Welcome to my ongoing journey through the theatrical Disney catalog! I took a brief break after finishing the 1970s, but here are my mini-reviews from the back half of that decade. Enjoy these and, if you haven’t already, go back and catch all the others that came before!
119 – The Strongest Man in the World (1975) – There did NOT need to be a third movie in this Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) series. Also, it’s the weakest one by far, despite the title.
120 – Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) – This film was released four days before I was. 🙂 I loved it as a kid and still enjoyed it as an adult. Up to this point in their output, the tension, mystery, and sci-fi elements are rare for Disney. But I cringed at the lazy storytelling in the last half hour or so, as the kids start to just convenient remember more and more things about their past.
121 – The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) – I remember very little about this from childhood, other than the hilarity of Don Knotts and Tim Conway (and the little girl who always has to go pee). This charming Western is a tale of orphaned children and the small town that has to figure out what to do with them. Of course, there’s some danger, humor, romance, troublemaking, and plenty of physical comedy. But we all know it’s really about putting two of the all-time funniest actors together and seeing what happens.
122 – *One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975) – This goofy slapstick comedy might have been bearable except for the fact that all the Asian characters are played by English people (including Peter Ustinov). I would think that by the year of my birth, that would have been frowned upon. But apparently not. It’s grossly offensive to sit through.
123 – *The Best of Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures (1975) – The best moments from the 13 True-Life productions (feature-length films and shorts), mostly made in the 1950s, are stitched together as a tribute to Walt’s love of animals. These are great nature documentaries and the highlights reel is a great way to be introduced to them.
124 – *Ride a Wild Pony (1975) – Filmed beautifully in Australia, this is a tale of a poor farm boy and a paralyzed rich girl who both claim ownership of a particular pony and who both tug at our heart strings. Which one should get the horse? Who do we, as the audience, pull for? How can there be a happy Disney ending? This is a particularly solid effort at providing further nuance and grey area than most Disney offerings.
125 – *No Deposit, No Return (1975) – Well-off but neglected siblings (he from Apple Dumpling Gang, she from Witch Mountain) meet-cute with a pair of bungling criminals (Don Knotts and the dad from A Christmas Story). It’s mostly good stuff but the token physical humor (Don Knotts chases a pet skunk into dangerous places) and silly car chase go on far too long. The heart of the film is the budding father-daughter relationship between Tracy and Duke.
126 – Treasure of Matecumbe (1976) – This was an entertaining adventure about a boy, his friend, and the adults they gather along the way. They are after a buried family treasure. But so are some wicked guys. And they are shooting to kill (as is evident when they do kill someone who seems to be a major character within the first ten minutes or so of the film). Highlights include: Peter Ustinov as a snake-oil salesman, a dock full of mean dudes breaking into a big dance number, and a young black boy hurling Molotov cocktails at a bunch of Klansmen.
127 – Gus (1976) – It’s World’s Greatest Athlete, if Nanu was a mule (and the only sport featured was football). They even recycled the interrupting announcer bit. I was looking forward to this one but wasn’t fully satisfied. Don Knotts didn’t have nearly enough to do. Tom Bosley and Tim Conway had the funniest moments, chasing the mule through a grocery store.
128 – The Shaggy D.A. (1976) – I had fun with this one, but much of that was likely because of nostalgia. It didn’t necessarily come together any better than the other gimmick-comedies of this era (or of the Shaggy Dog for that matter). Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, and Shane Sinutko had good chemistry as the lead family. I kept wanting to tell Vic Tayback (who plays a criminal boss) to kiss my grits.
129 – Freaky Friday (1976) – I think my memories were more of the premise than the execution. Because yes, this film launched so many imitators and remakes. But it’s actually a mixed bag and maybe the Freakiest of all the Fridays. When his daughter (in his wife’s body) calls him Daddy and he gets this kinky look on his face, I think I threw up a little in my mouth. Also the token wacky car chase seemed like it was from a completely different (read: far sillier) Disney film.
130 – *The Littlest Horse Thieves (1977) – What a truly rewarding find this turned out to be! This story of a British coal mining colliery and its inhabitants pulled me in on every front: the characters, the dialogue, the setting, the tension. Pit ponies, who live and work down in the mines, are to be replaced with machinery and sent to the slaughterhouse. Those who care most about them (especially the three child leads) aren’t about to let that happen. The mine itself was the star of the show – dark, filthy, labyrinthine, and claustrophobic.
