There’s magic in Swiss director Fredi M. Murer’s Vitus so long as young star Teo Gheorghiu (only 12 when the film was shot) is at the piano, playing Bach, Schumann and Liszt with exceptional sophistication. A real-life musical prodigy making his screen debut, Gheorghiu is the title character, a Zurich boy blessed—or is it burdened?—with musical and mathematical genius. Vitus’s English mother (Jenkins) gives up her career and pins all her hopes on him, while his father (Jucker) struggles at work (he invents, of all things, hearing aids). The boy’s mentor is Grandpa (Ganz, last seen as Hitler in The Downfall), a free-spirited carpenter who dreams of flying and builds Vitus a pair of wings.
When Gheorghiu isn’t in front of the keyboard, Vitus flounders. Murer (who wrote the screenplay with Peter Luisi and Lukas B. Suter) has tossed in a host of underdeveloped subplots, including Vitus’s secret stock-market maneuvers and a schoolboy crush on his baby-sitter. Worse yet, the film never settles on a consistent tone: Is this a whimsical fairy tale or an earnest family drama? As Emperor Joseph once complained to Mozart: Too many notes.