Disney Movie of the Month

“The Boatniks”

It was fun to revisit The Boatniks, a Disney live-action comedy from 1970. 

Theatrical release poster (© Disney)

Ensign and major klutz Tom Garland (played by Robert Morse) has an eventful first assignment at a Southern California Coast Guard station. His commanding officer (played by Don Ameche) knew Tom’s father, a decorated war hero, and, therefore, holds Tom to a higher, if not impossible, standard. He meets the atttactive and smart sailing instructor Kate (played by Stephanie Powers). And he encounters three suspicious men (played by Norman Fell, Mickey Shaugnessy, and the great Phil Silvers) who actually are wanted criminals who have just pulled off a major jewelry heist and accidentally drop the jewels in the ocean near Tom’s Coast Guard station. 

What ensues is a late-1960s/early-1970s Disney-style screwball comedy as the three bumbling criminals try to recover the jewels and clumsy Tom and beautiful Kate try to figure out what the guys are up to. Also in the comedic mix are a bevy of zany characters who dock their boats nearby (hence the title of the film). 

The pacing is slow and the comedy is definitely dated; still, I had blast re-watching this film after many years. The Southern California location shots are fun to see (along with the soundstage cuts of the actors in the boats). Stephanie Powers lights up the screen with a great 1970s vibe. Phil Silvers, although not given a brilliant script to work with, still livens every scene he’s in with his incredible comedic timing, expression, and delivery. 

Ultimately, watching The Boatniks again made me very nostalgic for the classic Disney live-action feature family comedy genre which no longer exists. While none of these post-Walt comedies were particularly brilliant, there’s a definite charm to them. Seasons change, but I wish that fun, family friendly, non-franchise comedies could be part of The Walt Disney Studios’ slate once again for families everywhere to enjoy.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Robert Morse and Don Ameche (© Disney)

Mickey Shaughnessy, Phil Silvers, and Norman Fell (© Disney)

Robert Morse and Stephanie Powers (© Disney)

Current Cinema, Disney Movie of the Month


After all of the secrecy, speculation, and mysterious viral marketing campaigns, Brad Bird’s new live-action sci-fi feature Tomorrowland is finally here. Was it worth the wait?

© Disney

© Disney

Mostly, yes. While I won’t be giving a full review (I’ll leave that to the professionals), I do have an opinion of a few things that I wished made it to the final cut:

1) More Plus Ultra. Brad Bird and his co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof created a really cool concept for the film about a secret society of the world’s best minds called “Plus Ultra.” Most references about the group were cut, which is unfortunate because the group plays an incredibly important, foundational role in the narrative. Thankfully, much of this mythology is online (see links below), but it still would have been so great in the film.

Here’s a scene that was cut that explains more about the society (enjoy the vintage-style Disney animation in the clip, too):

2) More 1964 World’s Fair. I was hoping that the film would show more of a digital recreation of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Alas, we only get a quick glimpse of the entrance, the non-existent Hall of Invention building (it was created for the film), and a quick view of the PepsiCo/UNICEF “It’s a Small World” pavilion (the queue, boats, and flume of the attraction were filmed at Disneyland where the attraction was relocated after the World’s Fair). The crew also filmed footage at the Carousel of Progress attraction, which was the former GE pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair (the attraction now resides at the Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World), but none of the footage made the final cut. Total bummer.

3) More Tomorrowland. The production team along with futuristic designer Syd Mead created an incredible world of Tomorrow for the film. Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend a lot of time there during the movie. I left wanting more, more, more (and a big yes to jet packs in the future!).

4) More Walt Disney (maybe). Given the content of the alternate reality game that took place during the D23 Expo 2013 to promote the film, it seemed like Walt Disney the man would be playing a role in the movie. Instead, the only mention of Walt Disney that made it to the final cut is in the opening credits and on the digital recreation of the PepsiCo/UNICEF pavilion at the World’s Fair (Disney’s name is on the building). /Film has a great write-up about this. It’s probably just as well, as much of this fictional representation could have been misinterpreted, but it still would have been great to explore more the contents of the fictional “1952” box and how Walt Disney was a modern-day member of the Plus Ultra Society in the film’s mythology.

