Starring Jimmy Bennett and James Spader. Rated G.

With Shorts, made between high-concept Grindhouse schlockers, Robert Rodriguez reverts to Spy Kids mode. The title refers to the height of the audience it’s looking for; it also points to the film’s formal nature, since it’s divided into chapters that play loose and very fast with the chronology of a fablelike tale that owes little to reality but a lot to the way wee ones probably see the world today.

Watch the trailer for Shorts.

Things centre on goofy 11-year-old Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett, who recently played a young James T. Kirk), much-bullied resident of Black Falls, a town just as ominous as its name implies. Everything there is wholly owned and operated by portly James Spader’s omnivorous Mr. Black, inventor of a shape-shifting personal device that can take calls while it makes coffee. He also has a hold on Toe’s workaholic parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer), their germaphobic neighbour (William H. Macy), and pretty much everyone else.

Our towheaded, metal-mouthed hero is tormented at school by Black’s spoiled offspring, Cole and Helvetica, the latter played by Christina Ricci ringer Jolie Vanier, who’ll certainly get the most attention for this whirligig movie. (The better-known Kat Dennings has a nothing part as Toe’s sexpot older sister.) But the balance of power tilts—and keeps changing chaotically—when a meteor hits Earth, carrying a rainbow-coloured rock that grants its holders infinite wishes, up to a point.

Writer-director Rodriguez, who also edited and did some of the music (three of his sons have small parts as well), is commenting broadly on the incursion of technology into our everyday lives. But he also knows that’s how he’s able to make fun, if slightly overloaded, movies like this.