The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) Written by Mary Rodgers Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
This Disney film began life in 1973 as a concept developed at Hammer Films. It was going to be called The Fairytale Prince and star Vincent Price as a dead actor who collects children’s souls for The Devil. Now that would have been a movie. Instead, we got this uneven, poorly written & directed embarrassment. By the 1980s, Disney was not in a good spot. Changes in leadership since the death of Walt led to a company that seemed to lack a clear identity. They produced live-action movies like Escape From Witch Mountain or Freaky Friday, which performed poorly at the box office. Their animated fare (The Rescuers, The Fox and The Hound) weren’t doing too well either. But even those look good compared to this one.
Recently the Orlando Sentinel published an op-ed by Clark County, Nevada district attorney and human thumb Jonathan VanBoskerck titled “I love Disney World, but wokeness is ruining the experience.” Vanny begins his rant by complaining about Disney’s new employee dress code, which allows visible tattoos, culturally inclusive uniforms, and natural hairstyles. Now, Disney is a demonic megacorporation that should be burnt to the ground, but this is just basic minimum human decency. They will still mistreat employees, but at least these workers aren’t being forced to suppress their race or cultural heritage.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) Written by Caroline Thompson and Michael McDowell Directed by Henry Selick
While the idea and production design were initially conceived by Tim Burton, the actual execution of The Nightmare Before Christmas was done by a bevy of other talented creators. However, the film is associated with Burton, and many mistake him as the director. We love and remember the picture for Danny Elfman’s music, Henry Selick’s direction, and the fantastic script by Thompson and McDowell. Thompson co-wrote Edward Scissorhands, and McDowell also penned the screenplay for Beetlejuice, so they brought all those elements to the table. The result is a gorgeous macabre take on the Christmas spirit that endures because it stands out from the crowd but reminds us of childhood favorites.
The Shaggy D.A. (1976) Written by Don Tait Directed by Robert Stevenson
I remember watching the original Shaggy Dog film as a kid and enjoying it quite a bit. I remember memorizing the Latin incantation and playing the film out with my siblings. Now it’s been twenty-plus years since I last saw that movie, and I never happened to sit down and watch the follow-up. By this time, the original Wilby Daniels, Tommy Kirk, had been arrested for marijuana possession, and thus his career with Disney was terminated. In 1976, Dean Jones was a go-to in the studio’s acting stable, and so he was put into the role.
The Million Dollar Duck (1971) Written by Ted Key & Roswell Rogers Directed by Vincent McEveety
This was the first film that critic Gene Siskel walked out on. He would only do that with two subsequent movies (1980’s Maniac and 1996’s Black Sheep). The story is a stock Disney script for the time, one of the gimmick comedies, not rising much above a Disney Channel original movie. The production quality is at the television level as well. By the midway mark of the film, I was checking out, despite trying to stay engaged from the outset. There are only so many gags you can do with this plot before it wears out its welcome.
The Barefoot Executive (1971) Written by Lila Garrett, Bernie Kahn, Stewart C. Billett, and Joseph L. McEveety Directed by Robert Butler
At some point in the late 1960s, Disney shifted from more fantasy-oriented live-action films like Mary Poppins or Bedknobs & Broomsticks to what is referred to as “gimmick comedies,” spurred on by the phenomenal success of The Love Bug. These movies were intended to be silly for kids and more “mature” and contemporary so that the parents would enjoy them as well. Roy Disney, Walt’s older brother, took over after Walt took ill and eventually passed away in 1966. The company actually created a cinematic universe with some of these movies, starting with The Absent-Minded Professor and leading into a trilogy of films starring Kurt Russell as college student Dexter Riley. A total of five films were set at the fictional Medfield College. The legacy of these movies can be seen on the Disney Channel with its original sitcoms. They are the spiritual successors to the cheap television-style plots of these movies.
Old Dogs (2009) Written by David Diamond & David Weissman Directed by Walt Becker
How does one end a year and a film series about forgotten terrible movies? Well, the best way, in my opinion, is by subjecting yourself to one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Yes, this is the second time I’ve watched Old Dogs. Do you see what I do for you people? Old Dogs came out a decade ago, a film that marked the movie duo we’ve always wanted to see, John Travolta & Robin Williams…? This is a film with so many strange things happening on the screen, and I have some theories about what the picture was originally going to be. Let’s not waste a single moment more.
Disney’s The Kid (2000) Written by Audrey Wells Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Why am I doing this? I perfectly reasonable question to ask. As someone who watches lots of movies, reads up on actors, directors, writers, genres, etc., I will eventually come across movies I half-remember or never even knew got made. These are not low budget, indie picture but films with considerable financial backing, starring well-known performers, and distributed by major studios. Yet, they have been forgotten, very intentionally. There are approximately 700 English-language films released in the United States annually. With all of the quality control mechanisms and studio notes, we still get complete stinkers put on the big screen. Or the studio realizes in the wake of filming that they have just financed a disaster and try to cobble together something palatable in the editing room. Regardless, these movies are released and then systematically ignored by the people who made them, hoping general audiences allow them to fade into obscurity. Well, I’m here to watch them and write about them for this “We’d Rather You Forgot’ film series.
Big Hero 6 (2014) Written by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Gerson Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams
In 2004, Pixar released The Incredibles, a superhero film ahead of the curve with Iron Man and the MCU not launching until four years later. My first thoughts after the end credits rolled were that Brad Bird and company had succeeded in making the best Fantastic Four film, which would be proven correct when Fox released the groaningly terrible FF live-action movie in 2005. Bird understood the core essence of these characters and about the fundamentals of what drives kids of all ages to lose themselves in an afternoon of comic book reading.
With the release of the CG Lion King remake, I got to thinking about which Disney movies I love that don’t get that love in return. Here are my thoughts on my favorite underrated Disney animated flicks.
The Sword in the Stone (1963, dir. Wolfgang Reitherman) While you might think this Disney version of the legend of King Arthur is just based on general stories it is, in fact, an adaptation of T.H. White which was one volume of four in The Once and Future King series, which was in turn a more modern updating of Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Not only that, Walt Disney was inspired to approve the project as the studio’s next feature after seeing the Broadway musical Camelot in 1960. Instead of a high adventure film, The Sword in the Stone is a light comedy, focusing purely on Arthur’s adolescence and the first few months of training with the wizard Merlin. The primary arc of the film is not about Arthur becoming the king but finding strength and bravery within himself. Along the way, there’s lots of great visual comedy, especially when Merlin and his rival Madam Mim start breaking out the spells.