131 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) – This was originally released as three short films over several years. But it works together as a feature just fine. It maintains the charm I would expect when presenting these characters. And the surreal way in which they interact with the pages of the book is incredibly creative. My only critique is that the scary dream sequence seemed out of place.
132 – A Tale of Two Critters (1977) – A short nature film that partnered with The Rescuers for a theatrical two-fer. It definitely didn’t cover any new ground and was fairly dull.
133 – The Rescuers (1977) – A fairly simple but straightforward story packs loads of charm and warmth, thanks in part to the adorable little girl and the two mice that vow to help her. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor are great in the lead voice roles. This is a great reminder that a little heart goes a long way in animated features.
134 – Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) – Did we need a third Herbie movie? Well, of course! Dean Jones returns and brings Don Knotts with him this time! And it’s back to being a movie about a big race! There are some bumbling jewel thieves to add some tension. And Herbie falls in love… in Paris!
135 – Pete’s Dragon (1977) – I don’t remember having seen this before, but I LOVE now knowing the context of that sweet song, “Candle in the Water.” The other songs were okay, I guess. This seems like the kind of film that would have a strong cult following that watches it sing-along style with props.
136 – Candleshoe (1977) – This was a charming little redemption story featuring a teenage Jodi Foster. Relationships were front and center with this one: between the girl, her might-be grandmother, the butler, and the other kids. Also, there’s a treasure hunt and clues to discover, if relationships aren’t your thing. The wacky scuffle with the bad guys seemed tonally off compared to the rest of the film, but otherwise this was time well spent.
137 – Return From Witch Mountain (1978) – Sure, Christopher Lee and Bette Davis are great villains. Whatever. Let’s talk instead about how ridiculous it is that neither film features the actual Witch Mountain. Why leave the coolest stuff offscreen?! This was an okay sequel, I guess. The stakes were high and our heroes had much to overcome. But, seriously. Beef up your effects budget and give us Witch Mountain.
138 – The Cat From Outer Space (1978) – This was an absolutely average film. It checked off most all the boxes of the Disney screwball comedy formula: supernatural things happened, an animal was involved, and there was a big chase at the end. Some of the humor was funny. Most of it was not. There was some cool stunt work toward the end, but most of the special effects were, again, just… average.
139 – *Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978) – I mostly remember this western comedy as a Don Knotts film, but he’s hardly the best part. That would be Jim Dale playing three of the lead characters – an old man and his two estranged sons competing for a large inheritance. It’s an impressive feat in a relatively entertaining film.
140 – *The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) – I LOVED this movie! A new pastor and the church ladies attempt to rid their town of organized crime. The ensemble does a great job – and features some familiar faces from previous Disney films (Barbara Harris from Freaky Friday, Susan Clark from Apple Dumpling Gang, and more). As a preacher’s kid and youth leader myself, I was loving all the church-related humor.
141 – The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979) – It was great to see more Don Knotts and Tim Conway, but the movie is very busy. Too many different things are going on and though the storylines eventually come together, it’s not particularly satisfying. But hey, it features the most impressive explosion so far. I’m talking HUGE! So that’s cool.
142 – Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) – Disney takes on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A NASA employee and an android that looks just like him travel through time to the days of Lancelot and Merlin. It’s kind of entertaining, I guess, but laughably low budget (like when you can clearly see the cables in a ‘flying’ scene). I would not really recommend it.
143 – The Black Hole (1979) – This movie is bonkers! But I love it! It is clearly Disney’s response to Star Wars’ popularity, but is far more similar to 2001 or Doctor Who. In Disney terms, I’m calling it 20,000 Leagues in Space because, like Captain Nemo, this Dr. Reinhardt dude is crazy. It’s dark and ‘adult’ enough to earn the first PG rating for the company. There are plenty of things wrong with it, but I appreciate Disney’s ambition, big budget, and willingness to think outside the box. The ambiguous ending made me VERY excited as well.
144 – *The London Connection (1979) – So this is a first… I’ve finally met my match. I haven’t been able to track down this movie (that also goes by “The Omega Connection”). It’s technically not a U.S. theatrical release, but rather a made-for-TV film that was released theatrically overseas. So I’m not gonna sweat it.