It is clear that when John Krasinski was trying to pitch “IF,” his delightful new family film, he said, “it’ll be like a live-action Pixar movie.” From the themes on childhood, to the Michael Giacchino score, to the impeccable character design, they largely pulled it off. They produced a middle-of-the-road Pixar movie, somewhere on the rankings beneath “Soul” but higher than “Toy Story 4.”

No one will leave watching “IF” feeling like they were robbed of 104 minutes of their life. The film plucks the appropriate heart strings. It produces the appropriate laughter. And it surprises us with the appropriate “aha” moment.    

If all of this feels like damning the film with faint praise, that seems about right. The film is better than just going through the motions. (The energetic acting performances guarantee that.) Rather, it feels like it was made by ChatGPT on its best days—summarizing the accepted wisdom of what makes a “good family movie,” remixing it and spitting it back out in a package that you haven’t seen before, but you can’t shake the feeling that you have. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe the movie as taking the most emotionally manipulative part of “Inside Out,” extending it to the whole plot, and pasting the opening of “Up” to the beginning.

The moral of the story is that childlike imagination can help us deal with the difficulties of life. Which is fine as far as it goes. But the movie is didactic rather than exploratory. Thematically, the movie is “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” without the thoughtfulness. The film has no ambition other than being a nice enough family movie, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. We could use nice enough family movies. 

Twelve-year-old Bea (Cailey Flemming, The Walking Dead) is still processing her mother passing away when her father (John Krasinski, The Office) needs to go into the hospital for surgery. She is staying with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw, Harry Potter’s Petunia Dursley) while dealing with the fear. She rejects efforts to cheer her up because she’s “not a kid anymore” 

After returning from the hospital one day, she sees an imaginary friend (IF for short) and follows her back to Cal’s home. Cal (Ryan Reynolds, Free Guy) is trying to place IFs who have been forgotten by their original, now grown-up kids, with new children. The seven-year-old I watched it with said his favorite part was that he didn’t know how it was going to end. But my guess is most of the adults can pretty well figure it out from there. 

I should be clear the film does nothing wrong—which in and of itself is something of an accomplishment. The cast is uniformly good. Cailey Flemming nails the innocence that is so important for a film like this. Fiona Shaw’s earnest but unsentimental performance provides a necessary grounding. Steve Carell’s Blue (the main character IF) is so lovable and huggable it will almost certainly inspire a small empire of plush toys. Outside Shaw’s performance, the best part of the movie is probably the wide cast of IFs that pop in here and there to populate the world. Each one is carefully considered, and the kids I watched it with each left with a favorite IF despite most of them only having one or two lines (Unicorn, Guardian Dog, and Ice, for the record). When I saw the cast, I was worried the film would feel like John Krasinski invited his friends over to play, but each character fits and feels authentic to the world. 

Because of the sometimes lengthy scenes where Bea is trying to process her grief, the younger kids I watched it with got antsy. My guess is the film will be most loved by kids in the 7-12-year-old range. Though the film was rated PG, some of the film’s biggest laughs were soft profanity that I’d worry my kids would repeat. 

Three and a half out of five stars. “IF” opened nationwide on May 17th.