Meet Konrad, a loveable little boy played by adorably-named Huckleberry Fox. He's a genetically-engineered "Instant Child", mass-produced in a factory, brainwashed by oppressive "trainers" to become docile, loyal, and respectful to elders, then vacuum-sealed in a pop-top can for ease of storage and delivery. So what happens when eccentric rug-maker Berti Bartelotti (Polly Holiday) gets him by mistake? Report such flagrant human-rights violations to Amnesty International? Bring this fiasco to the attention of the paranoid media? Oh no, of course not. Won over by his ingrained cuteness, she keeps little Konrad as her very own, while she and her boyfriend, known only as "Mr. Thomas" (Ned Beatty), haggle over the right to dote upon him like he was some sort of toy they were sharing. Meanwhile, the factory owner, Dr. Monford (played by Max Wright of ALF fame), is upset that Konrad got accidentally placed in an unfit environment (since Berti and Mr. Thomas are [gasp!] living in sin) and sends his elite cadre of bumbling security guards to "recall" and "recycle" their perfect child. This child is indeed so perfect that he has grand mal seizures of anxiety whenever he makes the smallest mistake and is regularly pantsed around the playground by bullies with no special programming. The hilarity ensues as our heroes track down the kidnapped Konrad to the "factory", a dystopian monochromatic "1984 Elementary School" where perfect Aryan children march double-file down the halls, and a loudspeaker announces, to the shock of all kids watching, that "Halloween has been cancelled." Needless to say, after the spell-binding thrill-a-minute climax, everyone goes away happy and realizes that it's okay to be less-than-perfect even if you are a dysfunctional abused clone. Fairly good production values and quirky acting make this PBS/Wonderworks special a great family movie. Or is it?
This was one of my favorite movies growing up when I thought it was far more chilling and dystopian than it really was. The scene with Konrad lying desiccated in the can after being opened haunts me 17 years later. However, coming back to it as an adult, I realize just how juvenile the premise really is. In this story, cloning isn't morally wrong, nor is eugenics, child abuse, imprisonment, cryogenics without consent or slavery. Konrad is not a human being, he's "another one of those fads of yours" and "a miracle of genetic engineering," as Mr. Thomas states. And how are these children constructed? Are they normal, yet enhanced human beings (like Star Trek's Khan) or are they designed to stay adorable 8-year-olds forever, their growth forever stunted like that of toy dogs? In that case, Dr. Monford is right in recalling Konrad from his chaotic surroundings. A child like him would be unable to function in the outside world and be subject to countless health problems, just like a toy poodle or a Shar-Pei. He would be so dependent on his controlled lifestyle that he would need a home where he and his environment could be constantly monitored. To be such a being, a living plaything at the disposal of the decadent elite, would be very depressing indeed. But yet the factory children wave their dimpled smiles as millions of normal babies are born and die waiting to be adopted. Indeed this is a great movie for children... if you want to teach them that their worth as a human being is calculated only by their value in the consumer marketplace. If you want to watch this movie done right, watch Little Man Tate, Gattaca, Star Trek II, or A.I. Oh heck, you can even watch Parts: The Clonus Horror.
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