Walt Disney Studios pumps out as many as 10 movies a year, and inevitably some of them are awful. They’re hack jobs intended to make a quick buck before vanishing into oblivion – you all know Monsters, Inc. but I’d be impressed if you were familiar with Max Keeble’s Big Move, which came out just a month earlier.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet and the fact that Disney executives would sell their own feces if they thought there was a market for them, these once-forgotten films are readily available online. Age hasn’t been kind – they’ve gone from mediocre at best to laughably terrible. But what’s bad for them is great for fans of unintentional comedy, so sit back and enjoy the awful.
7. The Million Dollar Duck
1971’s The Million Dollar Duck somehow manages to make a story about a duck that lays golden eggs overwrought. The duck is a test subject of Disney veteran Dean Jones that escapes and wanders into a radiation lab. Because this is a movie, the duck gets a magical ability instead of tumors, but there’s a catch – it can only lay an egg when a dog barks at it. I had a girlfriend like that once, but that’s a story for another day. What’s important is that this inane condition leads to what almost certainly has to be the low point of Jones’ career: watch as he crawls on the ground and barks at an oblivious duck that’s the most dignified actor in the scene.
He sounds like he’s barking his way to an orgasm near the end, but even he’s better off than Sandy Duncan, who’s forced to play Jones’ borderline mentally handicapped wife. Her applesauce recipe includes copious amounts of garlic (yes, that’s relevant to the plot) and, during what passes for a high-stakes chase scene, worries that her husband will be “decaptivated.” Get it? Because women are dumb!
“Jesus, I got nominated for a Tony award like a month ago. What the hell happened?”
When Jones’ bureaucrat neighbor learns about the duck, he kicks off a government effort to seize it and stop the production of gold, which kind of makes this a horror movie to Ron Paul supporters. The rest of us learn a lesson about the dangers of greed and the importance of family, and the duck’s powers just sort of wear off because conclusions are hard.
The Million Dollar Duck is infamous for being one of only three movies Gene Siskel walked out on, and considering the other two were a brutally violent slasher and a “comedy” starring David Spade, that’s a pretty dubious honor. It’s understandable, though – the 70s were a rough decade for Disney, and this was arguably the lowest point. It’s got every bad family movie clich?, from the bumbling dad to the gee whiz! kid who loves animals. It’s the perfect storm of stupid.
6. Monkeys, Go Home!
Dean Jones, God bless the poor bastard, has a long history of suffering though bad Disney comedies. In 1967 he starred in Monkeys, Go Home! as a young American who inherits a dilapidated French olive farm. Naturally he brings in four ex-spaceflight program monkeys to work for him, because it’s supposedly cheaper than hiring people and apparently the French were still too busy recovering from the war to invent labor laws.
There’s something strangely admirable about Jones’ commitment to these awful roles. The man is a professional, dammit, and he’s not going to let the fact that four of his co-stars spend their off-hours eating bugs they pick out of each other’s fur keep him from delivering the best performance he can. That being said, there are moments when you see cracks in his facade.
“Well, it could be worse. It’s not like I’m starring alongside a duck.”
His sentient co-star is Yvette Mimieux, whose French accent would have set American-French relations back years if anyone actually remembered this movie for more than five minutes after seeing it. She teams up with a kindly local priest (the famous Maurice Chevalier slumming it in one of his final roles) to help Jones get the farm running again and win the trust of the local townsfolk, who are understandably ticked off about monkeys taking their jobs. There’s also an unscrupulous property developer trying to steal the farm, because of course there is.
Watching Monkeys, Go Home! is like stepping back to a simpler era when men were men who worked with monkeys, women were eye candy and plot devices and everyone learned to love Americans who showed up out of nowhere and took away their livelihood. It’s so innocent and wholesome and perfectly encapsulates the Disney of the ’60s. Screwball plots! Cute animals! Very Important Lessons! It’s a time capsule of terrible.
5. The Strongest Man in the World
You’ve probably heard of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, which stars a young Kurt Russell as a college student who gets shocked while fixing a computer and gains its abilities, because it was 1969 and nobody really knew how computers worked yet. What you may not know is that it was followed by two sequels – the terrible Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, in which Kurt Russell invents an invisibility spray and in a stunning display of restraint doesn’t immediately head to the woman’s locker room, and 1975’s The Strongest Man in the World. You get two guesses as to what the formula he invents in this one does.