Oh well. Despite my complaints, the film is still a lot of fun and it’s great to see an original family film slug it out with all of the summer sequels at the box office. Go see Tomorrowland and let me know what you think.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tomorrowland is currently playing in theaters.


Disney Movie of the Month

“Cool Runnings”

© Disney

Leon, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, and Doug E. Doug in “Cool Runnings” (1993) © Disney

Y’all know that I’m a big fan of the Walt Disney Studios. I thought it would be fun to watch one Disney film a month from here one out and blog about it. This month’s entry is Cool Runnings, the 1993 sports comedy based on the true story of the bobsled team from Jamaica that competed in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

The film tells the inspirational story of Jamaican runner Derice Bannock (played by actor Leon) who decides to form the island’s first bobsled team after an unfortunate event crushes his dreams of representing Jamaica in the Summer Olympics. Bannock meets former American bobsledder Irv Blitzer (played by John Candy) who happens to be living in Jamaica and they recruit three more locals for the team (Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, and Doug E. Doug). Blitzer becomes the team’s coach and together they overcome multiple obstacles to qualify and compete in Calgary. It’s also an ultimate fish-out-of-water story, with the Jamaicans trying to figure out what it means to compete in the cold and on the world stage.

While the film is in many regards your basic sports movie, it rises above the standard clichés with its winning (and funny) script, terrific acting, and great direction from director John Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure). It is a fun and inspiring film.

One final bit of trivia—Cool Runnings was released in October 1993, just months before John Candy’s untimely death in March 1994. I’m glad he was able to see his terrific performance in the film.

Rating: 4 of out 5 stars

Cool Runnings is currently available on Netflix.

Have you seen Cool Runnings? What do you think of it? Leave a reply below.

Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013


Dan Shor, Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Boxleitner on the grid in 'Tron' (Disney, 1982)

Dan Shor, Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Boxleitner on the grid in ‘Tron’ (Disney, 1982)

I am a huge fan of Disney’s innovative live-action sci-fi pic Tron (1982). Released when I was a kid and at the height of the video arcade craze, the film tells the story of computer programmer Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) and his journey into the digital world, aka “the grid,” to fight off the evil Master Control Program who has usurped control of all computer games and programs. On the grid, video games are more like gladiator fights to the death. And no one kicks butt on the grid like the computer program Tron (played by Bruce Boxleitner), who fights “for the users.” I distinctly remember seeing Tron in the movie theater in 1982 and knowing that I was watching something truly unique (I re-watched the film on Disney’s fantastic Blu-ray transfer released in 2011). It was one of the first films to extensively use computer generated graphics. The scenes on the grid were filmed using black and white film on blacked out sets with the actors wearing white costumes. The scenes were then hand painted in post production, giving them their unique color and glow. The process was so labor and cost intensive, it hasn’t been used since. With the influence of visual consultants Syd Mead, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, and Peter Lloyd, and special visual effects by Disney wizards Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor, the film has a visual aesthetic which I absolutely love. And while it may not have the most interesting plot in the world, the film is a guilty pleasure for me in all regards. Also stars Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, and David Warner. Written and directed by Steven Lisberger. “On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.”

Guilty Pleasures Film Festival 2013

“Blackbeard’s Ghost”

Peter Ustinov and Dean Jones in "Blackbeard's Ghost" (Disney, 1968)

Peter Ustinov and Dean Jones in “Blackbeard’s Ghost” (Disney, 1968)

“Blackbeard’s Ghost” (Disney, 1968). Another Disney live action comedy favorite from my youth. Dean Jones plays Steve, a college track coach who accidentally conjures up the ghost of the notorious pirate Captain Blackbeard (played by the ever fantastic Peter Ustinov). Turns out that Blackbeard was cursed by one of his exes to live in a purgutory state until he actually does something good for someone else. It also turns out that the Dean Jones character is the only one who can see him. With lots of invisible man effects and sight gags galore, the film is plain and silly fun. Also stars Suzanne Pleshette, Elsa Lanchester and Richard Deacon. Based on the book by Ben Stahl. Written by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. Directed by veteran Disney Studios director Robert Stevenson (“The Absent-Minded Professor,” “Mary Poppins”). “Beware all wenches.”