Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fun for the whole family

Last Friday, my good friend Linda at Yet Another Journal took a brief swim in good ol' Nostalgia Lake, reminiscing about how at one time you could take an entire family to the movies and the film watched could be enjoyed by all. She observes:

These were films everyone could enjoy, from Grandma to the five-year-old. There might be a little romance for the adults, a little slapstick for the kids, adventure for everyone, an occasional saccharin, but always heartwarming ending. Nothing popped, whizzed, or exploded; nobody swore or made bathroom jokes.

Leaving aside for a moment that I equate “whizzed” with “bathroom jokes” (thus engaging in my own bit of toidy humor, for which I apologize), I think Linda is on to something here…and not in a fogeyish “You kids get off my lawn” fashion. She mentions the movies cranked out by the Walt Disney studios (with an emphasis on the non-animated releases) and I’m here to tell you, if Disney made a movie in the 1970s that I’ve yet to see then everybody there should take a victory lap. Those were the only films my family saw growing up…the only exception being The Sting (1973), and before we viewed that my father warned me that there would probably be some language in that film that he didn’t want me repeating outside of the theater. (Whether or not this meant I could use it inside the theater was a point I decided it would be best not to debate.)

I’ve pretty much seen them all. I’ve seen the “Dexter Riley” trilogy: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972) and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). I saw Freaky Friday (1976), which I had an opportunity to revisit a few Sundays back when TCM showed it…and I have to be honest, not only has it not dated well but it constitutes prima facie evidence that Jodie Foster should not do comedy. (Seriously—how many Jodie Foster comedies can you name, other than Nell [1994]?) Barbara Harris is still the best thing in the film, by the way.

Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, the Disney people not only made some fitfully funny films (dig that alliteration!) but populated the casts of those movies with well-known actors in a way that it didn’t seem like “slumming.” Heck, Ed Asner is in Gus (1976), a movie about a football-kicking mule. Darren McGavin appears in No Deposit, No Return (1976). David Niven’s also in Return, and in Candleshoe (1977) to boot (along with comedy powerhouse Jodie Foster). Half the fun of rewatching these movies is picking out the various old-movie and TV favorites. I don’t think anybody’s ever been able to top Howard Cosell’s appearance in The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973): “I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire illustrious career!”

Linda then uses this post as a warm-up to discuss the merits of the newly released Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008—she gives it a thumbs-up); I haven’t seen the movie so I’ll reserve comment (although now I know why Abigail Breslin is on that TCM feature on Sunday nights, The Essentials, Jr.—Hollywood can still plug the heck out of movies, that’s for certain) only to say I hope sister Deb takes niece Rachel to see the movie sometime soon (Rach has a birthday coming up, so that might be a nice treat). On the rare occasions when Rachel comes to visit, I’m sort of in charge of the entertainment and it’s sometimes difficult for me to find kid-oriented movies even though Disney is usually the safest bet. (I’d like to roll out the Warner Brothers cartoons for her but I’ve been warned off of those by the Debster herself.) That’s why I enjoyed this Salon piece by film critic Andrew O’Hehir (if you don’t subscribe, you’re gonna have to use the “Salon pass”…sorry about that, Chief) listing some of the “essential” family films available on DVD. I liked a lot of the choices on this list, particularly City Lights (1931) and The General (1927) (TCM has plans to show Sherlock, Jr. [1924] on Essentials, Jr.—which I think might be a even better introduction to Keaton), and the revelation that The Great Muppet Caper (1981) is the best of all the Muppet movies…something I have been saying for years.

1 comment:

Thad said...

The Great Muppet Caper has been a favorite film of mine for as long as I can remember.

As proof of its greatness, check out its IMDB quotes page. That's like half the movie. I rest my case.