Sorry, Disney: Wishing a Child Into Existence Doesn’t Cure Infertility

I stumbled onto this little news tidbit today, buried in a post of various entertainment news dubbed “Morning Spoilers” at

Here’s a TV spot for the upcoming Disney movie in which Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner can’t have children, so they bury a box with their description of the perfect child, and then said child magically appears out of the ground. I’m going to assume there’s a good logical reason given why this was a more straightforward approach than, you know, just adopting a kid. (Source)

Ha ha ha… wait, what?!

Behold – The Odd Life of Timothy Green:

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

I was a bit dubious on the premise, so I went searching for the full-length trailer on YouTube. It would appear that io9′s description of the film is actually spot on:

There’s a lot in this trailer that rings painfully familiar for anyone who’s ever experienced infertility, particularly the shot of the doctor sliding a medical chart towards the shell-shocked Garner and Edgerton, telling them: “We have explored every medical option; you couldn’t have tried any harder.”

So naturally they go home, get drunk and start brainstorming all the qualities and details about the child they’ll never have. To be fair, this isn’t that unhealthy of an activity. I’ve done the same thing.

They take all their wishes and hopes and dreams for this child, lovingly place them in a box and tearfully bury it in their garden. “We’re moving on,” Garner’s character says in voiceover.

And then a 7-year old boy pops outta the ground and into their lives, spreading miracles and joy with that characteristic, one-of-a-kind Disney magic™. I’m calling it now: the movie ends with either the boy mysteriously vanishing, Garner’s character miraculously becoming pregnant, or some gloriously sappy combination of the two.

The first 30 seconds of the trailer and truly, the expositional premise for the entire film, seems to capitalize off of another Disney film that managed to capture the complex pain of infertility in just under four minutes: Pixar’s Up. To this day, I cannot watch the “Married Life” segment in the first 10 minutes of Up without bawling. (Need a cry? Click that link. The whole segment is there.)

But in the case of Timothy Green, it rings hollow; the couple’s infertility, however poignantly displayed in the trailer, serves merely as a convenient plot device to move forward this idea of a weird little kid that came out of the ground. I can almost picture the writers’ meeting now:

“So, there’s this adorable little boy and-”

“…and he comes out of the ground!”

“Yeah, yeah – that’s good! I like it. Kind of elfish…”

“Yes! And maybe he’s got little green leaves that stick out from his feet!”

“Brilliant! He touches the lives of everyone he meets and delights the hearts of all.”

“I love it. This is going to be our cash cow, I can just tell.”

“But – how do we introduce him? I mean, little boys don’t just come out of the ground. We’re not making My Little Golem, are we?”

“Hmm, good point. How about we make him the magical wish granted to a couple that can’t have kids?”

“Genius! I’ll call my agent.”

I’m a pretty big fan of Disney: films, brand, cruises, worlds, but I’m disappointed that they’ve taken what could have been an amazing opportunity to really shine a light onto infertility to family audiences in a way that could be compassionate, heartbreaking, and yet still uplifting – instead, they’ve made a movie that basically says, “If you wish hard enough, infertile people, you’ll magically get a kid.”

Not to be a bit of a buzzkill, but sorry, Disney – that doesn’t always happen. A dream might be a wish your heart makes, but they don’t always come true and last time I checked, the Genie was a free man now.

Harsh moment of truth time: for some people who experience infertility, they may never get to parent, no matter how hard they wish and try. I’m not trying to be a downer and I pray to G-d that doesn’t happen to Larry and me, but facts are facts.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green, while trying it’s darnedest to be the feel-good family movie of the late summer, is just another film the likes of The Back-up Plan, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the forthcoming and G-dawful looking The Babymakers and even Juno (another movie where Garner plays a woman who can’t get pregnant; hmm, typecast much?): all unrealistic portrayals of the infertility experience.

Counterpoint being Up, as an example. Up manages to not only capture a lifetime’s pain of pregnancy loss, choosing not to parent and ultimately the loss of a loved one in under four minutes, but it does so with stunning grace and overwhelming emotional pull – without a single spoken word. Further, Ellie’s pregnancy loss is not just a blip in an otherwise chipper film about a man who sails his house to South America with a bunch of balloons: their gorgeously rich life without children and his deep, abiding love for his wife serves as THE sole character motivation for the otherwise stodgy old Carl. Pixar got this across in FOUR minutes.

The other films I’ve mentioned, Timothy Green* included? They can’t even figure this out in 90+ minutes.