You just witnessed Kurt Russell beating up a bunch of goons employed by a cereal company, because hired goons are apparently a thing cereal companies have. The fight choreography and editing is on par with a third rate Blaxploitation movie, and it ends with Russell using a bad guy to bowl down all his comrades, complete with actual bowling sound effects. Seeing whether someone cringes at that scene is a quick way to administer a Voight-Kampff test.
Like all good terrible movies, the villains are mustache twirlingly evil. The nefarious President of Krinkle Krunch starts his board meetings with a chant that would feel more at home in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
If you’re wondering why a movie about Kurt Russell becoming the strongest person on the planet involves the political machinations of cereal companies, prepare to be underwhelmed. Russell’s formula spilled into some cereal, making everyone think that the breakfast food was causing the superpowers. So Big Cereal tries to steal the secret from the underdogs in time for a weightlifting competition between Russell’s college and State College, which presumably has a mean old dean and lots of snooty fraternities.
There’s nothing quite like the high stakes drama offered by cereal-company sponsored weightlifting contests, which is why I’m currently penning a sequel featuring a new type of Cheerios that makes you incredibly virile. But when the big day comes and both teams start off by eating their respective cereals (just like they do in the Olympics), Russell’s team starts getting their collective asses kicked. He realises that the strength was inside him all along, or at least inside the formula he made. So he chugs some down and demolishes the competition, winning the contest for his school and keeping the world safe from evil cereal executives for another day. That’s right, Disney once taught kids that you should use drugs to cheat at sports.
4. The World’s Greatest Athlete
Disney went through a brief period where they were all about telling the story of the world’s somethingest something. Look for The World’s Most Rotund Child and The Best Competitive Crocheter in the World in some future sequel to this article.
But in this movie, the Fresh Prince’s girlfriend’s father and Barnacle Boy are coaches of a college academic program so inept they could be beaten by a team of leprous orphans. Things seem hopeless until a plot coincidence takes them to Africa where they discover boy wonder Nanu, a young man so awesome that his opening scene features him outrunning a cheetah with the help of some glorious 1973 special effects.
I’m not sure if white boy Nanu being way better at everything than all the black Africans is racist, but since this movie is inspired by Tarzan we can let it slide. What is racist is the role of Nanu’s witch doctor Godfather. Roscoe Lee Browne brings all the dignity he can to the role, but when you’re walking around in feather dresses and casting spells on your co-stars it’s hard to come across as respectable.
Anyway, the coaches bring Nanu back to Africa, where he’s introduced to his tutor, Jane. Jane heroically agrees to rearrange her entire academic career so she can teach Nanu/continue undressing him with her eyes, because Disney’s idea of feminism in the 70s was letting women talk.
Nanu’s meteoric rise through the ranks of collegiate athletics annoys some people because otherwise the movie wouldn’t have any villains, but it’s hard to take the plot of a movie that features Browne shrinking Tim Conway down to the size of an ice cube seriously. In a climatic race, which Disney inexplicably chose to use as the entirety of the modern trailer, Nanu fights the establishment by starting from the standing position. This is enough to make Howard Cosell lose his shit.
We then get to see the entire race in slow motion, complete with tacky soundtrack. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will tell you to keep an eye out for Nanu’s pet tiger in the crowd, because apparently you can bring apex predators to sporting events if they’re dapper enough. Try it yourself!
3. The Gnome-Mobile
The Gnome-Mobile, which sounds like a movie Troy McClure would star in, is based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, of all people. Don’t worry, this isn’t an industrial horror story about exploited gnomes – Disney would never make a movie about the exploitation of fantasy creatures, because that’s their business model.
This is one of the last movies Walt Disney himself worked on, and is also the only movie on this list that you could argue is actually any good, or at least was good back when it came out in 1967. Veteran actor and paranoid racist Walter Brennan plays both a lumber tycoon and a 943 year old gnome, the latter of whom often goes into pseudo-senile rants befitting Brennan’s personality.
He’s accompanied by his two grandchildren, who starred in Mary Poppins and have British accents fit for a horror movie, on an adventure to help two gnomes find more of their kind. From the “hasn’t aged well” department comes a plot point about Brennan’s grandson (his gnome grandson, not his human one) slowly fading away, a problem that’s reversed when they find other gnomes and he becomes the subject of a game in which he’s soaped up, and crazed, nubile young lady-gnomes fight to grab hold of him and win the honor of marrying the stranger they just met, a scene which I’m pretty sure set women’s rights back about 20 years.
“His cock is MINE, lady!”
Between the goofy sexism, the laughable special effects (at times the gnomes are clearly just the actors standing on couches) and songs that make “It’s A Small World” sound like a rock opera, it’s all rather bad. But it’s a fascinating bad, a bad where you understand how it could have been considered good once. Really, this movie isn’t much different from Mary Poppins, except Poppins caught on and entered the cultural cachet while The Gnome-Mobile faded into obscurity.
