Treating imagination with respect

Ben 10: Race Against Time

Using the “back in my day” formula, it’s safe to say that a lot of today’s kid shows suck. As a cartoon on Cartoon Network, Ben 10 was enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. However, the live-action movie Ben 10: Race Against Time does something remarkable: It treats imagination with respect. When Ben Tennyson finds an alien watch that transforms him into any one of 10 alien creatures, he attracts some unwanted attention from alien baddies. The story is a classic setup—a socially awkward child finds that he’s something special. Ben also learns that the citizens of his hometown lead double lives as agents of an alien-monitoring organization called The Plumbers. Backed by The Plumbers, his grandfather—also a member of the organization—and his cousin Gwen, Ben faces an enemy that threatens not only the lives of the one he loves, but time itself. Even though the computer-generated imagery is pretty rough, it’s fun to see a movie not be afraid to serve up monsters in live action. The film has hints of Cloak & Dagger, Batteries Not Included and Flight of the Navigator—all childhood classics that executed a simple premise with precise imagination but were greatly overlooked by critics at the time. While films like The Chronicles of Narnia series and The Golden Compass rely on the fantastical to drive a child’s imagination, Ben 10 relies on the commonplace. Graham Phillips as Ben is reminiscent of Henry Thomas (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Cloak & Dagger) for his portrayal of a child forced to deal with adult problems. And thankfully, Ben 10 doesn’t shy away from the adult themes—loss, self sacrifice and responsibilities—which are all explored. Saturday-morning cartoons may keep kids glued glossy-eyed to the TV, but Ben 10 will get them out in the front yard saving the world from aliens.