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.
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The Black Hole (1979)
Written by Gerry Day & Jeb Rosebrook
Directed by Gary Nelson
Who is Disney’s The Black Hole for? It’s too dark and metaphysical for kids to understand, yet it’s presented as a 1950s B-science fiction film unironically, which makes it less elevated than the material could be. The Black Hole is a film for no one, yet it has fascinated me years after first seeing it on a library VHS tape borrowed when I was eight years old. It is essential to understand the landscape The Black Hole was released in, and how out of touch with contemporary cinema is feels at moments. It’s also an exploitation flick in that it cribs from Star Wars, Alien, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but never in a good way.
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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.
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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.
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