Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The Big Disney Letdown: or, Looking Back Bitterly
In looking back at just some of Disney’s 1970s live-action cinematic endeavors, this partial list alone reads like a Shakespearean tragedy:
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The Shaggy D.A.
The Apple Dumpling Gang
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again
The Cat from Outer Space (both M*A*S*H commanders are in this: Harry Morgan and McLean Stevenson)
The North Avenue Irregulars (sounds like an ad for adult diapers)
Hot Lead and Cold Feet
Escape from Witch Mountain
Return to Witch Mountain
And of course, The Black Hole (aka “We passed on Star Wars”).
Disney’s animated features have fared a bit better, not that I’ve seen them:
The Fox and the Hound (1981; this one was heavily advertised, so naturally I didn’t go and see it)
Don’t know why Disney eschewed its proud and successful animated tradition for Joe Flynn and Dean Jones, but they did and it’s my first impression of Disney the movie studio. Their less-than-stellar legacy is something I can’t grasp. Why would they make the move to live-action movies when they were the world’s leader in animated feature films dating back to 1937? I honestly want to know. If any Disney aficionados out there are reading this and can answer this question, please comment.
Now, it’s time for some bitter reminiscences...tongue in cheek, of course, but more than a kernel of truth.
I remember my parents always raving about Disney's great animated features, but they were too busy splitting up to take me, I guess. For whatever reasons, I never saw those classic Disney animated films on TV or in any theatrical re-releases there might have been. As a result of my deprived childhood and Disney's ineptitude, I've never seen many of those early Disney classics. Fantasia in particular has eluded me all these years. I haven't even bothered to see them on home video; I'd really prefer seeing them on the big screen, but even that's unlikely as they bastardize their own films with politically correct changes. Jerks. So even the home video aspect of this tragic tale can’t rescue me from my lethargy.
Those of you of the Baby Boomer generation have one more thing to be thankful for, and that’s the superiority of your collective Disney experience over that of the so-called Generation X. You had the novelty of the opening of Disneyland, the weekly Disney show at its 1950s and ‘60s peak and the frequent cinematic re-releases of all those animated Disney classics. Even the Generation Y people have a better Disney nostalgia, with virtually every movie made beginning with The Little Mermaid and on through the ’90s. My generation had the Osmonds singing at Disneyland and Bette Midler and Shelley Long “buddy” movies.
When I was a little kid in the mid-to-late 1970s, Disney wasn't doing much animation. Lots of Ken Berry and Dean Jones live-action crapola which bored me to tears. Plus there was the Herbie the Car series, which I actually didn’t mind, especially Herbie Rides Again. That’s the one with Helen Hayes fighting some monolithic building conglomerate who wants to tear down her humble home in favor of some skyscraper. However, the one movie that stings with remembrance was the 1972 non-opus un-classic, Snowball Express. I had suffered through this wretched movie one day in 1982 and vowed never to put myself through that again. A week or so later, a friend and I were going to a movie house to see a Disney movie with his then-twentysomething brother and his girlfriend. Anyway, the morning we were set to go, my buddy came down with the flu. He got to stay home with the comfort of his fever, chills, and vomiting whereas I had to sit still with “grown ups” (as I classified anyone five years or older than me) who, at least to my mind, were going to talk about “adult” things like college, alcohol, and other non-Star Wars action figure-related topics.
Anyway, guess what “surprise” Disney movie we were set to see? You guessed it: Snowball Express. Seeing that film twice in less than a week almost qualified me to do Charlton Heston’s mouthing the dialogue of the Woodstock documentary in The Omega Man, only without the lost idealism. I did feel like the last person on the planet, though.
I recently watched Snowball Express on TV, not as a way of punishing myself, but rather seeing if my hostility and unpleasant memories still held true. Surprisingly, they did not. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Harry Morgan is fun as always, and there are several TV actors who bring a familiarity and nostalgia to the proceedings: Dick Van Patten (who never seemed to work outside of the 1970s), Johnny Whitaker (Family Affair), George Lindsey (Goober from Andy Griffith), and the great blowhard villain from many a 1970s Disney film, Keenan Wynn. Was it Pinocchio? Did it evoke memories of Fantasia? I wouldn’t know, because I still haven’t seen those films.