Young aspiring inventor Milo Weatherby — who wants to be the next Thomas Edison — has doggedly worked on his latest device, a kind of “reverse microwave.” But things don’t seem to be working as well as he’d like… until he realizes that his reverse microwave is actually a time machine.
But then when his teacher realizes that Milo has been writing his best friend Levi’s papers, the pals must go back in time using Milo’s invention to remedy their mistake, leading the pair through an adventure through time that tests their wits and powers of invention.
Writer-director Bill Whirity’s short fantasy is a charming throwback to the 80s films of childhood imagination and cleverness, which reached its heights in films like “E.T.” and “The Goonies.” Like those films, it blends flights of ramshackle fancy with an innate belief in the resourcefulness of kids and moments of comic antics to offer up a enjoyable, adventurous caper that’s both warm and lighthearted, with just enough sharp wit to keep things from getting too cute.
The production has a range and ambition to its craftsmanship, with a great level of cinematic detail, whether it’s in the thoughtfully lo-fi set design of Milo’s “lab,” or the John Williams-worthy orchestral score underlying many of the film’s excellent sequences. The visuals have a textured warmth and dynamism that owes a debt to both Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis (as do the wonderfully old-school special effects.) But there’s also a shaggy indie charm to the writing and dialogue, which has an ear for the constant joshing of the two best friends that feels both heightened in its wit and banter yet realistic in its emotional dynamics.
The effectiveness of the storytelling rests on the strength of its young actors, who are well cast for their roles. Young perfomer Matthew Levy plays Milo’s best friend with just the right amount of roguishness, able to strong-arm, sweet-talk and cajole his best friend into various misadventures.
Actor Charlie Bazzell plays Milo with a physical awkwardness and intellectual curiosity that serves the character well. His rapport and connection with Levy is believable, and the audience intuitively understands why the friendship works: Levi gets Milo out of the lab and into the world at large (and in some trouble along the way), while Milo bails him out of the tough spots they find themselves into and acts as the voice of reason. Together, as they venture into the vagaries of time travel, they learn a lesson about the value of making mistakes and learning from them — even when it’s delivered via a comically ironic fate worse than the one they tried to avoid.
“The Misinventions of Milo Weatherby” is deeply enjoyable to watch, and has an almost old-fashioned sense of entertainment, alive to the way cinematic storytelling can immerse viewers into a world and tempo that no other form of narrative can. It’s also just sheer fun (and be sure to check out the bonus scene in the credits for an additional dose of it.) But most of all, it’s alive to the powers of imagination, bravery and resilience to elevate everyday life into a challenging yet magical adventure: a lesson that children learn everyday by virtue of growing up, and one that adults need reminding of at times.