If 2017's lineup offers any example, the modern children's film must contain at least one of the following: a bossy baby, a talking emoji, a talking car, a Lego-something-or-other (preferrably a talking Lego something-or-other) or a handful of Smurfs.
This overreliance on brands and animation and Alec Baldwin's dulcet tones only make director Todd Haynes's Wonderstruck that much more of a contemporary miracle: Here, finally, is a children's film for real children, a sincere and humane work that is absent any franchise concerns or daydreams of ancillary product. Its source material is not a crass cash-in cartoon, but Brian Selznick's 2011 illustrated novel, a captivating chronicle of two children, separated by decades but united by a family secret.
In 1927, the born-deaf Rose (Millicent Simmonds) runs away from home to pursue silent-movie star Lillian Mayhew in New York. In 1977, the newly deaf orphan Ben (Oakes Fegley) runs away from home to find his birth father in that same metropolis. Their stories converge, in a sense, at the American Museum of Natural History, where Haynes weaves a tale of innocence lost that is bold if only for its lack of cynicism.
Haynes and Selznick do get a bit too, well, wonderstruck by their own project, which blinds them to one central narrative pivot that is more annoying than awe-inspiring.