*I should say, Timothy Green most likely included, since the film’s not out yet and I haven’t seen it. But if this trailer is any indicator, I’m not holding out much hope that it’s going to stand out as some heralded bedrock of Hollywood’s portrayal of the infertility experience.

I have no problem with wishes. I have no problem with hope. What I do have a problem with is Hollywood’s repeated, pathetic attempts at making infertility a trendy plot device (from Friends to The Handmaiden’s Tale and everything in between). Again, it takes what almost feels like throwaway moments to make the point more strongly than by devoting an entire film to the subject.

Besides Up, there’s that insanely painful, not even three-minute scene in Julie & Julia where Streep’s Julia Child learns that her sister is pregnant. It’s such a short scene, but she begins to sob while she’s comforted by her husband, played by Stanley Tucci. And in the blink of an eye, smash cut to a new scene.

Bam. Those few minutes on screen in Up and Julie & Julia sock you right in the gut, particularly if you’ve gone through infertility. We get it. We know. And it’s enough to be poignant to other movie-viewers who have not experienced infertility.

Now why can’t Hollywood stretch these infertility blips out to 90 minutes?

I have no idea if The Odd Life of Timothy Green will deliver. I gather from the trailer that we’ll never know exactly why they can’t have kids. It’ll just be glossed over to advance the plot more quickly, I imagine. And who knows what will happen to this weird little garden boy – will he grow up? Are there others like him? And Disney hates the unpleasantness of a Carefully Crafted Conflict Left Unresolved, so I bet dollars to donuts the starring couple ends up with some kind of miracle pregnancy.

Who knows, maybe Timonthy Green will turn into some kind of watershed moment for the depiction of infertility in Hollywood, paving the way for films to come.

All I know is that I’m saving my movie ticket money for The Dark Knight Rises (She Who Must Not Be Named be damned).

The Odd Life of Timothy Green comes to theatres August 15th.

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  1. says

    I don’t know, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how this movie is handled. Many fairy tales leap off the same type of story, where a king and queen wish for a child (Snow White, for instance) and they get their wish, so to me this is just another fairy tale (albeit with a probable Hollywood twist). I know Hollywood often stumbles and fails miserably when it comes to infertility plot lines, but I’m reserving judgement for when I see it.

    • says

      Fair enough. I’m definitely putting a lot of judgement out there on just over two and a half minutes of material. That said, Hollywood doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to infertility, so I’m not holding my breath for  this one.

    • andreaorto1 says

      I agree, there are many fairy tales – thumbelina, tom thumb, the snowmaiden, etc. that focus on infertile couples who get children not only in strange ways (building a snow”girl”, in a flower) but typically the children themselves are embued with strange powers, abilities, or insights.   This Odd Thomas film seems to be a riff on that popular fairy tale theme and I’m not going to ask for any more realism than I do from other fairy tales – beauty and the beast, little mermaid, sleeping beauty – etc.
      Also I have a small issue with the following statement:
       ”Harsh moment of truth time: for some people who experience infertility, they may never get to parent, no matter how hard they wish and try.”
      This isn’t quite true – yes there were will be infertole couples who can’t ever conceive but that doesn’t mean that they can’t parent.  They can look at surrogacy or adoption if it is that important to them.  I am not saying this flippantly and I don’t think adoption is what every infertile couple should turn to.   I myself am infertile and we are currently looking forward to our second cycle of IVF, however, my husband and I have also decided that if IVF does not work for us then we will pursue adoption either private or through the state.

      • brina53569 says

        The point is not everyone has those options. The key words being “Some people”.   My husband and I have been fighting IF for 5 years.  We can not afford IVF or adoption and we do not feel that foster care is for us at this time.  There is no “miracle” for us, and for many people like us.  Sometimes IVF doesn’t work or could result in a lost pregnancy.  Sometimes adoptions fail or people wait for years for their baby.  And sometimes people have to move on with their lives and never experience parenthood…  it is a sad and frustrating fact.

