The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a modern-day fairy tale, but unlike most fairy tales, it's told from the perspective of the grownups rather than the child. It's a story about learning how to parent, accepting the mistakes that are inevitably made, and loving without possessing. This Disney release is a throwback to the kind of live-action family films the studio used to make: light, heartfelt stories that touched on dark themes but burnished the sharp edges with magical fairy dust. Solid performances by the leads - Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as Cindy and Jim Green and CJ Adams as the titular Timothy - help sell the fantasy.
When Cindy and Jim exhaust their list of infertility treatments, they imagine what characteristics their biological child might have had. They write these attributes on slips of paper and place them in a beautiful box, which they bury in their garden. As in many fairy tales, a freakish storm ensues during the night. In the morning, a 10-year-old boy named Timothy emerges from their muddy garden. He seems normal in all but one regard: His calves are covered in leaves. This oddity seems like nothing a pair of knee-highs can't fix, and the tiny community of Stanleyville accepts him as the Greens' new son. Like most new parents, Cindy and Jim vow not to repeat their own parents' childrearing mistakes.
The story falters as it introduces ancillary characters such as employers and extended family members. Underwritten roles waste the talents of an impressive cast. Jim's unsupportive father (David Morse), Cindy's competitive sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the town pencil heiress (Dianne Wiest) seem like afterthoughts, though newcomer Odeya Rush has a nice turn as Timothy's one true friend. I'm not familiar with the Ahmet Zappa story the film is based upon, but writer-director Peter Hedges has an ongoing interest in family dynamics. He wrote the screenplays for What's Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy - the latter of which was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar - before directing his own scripts for Pieces of April and Dan in Real Life. Though Hedges convincingly portrays small-town life and internecine family conflicts in several of his films, The Odd Life of Timothy Green strains to produce whimsy and wonder.
After the first leaf falls from Timothy's legs, the story's outcome becomes clear. This is not another story "about a boy." This is a story about his parents, who must learn to enjoy family life for the limited time it's available. Timothy isn't so much a character but a construct for imparting this lesson.