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‘Shorts’ is Long on Warmth, Creativity

Fast-paced, imaginative and often cute, "Shorts" is slight but enjoyable family fare.

Though the story covers familiar ground, director Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") tells it in a snappy series of shorts that create freshness and spontaneity.

Toe (Jimmy Bennett), a target of bullies, tries to outwit his young enemies with the help of a magical, multicolored rock that makes wishes come true and rocks the neighborhood.

The community revolves around Black Box Industries, the maker of a multipurpose gadget that can serve as anything from a Blackberry-style communications device to a cheese grater. Every adult on the block works for the company and answers to the venal Mr. Black (James Spader), who is so busy trying to expand the Black Box's uses that he ignores his two bratty kids.

The undeniably worthy message is that parents can become too obsessed with work and not take enough time for each other or to listen to their children.

Gross bathroom humor is still a big part of the adventure. A germ-phobic inventor dad (William H. Macy) and his lonely, booger-eating son (Jake Short) must contend with a giant, menacing nasal emission that threatens to return the favor and devour the boy. This gooey-gross segment is unlikely to enthrall anyone over 12, but younger viewers probably will enjoy it.

The rock bounces among the kids, whose wishes backfire or add unexpected, newfound dangers. One boy points out, "Why not wish for world peace?" Great idea, but what kind of action movie would that make?

The climactic scene is too frenzied, but another timeless message rises above the ruckus: Be careful what you wish for.

Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.

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