American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I have no idea why Rob Reiner, or anyone else, wanted to make this story into a movie, and close examination of the film itself is no help. "North" is one of the most unpleasant, contrived, artificial, cloying experiences I've had at the movies. To call it manipulative would be inaccurate; it has an ambition to manipulate, but fails.
The film stars Elijah Wood, who is a wonderful young actor (and if you don't believe me, watch his version of "The Adventures of Huck Finn"). Here he is stuck in a story that no actor, however wonderful, however young, should be punished with. He plays a kid with inattentive parents, who decides to go into court, free himself of them, and go on a worldwide search for nicer parents.
This idea is deeply flawed. Children do not lightly separate from their parents - and certainly not on the evidence provided here, where the great parental sin is not paying attention to their kid at the dinner table. The parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander) have provided little North with what looks like a million-dollar house in a Frank Capra neighborhood, all on dad's salary as a pants inspector. And, yes, I know that is supposed to be a fantasy, but the pants-inspecting jokes are only the first of several truly awful episodes in this film.
North goes into court, where the judge is Alan Arkin, proving without the slightest shadow of a doubt that he should never, ever appear again in public with any material even vaguely inspired by Groucho Marx. North's case hits the headlines, and since he is such an all-star overachiever, offers pour in from would-be parents all over the world, leading to an odyssey that takes him to Texas, Hawaii, Alaska, and elsewhere.