        • andreaorto1 says

           I am aware that IVF doesn’t always work, I am on my second cycle after the first resulted in a chemical pregnancy.  My husband and I had to sacrifice quite a bit to come up with the funds for IVF.  While I don’t want to disparage your feelings I still beleive that if “parenting” if one’s goal that they can acheive that.  Our cousin is in the foster to adopt program because she does not want the pregnancy experience but does want to parent. 
          Every couple must decide what will work for them.  If they want a biological child that reduces their options, if they want a baby that reduces options.  This doesn’t mean any one choice is wrong.  I have friends that went through IVF because they wanted a biological child, when it didn’t happen for them they moved on.  My husband and I would prefer our own biological child.  If that doesn’t happen for us on our FET cycles and we run out of embryos then we will turn to adoption.  We want to have a child and if the only way we can get  it is through adoption then we will probably go through the state adoption or foster to adopt program.

        • says

           @brina53569  I wanted to clarify my “Like” – more of “I agree” not that I like your specific situation. Thank you for sharing it – I can’t imagine the kind of emotional pain and heartache this must be for you. I appreciate your bravery and candor in sharing it here.

        • says

           @andreaorto1  “We want to have a child and if the only way we can get  it is through adoption then we will probably go through the state adoption or foster to adopt program.”
          While these may be options available to you, it isn’t necessarily an option for all. And if someone has exhausted all the options available to them and they still don’t have children – well, then – what I originally stated holds true.

      • kateanon says

         @andreaorto1 sometimes, for some people, this is the case. We went through multiple IVF cycles. We tried to adopt, but it fell through shortly before the birth. We looked into the foster care programs, but we were not thrilled with the options our state presented. The fact that childlessness seemed our only remaining option led to some major resentment, which later led to divorce. I experienced infertility and all the things that go with it, and I won’t get to parent, no matter how much I wish that were different, I’ve resigned myself to that fact. 

        • says

           @kateanon  Clarifying as I did for another comment above; “Liking” in that “I agree” not liking your specific situation. The fear of things not working and my husband leaving me as a result is, however irrational in this moment, one that haunts me. Thank you for speaking about your experience so honestly.

      • says

         @andreaorto1 There are absolutely some people who will never get to parent, infertile or otherwise. It might be for lack of resources: financial, emotional, relationship or age-related. I know several personally. For some, they may have spent all the money they had in treatment and have none left for adoption.
        And even then, when people assume that “adoption is a 100% guarantee”, they’re wrong. If you have a chronic illness or are not an “ideal” prospective parent, your profile never gets picked. I’ve seen it happen. You can wait and remain hopeful, but for many, they choose to resolve without parenting.
        For others, the idea of adoption may not be something they are willing to do. They may serve as mentors, aunts/uncles, coaches to children who may consider them parent-like figures, but the fact of the matter is – they may never actually get to parent. 
        Truth is, and I’ve seen it time and time again over the last 3.5 years I’ve been blogging: not everyone gets the happy ending they wanted or expected and for some – they just don’t get it at all.

        • andreaorto1 says

           I agree to you statement “not everyone gets the happy ending the wanted or expected” I think that is the point at which our opinions begin to diverge.  In the happy ending I wantedI didn’t have to go through the physical and emotional pain of a miscarriage, I didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars on treatment, I didn’t have to see that negative result time and again.  So maybe its not the happy ending I wanted or expected but I beleive my happy ending is coming.
          Hopefully I will have sucess with one or more of my 5 frozen blastocysts if not and we have to turn to adoption I know we don’t hav ethe funds for a private adoption.  My husband and I will look into state adoption or foster to adoption programs (in many cases these are free or very low cost).  I have no issue with people who decide adoption or foster isn’t for them (as I mentioned before I have friends who feel the same) but I don’t think they “can’t” parent but they are “choosing” not to parent in that way. 
          I haven’t seen “Odd Thomas” yet but perhaps that is what the movie will show us – that by choosing to “adopt” this ten year old boy they miss out on the “baby” experience but still have the parenting experience. 
          I also have to agree with Julie Anita – I don’t know that I would could or would even want to watch a movie on infertility that didn’t have a happy ending even if that happy ending is contrived.  I keep a tight grasp on my optimism and faith that somehow, someway I will have a child even if he/she doesn’t look like me, is an older child, etc.  I am sorry for all those who have not been able to parent the way they expected or wanted, I am sorry for all those who have struggled as my husband and I have, but I still beleive that if having a child is you only goal you can make it happen.

          • says

            @andreaortoz I’m way late to the game, but something about your argument hit one something for me. Choosing to be childfree after infertility is still “not parenting,” and for us, that’s the end. We weren’t happy with our options. We couldn’t stomach the thought of spending what it would cost to attempt one IVF cycle (and we honestly weren’t even open to IVF) or adoption. But it’s still not what we wanted – we didn’t feel we should adopt just because we’re IF, and we don’t like that it’s referred to often as a back-up option. I think it’s naive to continue to argue that everyone who tries or wants it badly enough will get to parent. It just isn’t so, no matter how many avenues are explored or tens of thousands of dollars are thrown at it. It’s life. It sucks, and it hurts, and it isn’t fair, but it just IS. I can understand that perhaps for you to say everyone “can” parent if they alter their idea of a happy ending may be comforting for you, but please realize that it can be condescending for others who’ve chosen a different path. We won’t be parenting, and I still see us having a happy ending. It’s not at all what we envisioned on our wedding day, but I think our choice of CF after IF is a positive decision that will continue to be so in the years to come.

        • Corey says

          When I saw the tralier for The Odd Life of Timothy Green, I cringed, then rolled my eyes, my husband held my hand tighter in the darkeness of our car on drive in movie night. I think the only thing Disney is trying to get is movie ticket sales and that is it. I don’t think they will be sucessful on this one. Infertility touches more then just the infertile, it spreads out to their friends and families as well.

          For many IVF exsausts all of their financial resources and sometimes a baby comes out of it, and sometimes not, and “i’m sorry we tried everything” is all that the couple ever gets from the infertility clinic. Then they are left with the option of adoption(wickid expensive and also very emotionaly draining), or living child free.

          Infertility is a huge problem in our country, and until we as a country work to find infertility coverage for all that want and need it to build their family, infertility services will ulitmately remain untainable for many.

          For my husband and I we have no coverage for IVF services, hubby’s plan use to cover just testing and diagnosis, but when his employer changed carriers to save money the testing and diagnosis went right out the window. So all i can think is so…now we know WHY we can’t get pregnant, we KNOW HOW to treat it but we don’t have the funds….lovely!.

          So as I turn 31 in aproximately less then a month and I sit here waiting for an ovarian cyst to simmer down, or face removing my ovary. I sit and think I’ve been trying for a baby for ten years without really “Trying and IVF” services due to cost, it’s like bashing my allready bashed in head against the wall. This will only lead to more hurt just walk away and try to heal.

          I just wish my heart would listen, my heart yearns for a little baby to love and I don’t care how or how much, I just want this empty feeling to go away.

  2. says

    My husband and I saw the preview for that movie while at the movies with friends who have also recently become parents after a long battle with infertility (the wife and I met through our blogs and both did DE IVF cycles at the same clinic).  My friend leaned over and whispered to me “Now why didn’t we think to try that instead of spending all that money on fertility treatments?”  ;-)
    Ah, if only dreams, hopes and wishes were enough to produce a child. . . . we’d all be parents!

  3. ladysa02 says

    Unfortunately I think that it just furthers my observation that if you don’t experience infertility first hand, or know someone who does you just don’t get it.  Facts are facts.  The majority of the human race doesn’t have this problem and it isn’t their fault that I do.  Hollywood does a terrible job because the majority of Hollywood pops out babies like they are going out of style.  Crass I know, but true!  Those that experience infertility in Hollywood aren’t exactly honest about it now are they?  I can only find comfort in my own ability to be realistic, yet hopeful.  I am just thankful that I have lots of forums from which to seek solace from.  Infertility sucks, but I can’t really blame Hollywood because (like my non infertile friends who all seem to be pregnant!) they aren’t genuinely trying to hurt the infertile or me.  They are just trying to come up with a good story. It is Disney and meant for kids who have no concept of infertility, nor should they.  

  4. Julie Anita says

    Okay, my opinion may be unpopular, but here goes…
    I think you’re trying to squeeze a little too much reality out of a Disney movie.
    That “one-of-a-kind Disney magic” that you mentioned asks us to suspend disbelief a little. Obviously, the concept of a person growing from a box of notes into a person is ridiculous. Have you seen Practical Magic? Similar theme– Sandra Bullock’s character protects herself against ever finding love by deciding she will only love a perfect man with very specific qualities, and her sister uses magic to conjure up such a man. You have to take it with a grain of salt because it’s not the world we live if, but if you don’t move past it a bit you’ll never see the rest of the movie.
    Up got it right, and I haven’t seen Julie & Julia but it sounds like that movie got it right, too. Both of those movies had a “moment” of infertility and then moved on. It’s not like The Odd Life of Timothy Green is taking advantage to make a plot point and those movies weren’t– we needed to understand infertility to see Carl show love for his wife, to explain why he was alone with no children after she passed, and to give some poignancy to his relationship with whatever that kid’s name was. And, again having not seen the movie, I imagine part of what Julie & Julia was trying to show was a piece of Julia Child’s private experience that people may not know about which grounds & humanizes her and makes her relatable beyond the lady on TV many of us may have seen growing up. Timothy Green is another infertility story that isn’t all about the infertility for 90 minutes. How many of us say “infertility is part of my story but not all of who I am?” I wouldn’t watch a movie that was all about infer– oh, wait, yes I would, I’ve seen Baby Mama about a million times (go ahead, laugh at me– I DON’T NEED YOUR APPROVAL, INTERNETS!!! *secret shame*) But I digress!
    Yes, some people with IF never get to parent– but some Cinderellas never leave their evil stepmother’s home and find Prince Charming. Lots of people don’t get their wishes or live out their dreams, but DAMN, is Disney (or anyone else) supposed to stay in business making THOSE movies? Yikes, what a downer!
    Not that Disney needs any defenders (and man, I’m pretty anti-Disney, how did I get myself into this position?!) but I think it’s a bit unfair to suggest that some dudes were sitting around in a room laughing about how the best way to get this kid shoved into this couple’s life was to give her a bum uterus or something. I think it’s a very old story– hell, there’s a Czechoslovakian fairy tale that Jan Svankmejer did a really creepy version of (as he does) about an infertile couple who wished hard for a child, and then one day woman found a twisted tree branch that looked like a baby, brought it home, and dressed it up and took care of it like it was her child. (This is it here, “Little Otik”:á/dp/B000077VS5) Like most other things Disney does, it’s not even remotely original! (See, I got my slam in. All is back in balance in the universe!)
    I also think it’s a bit unfair to say Jennifer Garner is typecast– two roles isn’t really a pattern. That’s like saying Adam Sandler always plays a medical professional because he’s a veterinarian in 50 First Dates and a dentist in Just Go With It.
    Man, all I can think when I see that trailer is the sadness and hopelessness of writing down bits and pieces of the child you think you’ll never meet, finding a weird sense of grief-joy in that moment with your partner, then burying it like a death in the yard and trying to accept moving on… that gets me hard. For me, that’s a “3 minute moment” that captures a piece of infertility. The movie is fluff, sure, but I think its heart is in the right place.
    It’s a hard topic. How could you really make a movie that isn’t a documentary or a really depressing drama that had a focus around infertility? If we want it to be less taboo and less hidden away, it needs to be out EVERYWHERE– in romcoms, in family movies, in TV, everywhere. Not just where we all would be out looking for it because we need to relate.

  5. Chickenpig2 says

    To be honest, the few minutes of UP and Julie and Julia are enough for me. I couldn’t stand 90 minuted of it in a movie. I found the trailer for Timothy Green matter how unrealistic it may be. Fairy tales are full of infertility as a plot device, do you want to take them all down one by one? Perhaps it is a plot device because there are so many people touched by it.

  6. Joanne says

    This is a tough one. I often read your posts but since I agree with you most of the time, I never feel compelled to comment! I watched the trailer for this at the movies a while ago and definitely thought it ranked high on the ‘cheese’ factor, but like a few people here, I’m not sure I would want to pay money to be ‘entertained’ by the story of my struggle to be a mother. It’s just too sad and a bit depressing sometimes. Movies are escapism and I’m not sure its the responsibility of Hollywood to tell our stories. We’re responsible for that, and that’s where documentaries certainly play a key role, along with blogs like yours. News outlets are becoming more open to running specials on infertility and that, for me, is a little more credible than a Hollywood production. But gthe truth is, unless you’ve ever experienced being infertile, no amount of Tinseltown processed celluloid is going to help you understand – you have to live it and feel it.

  7. lauren says

    I just lost two babies in a row through miscarriage and this movie meant a lot to me. Only God knows if I will ever have more children. This movie expressed how hard it is to loose someone you love so badly and want so badly. It was difficult to watch but I think for me expressed the peaks and valleys of trying to conceive and carry to term. Oh yes, and the movie IS about adoption–which is something I would love to have the opportunity to do even though I will never stop missing my babies I never met. I suggest watching the movie to decide for yourself. At least Disney is acknowledging the pain of infertility issues as that is a rarity in our culture. Infertility is fairly hidden in most of the circles I run in. It is painful. I wish more women would have shared openly with me before I started going through this.