It doesn’t help that there’s something depressing about watching old children’s movies, because I can’t stop thinking about how the children are now old enough to be my grandparents. What’s even worse is that the actor playing the grandson died of pancreatitis at 21. There’s a grim lesson for any modern kids who watch this – life is a magical adventure full of laughter and love, right up until you contact a freak illness and die.
2. Unidentified Flying Oddball
Unidentified Flying Oddball is an adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, except with all that tedious “satire” and “social commentary” replaced with slapstick.
The film features future Golden Raspberry for Worst Director Winner Dennis Dugan in a double role as an astronaut and his lookalike cyborg buddy. After science happens they find themselves in the court of King Arthur and in the midst of what passes for political intrigue in comedy movies, essentially making this a white predecessor to Black Knight. Disney’s modern trailer leaves out the fantasy angle completely, because even they find it hard to care.
That lack of giving a shit extends throughout the entire film – you can clearly see wires holding up a rocket chair near the end, because this was 1978 and the people behind Disney’s run of insipid comedies were so very tired. Although I have to admit that it has its moments: most notably a running gag featuring a Playboy-esque magazine that would be dull in any other movie but comes across as positively scandalous in the context of ’70s Disney.
Anyway, Dugan MacGyvers up various ways to battle the forces of evil, although here they’re more of the forces of requisite opposition. Most of them boil down to “ancient people didn’t understand science, therefore comedy.” There’s a particularly awful scene where the villain’s attack backfires horribly, he thinks Dugan has cursed his weapon, and then he uses it again anyway. So the day is saved, and Dugan wins over the possibly mentally challenged girl. It would be kind of rapey if Dugan himself weren’t playing his astronaut with all the emotional maturity of a 12 year-old. It’s pretty obvious why Dugan turned to directing – even worse is the cyborg character, which is the most stereotypical and dull robot you can imagine.
It’s all so painfully tacky. The only emotion the film manages to generate is pity, as the legendary Kenneth More is clearly embarrassed to be playing the classic role of King Arthur in such a ridiculous context.
1. The Shaggy D.A.
Poor, poor, Dean Jones. In a plot point you’re unlikely to see borrowed by even the most desperate of legal dramas, Jones’ rival for the office of district attorney uses the inscription on a cursed ring to turn Jones into a sheepdog at inopportune moments.
This 1976 legal thriller is a sequel to Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, released in 1959. It was a massive success, kick-starting Disney’s two decade trend of gimmick comedies. The Shaggy Dog has faded into obscurity – even its modern remakes have been instantly forgettable – but in 1959 it made a bigger return on its investment, percentage wise, than Ben-Hur.
The sequel features the cursed ring, the main character as an adult and absolutely nothing else from the original. Jones is motivated to run for D.A. after his house is robbed by associates of the current, ridiculously corrupt representative, complete with an “I am a bad guy” mustache. One of the things they steal is the ring, and thus shenanigans ensue.
There’s more to the plot than that, but really all you need to know is that Jones is a lawyer that turns into a dog… at the worst times! Oh no! Sadly, he doesn’t walk around barking like he’s really committing to his character at a furry convention – once the transformation is complete he’s literally replaced with a dog that talks in his voice, which I imagine is a bit of a blow to the old ego.
If that’s not enough, a chase scene features Jones-dog disguising himself as a female roller derby contestant. Unless you’re a in a very specific demographic you’ll agree with me that he’s by far the least attractive member of the team.
In a remarkable failure of sports commentary, the play by play man announces that the team has brought in a “new mystery skater.” Buddy, you’re witnessing some sort of furry voodoo that goes against all known natural laws, and that’s your reaction? But his incompetence is soon overshadowed by one of the bad guy’s lackeys, an animal control officer that tries and fails to bring his gigantic net down on Jones-racer-dog like a guillotine instead of using it as, say, a net.
Jones is eventually caught, but with the help of some dogs at the pound he breaks out and finds evidence to prove that the bad guy is bad. The baddie is dealt some karma when he turns into a bulldog, and then he’s sent to either jail or a shelter to be euthanized. It’s not clear.
If you’re masochistic enough to suffer through all these films you’ll notice that the slapstick gags start to look very, very similar. Everything about The Shaggy D.A. feels exhausted, like everyone’s just going through the motions to earn a paycheck. It’s almost like they didn’t believe in the story they were telling…
Previously by Mark Hill: