gets It Right

BY Mark Jackson TIMEMarch 24, 2022 PRINT

Back in 2012, from director and writer Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”) came the magical tale, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” It’s a fable about the power of intention, being careful of what you wish for, self-acceptance, love, loss, and new beginnings.

I reviewed it in 2012, but going back for a rewind-review-re-rate, I see it’s now got a Rotten Tomatoes percentage skew of critics: 36, audiences: 67. That’s ridiculous. This is a kid’s story. Some film critics demand that movies please their adult sensibilities instead of considering what the kids want and need. Some critics also live out wannabe film professor fantasies, examining technical merits and far-reaching political ramifications with a magnifying glass (often, much like the academic community, with the intention of impressing colleagues) instead just feeling the feels. In art, the heart needs stimulation and nurture as well as the brain, and for kids; it’s mostly the heart.

mother and son in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Timothy Green (CJ Adams), and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner), in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” a film about a childless couple who grow themselves a son. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Yes, it’s got schmaltz; it’s a Disney movie after all. But you know what? Kids don’t really care about schmaltz. It could be argued that bad taste will kill them (I actually sort of agree with that) but as my dad the watercolor painter used to say, “Nuggets of gold can be found in junk.”

man and woman at table in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Jim Green (Joel Edgerton), and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner), in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” a film about a childless couple who grow themselves a son. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Without Further Ado

So. Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) are a young couple that works at an old-timey pencil factory in the sleepy small town of Stanleyville. They tell a strange and remarkable tale to the skeptical supervisor at an adoption agency (Evette Onat).

The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Doug Wert (Michael Arden) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (Evette Onat) listen to the Greens story about how they grew a son by planting a box in their yard, in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

They tried desperately for years to have a child of their own, but after exhausting every known medical solution, the doctors finally advised them to call it quits.

While seeking to lay their grief to rest, they’d creatively brainstormed about the qualities their imaginary child would have had, and wrote them down. “He’ll have Uncle Bub’s sense of humor!” “He’ll be a glass-half-full kid!” “He’ll score the winning goal!” They wrote down 54 girl names—and one boy name. As a ritual to help them move on, they’d collected their notes, put them in a wooden box, and buried it in the garden. Perhaps “planted” would be a more accurate term.

The wind kicked up, there was a brief torrential rain, and suddenly … there was a young boy named Timothy, covered in wet mud, in their house (CJ Adams). He had strange green leaves growing on his legs. The skeptical adoption supervisor leans forward in anticipation. What was that one boy name on the list?

two men, a woman, and a boy, in a greenhouse in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
(L–R) CJ Adams, Jennifer Garner, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Joel Edgerton in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Timothy appeared to have all of the qualities that the Greens had planted in the garden, but he was also a bit of a strange one, this Timothy. When they tried to snip his leg-leaves off, the steel hedge clippers broke. Timothy was sweet and funny. He was completely awful at soccer, but he did score a winning goal.

mother, son, and father in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
(L–R) Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, and Joel Edgerton in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

He went to school and endured bullying. He also won approval from the aloof older girl whom all the other boys were enamored of. Mom Cindy had been suspicious of the ensuing puppy love at first (Timothy, of course, got occasional bad advice from his brand-new, overzealous parents).

a mom, dad, and son, in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
(L–R) Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, and Joel Edgerton in the dramatic comedy-fantasy “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” a film about a childless couple who wish for an infant and receive a child who is not all that he appears. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

A joyous family life developed. Then one day Uncle Bub died, and one of Timothy’s leaves turned brown and fell off. And they kept coming off, here and there, until it became clear that when they were all gone, so might Timothy be.

When the magical story of Timothy finally comes to an end, the adoption supervisor looks at Jim and Cindy with newfound respect.

Performances

CJ Adams as Timothy is adorable—it was very much a star-is-born performance. I was sure we’d be seeing a lot more of this kid, and sure enough, he’s done 8 movies to date. Let’s see what he can do in the next phase of his acting career. Jennifer Garner fulfills the mom role well (naturally) and Aussie Joel Edgerton, who’d played an excellent dad in “Warrior,” plays the kind of dad every kid would want.

The Israeli-born Odeya Rush is mesmerizing as Joni, the girl Timothy falls for. Boys everywhere will remember having, or having had, a crush on a girl like her in grade school. She teaches Timothy to accept his odd leafy-ness. I thought at the time, her portrayal of Joni was probably also a star-is-born performance, and she’s done 27 movies, but hasn’t had a breakout hit yet.

boy and girl lie in leaves in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
CJ Adams, and Odeya Rush in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

At times threatening to trip and fall into the treacle vat, “Timothy” drips with an all-American small-town quaintness and nostalgia, but mostly in a positive way. From the birthday parties, family gatherings, town hall meetings, and soccer games, right down to Joni’s Stingray bike, it’s an inspiring, magical fairy tale.

girl rides bike with boy in The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Odeya Rush and CJ Adams in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

The film that ”The Odd Life of Timothy Green” most resembles, however, is the similarly titled “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” While that film was dark and mystical with ever-so-slightly creepy CGI, and meant for adults, Hedges directs this cinematic fable with more lightness and magic, for kids. But, in dealing with issues of mortality and child adoption, it’s not just for kids—it’s a movie for parents too. Disney, when Disney is good, is good stuff. In terms of family fare these days, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Movie poster for "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Movie poster for “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’
Director: Peter Hedges
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, M. Emmet Walsh, Dianne Wiest, Evette Onat, David Morse, Odeya Rush, David Morse
MPAA Rating: PG
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2012
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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