By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 13, 2014 at 2:20PM
You'd think the news that visual (over)stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet was making a children's fable in 3D would provoke at least a small degree of excitement, but the word on "The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet," based on Reif Larsen's novel and starring Kyle Catlett as a peripatetic 12-year-old cartographer, has been awfully quiet considering the movie premiered in France last October. With "T.S. Spivet's" release in the U.K., the reasons for the slight advance buzz become more clear: Reaction is, you should pardon the expression, all over the map. Critics are, by and large, impressed by Jeunet's use of 3D, which many liken to Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," but many find the movie's substance grating. Interestingly, opinion of the film seems to rise the farther you get from mainstream outlets: the daily papers are almost uniformly in the one- and two-star notices, while cinephile blogs are much more kindly disposed. U.S. viewers will have to wait a while to judge for themselves; the Weinstein Company has acquired the rights to the film, but has not set a release date.
Reviews of "The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet"
David Jenkins, Little White Lies
Though the director himself claims in interviews that we are currently in the end zone of the recent 3D revolution, he does everything in his power to breath new life into the controversial medium. It's rare the a movie uses the third dimension so persistently and adroitly, and far from your eyes adjusting and settling early on, there's always a something going on in the foreground or background to make those uncomfortable glasses more than worthwhile.
Oliver Lyttleton, Playlist
It's the closest thing in Jeunet's career to a full-on kids' picture, right down to being shot in 3D, as all family films are these days. Jeunet's very particular style is perfectly suited to stereo visuals, and he makes better use of it than most, striking the right balance of gimmicky and immersive. It's a shame about the film around it, then.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
Anyone who has seen "Amelie" knows that Jeunet films tend to be whirring, burping, home-built contraptions whose ricketiness is all part of the fun, although this time you wish he’d swallowed his pride and called in a professional. The strong language suggests it's not intended for a young audience, but its strained superficiality leaves nothing for older viewers either. Like one of its animated 3D asides, the film jumps out at you, twiddles around and then folds itself away into nowhere. It’s all pop-up, no book.
Stella Papamichael, Radio Times
Flights of imagination are vividly drawn (and even more breathtaking in 3D), helping to roll over the bumpier parts, while Helena Bonham Carter adds a touch of gravitas as the boy's mum. This is a flawed but inventive look at the world from a unique perspective.
Tara Brady, Irish Times
As with Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" -- another film with a child protagonist and pronounced sense of wonder -- "T.S. Spivet" demonstrates that an auteur can work marvels with 3D in a way that no studio picture has ever rivaled. However, DayGlo gloss can't compensate for muddled motivations, sloppy storytelling and yawning emotional chasm.
Geoffrey MacNab, Independent
Jeunet's visual ingenuity has never been in doubt but his cartoonish approach to character and storytelling means that the film has far less emotional kick than might be expected.
Joe Walsh, Cine Vue
The transition from wide-open plains, through rusting old train yards, to the grandeur of the Smithsonian Institute afford Jeunet the opportunity to indulge in his love of Americana, portraying a version of the country that is out of time, loaded with memorabilia and iconography of both the Old West and the 1950s. "T.S. Spivet" may not convert Jeunet's dissenters, but for those who have admired the auteur's past oeuvre, this is another sumptuous curio.
Rich Cline, Contact Music
Catlett is terrific on-screen, holding the film together with a bright-eyed, fiercely articulate performance. And he gets superb support from expert scene-stealers Bonham Carter and Davis. To accompany the bigger themes, Jeunet makes wonderfully inventive use of 3D, opening up T.S.'s imagination visually while capturing the expansive scale of American geography and culture. Along the way, there are also jabs at intrusive media and paranoid law enforcement. But even if the film sometimes feels a little scattershot, its core emotional truth is powerfully moving.
Siobhan Synnot, Scotsman
Spivet has the best use of 3D since Martin Scorsese’s pop-up moviebook "Hugo," and uses many of the same team to make its images of snakes and freight trains pop. Perhaps by the time a collection of campy adults try to cash in on the child prodigy, his film has become a little distracted and silly, but his rabid inventiveness never bores -- provided your energy levels can match those of an irrepressible junior cartographer.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
It's a super-strength helping of twee, cut with a kilo of quirk and cooked up using a gallon of precious. Some people love this kind of thing. For me it's like drinking melted chocolate, lemon juice and bleach.
Dominic Mill, We Got This Covered
The first 45 minutes or so are actually pretty wonderful. We’re thrown into a world of saturated colors and rootsy Americana, a pastel-soaked idyll dropped right in the middle of the picturesque American wilderness. Once the hyper-colored cowpoke antics are wrapped up and T.S. begins his cross-country voyage, the film slows to a dulled crawl, walking around in gradually larger circles until it finally reaches its end-point.
Ian Nathan, Empire
The mood remains as measured as "Amelie," but here it leaves you craving those dark shots that once caffeinated Jeunet’s work.
Charlotte O'Sullvan, Evening Standard
Jeunet knows how to cram a wide-angle landscape with delicious colours and textures (the 3D effects are so juicy). What’s missing is any sense of momentum. It doesn't help that Catlett is a limited actor. But even the more experienced members of the cast -- including Bonham Carter and the wonderful Judy Davis as the cynical head of the Smithsonian -- can't whip up tension. Like Tim Burton's "Big Fish," "TS Spivet" looks wacky but is, in fact, purely bland. Films like this work best if you ignore the dialogue. Bring ear buds and you’ll be fine.
Alan Hunter, Express
Jeunet tells the tale with beautiful visions of the American heartland, a sharp eye for detail and a dry comic touch. At the core is the story of an eccentric family struck by tragedy and trying to find a way to heal their wounds. Very whimsical but also sweetly endearing.