It’s hard to realize now when Disney dominates the box office, but in the 1960s and 1970s, it looked like the company had run out of steam.
Not that it didn’t have some big wins such as Mary Poppins, but even before Walt Disney passed, the company was turning out formulaic kid comedies such as Bon Voyage, Follow Me Boys and what seemed like endless kids vs. bumbling crooks comedies.Which brings me to this trio of films watched for Alien Visitors:
MOON PILOT (1962) had a number of critics gobsmacked by Disney actually including some political satire in its space adventure (“You clearly haven’t read our pamphlet, Simple Science for Senators.“), and there’s no question I enjoyed seeing it as a tween. Watching now, though, the satire’s too heavy-handed — Edmund O’Brien’s FBI agent and Brian Keith’s cigar-chomping general are caricatures. The story involves astronaut Tom Tryon accidentally getting picked for a moon orbital mission. Although the mission is top secret, an eccentric girl named Lyrae (Dany Saval) not only knows about it, she insists that the rocket needs a particular chemical coating for Tryon to survive cosmic radiation. Should he try to convince the general? Report the cutie as a possible Russian spy? Kiss her? It’s tedious to watch as an adult, except for the charming Saval (she’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl from space, but she makes it work). “Are you sure it’s a good idea to send a fine, upstanding young man from my state into space in an election year?”
THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE (1978) finds himself stranded on Earth and needing a fortune in gold to reactivate his ship (aliens are always needing things like that), assuming he can get it back from Harry Morgan’s hot-tempered general (a clone of Keith, but without the cigar), who suspects the ship might be Russian (my book’s definitely going to have to discuss Cold War fears in relation to the topic). Can scientists Sandy Duncan, Ken Berry and Maclean Stevenson rig enough sports games with the cat’s TK powers to get him back into space? Can they evade the spy ring military mole Roddy McDowell has notified about the cat? By this point, I don’t think Disney was even trying; Jesse White plays a bookie. “While we’re standing here talking, some slimy, twelve-legged green-headed creep could be crawling into the White House!”
Disney’s creative game was in another league by the end of the century, but the sitcom remake MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (1999) still tanks miserably. Jeff Daniels is a TV reporter who discovers Martian Christopher Lloyd has crashed on Earth and realizes exposing him could be a ticket to the big time. Yet, crotchety and annoying as Lloyd is, Daniels finds himself growing oddly fond of him. This as much a remake of Mork and Mindy as it is My Favorite Martian (I’ll get to both series in a later post), with Lloyd’s erratic, manic behavior and his self-aware spacesuit closer to Robin Williams’ Mork than to Ray Walston’s Martin (Walston’s role as a Man in Black makes one Big Reveal quite predictable — and making this film a quasi-sequel rather than just a remake). Not very funny and way too much humor relies on wacky F/X; with Elizabeth Hurley as a shallow reporter, Darry Hannah as a camera jockey and Wallace Shawn as a mad scientist. “What was in those brownies?”
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