“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivot” should come with a whimsy overload warning. The off kilter tale of a boy genius, suicide and a road trip across the United States is so twee it makes Wes Anderson look stodgy.
10-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet lives on a Montana ranch with his cowboy father (Callum Keith Rennie), entomologist mother (Helena Bonham-Carter) and bored sister (Niamh Wilson) who has dreams of becoming Miss America dancing in her head. A year before his twin brother Layton (Jakob Davies) had a tragic incident with a rifle and passed away.
T.S. has invented a perpetual motion machine that wins him the prestigious Baird Prize by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. They don’t realize the perpetual motion genius is a preteen and invite him to accept the award in person and deliver a speech. Leaving behind a note to his folks, T.S. packs a bag and hops a freight train headed to DC. On arrival he becomes a sensation due to his age, but a live television interview reveals more about the prodigy’s psyche than the Smithsonian bargained for.
Filtered through the fevered imagination of “Amelie” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Reif Larsen’s book “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet” becomes a dark children’s tale that is not exactly for kids. Packed with iconic American scenery, inventive 3D and enough quirk for two movies, the story is about isolation and dealing with loss. Near the end there are some heightened emotional moments but the overall tone is left-of-center, often pushing the Whimsy Meter needle into the red. Glimpses of the inner-workings of Gracie’s mind and on-screen graphics dazzle the eye, but begin to wear on the nerves by film’s end.
As flashy as the film is, the bittersweet tale of loss in “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivot” is often overwhelmed by the visuals. Like the diagrams that decorate the screen throughout, the movie is more concerned with showing you the nuts and bolts of the story than allowing you to feel the underlying emotion of the piece.