Not long ago, I compiled my ranking of the ten most overrated and underrated animated films in the Disney canon. Now it’s time to look at Disney’s live-action output. Over the years, the studio has released an astonishing array of live action movies covering just about every topic and genre. While many of them are indisputable classics, a few of them are simply overrated. Here are the top ten. Enjoy!
10. The Rocketeer (1991)
I had such high hopes for The Rocketeer when it debuted right after I graduated high school. The previews looked amazing, and Disney hyped the film as an exciting period superhero film. I didn’t get a chance to see it until it came out on video, and it disappointed me.
The Rocketeer just isn’t an engaging film. I’ve only been able to make it through one viewing, and the times I’ve tried since, I can’t make it through the whole thing. (The presence of Jennifer Connelly, who I’m convinced is the most boring actress of all time, doesn’t help.)
The Rocketeer showed such promise, but it never delivered on that promise. That’s a shame, because, had it been a better movie, The Rocketeer could have been a classic.
9. The Black Hole (1979)
Sometimes Disney doesn’t innovate – unfortunately, the company has found itself in the unenviable position of following on occasion. Two years after the astonishing success of Star Wars, Disney released The Black Hole. The problem with Disney’s film was, instead of merely looking like Disney trying to get a piece of the sci-fi action, The Black Hole looks like a blatant attempt to copy Star Wars.
Disney gambled with The Black Hole, which became its most expensive film at the time, as well as its first project to contain profanity and receive a PG rating. Some elements seem to be cribbed from the George Lucas playbook: a quasi-religious subtext, along with androids with personalities – featuring the voices of Roddy McDowall (!) and Slim Pickens (!!). However, instead of young, fresh-faced actors, the cast contains older (and presumably more prestigious) talent, such as Ernest Borgnine and Maximilian Schell.
Following a runaway hit like Star Wars, The Black Hole made Disney look a day late and a dollar (make that $20 million) short.
8. The Love Bug (1968)
The last film Disney put into production under Walt’s direct leadership was The Love Bug. The film tells the story of a Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own. No Disney movie captures the groovy spirit of the 1960s like this one.
The concept of a car under its own control and emotions is weak, even for the most fantastical minded, and the script lacks a certain amount of Disney magic. The frenetic, clearly sped-up action and race scenes featuring Herbie eventually wear thin and become increasingly obnoxious, as does Buddy Hackett’s character.
Somehow The Love Bug made tons of money, and the studio commissioned four sequels over a 37 year period – one of the first violations of Walt’s no-sequels policy. I suppose it’s not too bad for kids’ entertainment, but it’s not a strong film by Disney standards.
7. Snow Dogs (2002)
I’m surprised someone at the Academy hasn’t tried to take back Cuba Gooding, Jr’s Oscar after seeing him in Snow Dogs. This film marks the umpteenth time Hollywood has trotted out the old city-boy-is-a-fish-out-of-water-in-the-wilderness trope, this time with Gooding playing a Miami dentist who travels to Alaska to receive an inheritance from his biological mother. Of course, that inheritance consists of a pack of sled dogs.
City boy Gooding encounters wildlife, extreme cold, and a crusty curmudgeon named Thunder Jack (James Coburn, who jeopardizes his own Oscar-winning career in this dreck) who just happens to be the biological father. Oh yeah, and he learns to drive a sled just in time to win the Arctic Challenge race. (See? Fairy tales really do come true, even in the frozen tundra!)
If that’s not enough to make you want to avoid Snow Dogs, the cast includes Sisqó and Michael Bolton. Don’t want to see it now? You’re welcome.
6. The Santa Clause (1994)
Over the years, Tim Allen has made a mint for Disney, with successes like Home Improvement and the Toy Story franchise. But twenty years ago, Allen and Disney made a real stinker of a film that nevertheless became a hit and sparked a franchise – The Santa Clause.
Allen plays Scott, a divorced father who delivers presents one Christmas Eve when Santa falls off Scott’s roof and disappears. When Scott goes to the North Pole, he learns that he has invoked “The Santa Clause” and turns into St. Nick, which of course leads to derivative hilarity – he gains weight, grows thick white hair and a beard, and wears only red and green.
Of course, this leads to domestic drama, as Scott’s ex-wife becomes concerned and has Scott’s custody rights for their son taken away. Somehow, the police get involved, but Scott winds up all right, gets to reunite with his son, and accepts his role as Santa.
It’s all enough to make even the biggest fan of Christmas cry, “Bah humbug!” Alas, The Santa Clause was enough of a hit to spawn two sequels, surely landing Michael Eisner on Walt’s naughty list.
5. The Parent Trap (1998)
I’m going on record here stating that most remakes of older movies are unnecessary – even when they launch a new talent. Disney remade the 1961 classic The Parent Trap with new star Lindsay Lohan.
Lohan is adorable and actually does a great job acting here. But the script and most everything else about the movie don’t hold a candle to the original. One random song or another punctuates pretty much every scene – I wonder why the producers even bothered to have someone compose a score.
Every scene conjures up memories of Hayley Mills and the fine 1961 version, but the problem is the memories of the original far surpass the remake. The film proves my theory about the pointlessness of remakes perfectly.
4. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)
Disney has the annoying habit of producing live action movies starring dogs (and sometimes other animals) with animated muzzles, appearing as though they can speak with human voices. The worst of these, at least not counting direct-to-video releases, is Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Drew Barrymore voices Chloe, a spoiled pet from Beverly Hills who gets lost in Mexico when her irresponsible dog sitter leaves her alone in a hotel room. George Lopez (enough reason not to see this one) voices Papi, another Chihuahua whose advances she spurns.
Idiotic stereotypes and quasi-clever one liners dominate this grating picture. Oddly enough, it was a hit, and Disney ordered two direct-to-video sequels. Skip this one – along with pretty much anything starring Lopez.
3. Captain EO (1986)
Is it cheating to include a theme park short in this list? Do the rules apply differently for films from the parks? I’m arguing that the rules don’t change, because the 17 minutes of dreck that make up Captain EO stand among the worst of Disney’s output.
Captain EO holds the dubious distinction of making two different overrated Disney lists for me. The movie, which boasts a talent roster that includes George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Michael Jackson, made my list of The 5 Most Overrated Experiences At Walt Disney World last year. In fact, I’ll quote myself to describe this crap:
Guests find themselves stuck inside a theater for 17 minutes watching our Jheri-curled hero sing and dance his way through a 1986 version of a lame future. Every bit of the film is idiotic and unimpressive. The special effects are a definite product of their time, and the songs are prototypical Jackson tunes. Somehow, it cost $30 million to produce, making Captain EO the most expensive film of its time, frame for frame.
Disney brought Captain EO back to FUTURE WORLD in Epcot, of all places, in 2010 after Jackson’s death. That fact alone should make you not want to see it at all.
2. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids hearkens back to the wacky Disney comedies of the ’50s and ’60s – movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. The problem is, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is so drenched in late ‘80s datedness that it doesn’t hold up to more than one viewing – if that much.
The real problem with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is that, in all that Eisner “cheapquel” wisdom, Disney attempted to turn the film into a long-lasting franchise. Viewers and theme park guests found themselves subjected to two sequels, a television series that lasted for three seasons, a 3D theme park attraction short, and a playground set attraction at another theme park.
There’s only so much Rick-Moranis-in-ugly-horn-rimmed-glasses one can take, and by the last of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids‘ 90 minutes, one feels like one has taken about 89 minutes too many.
1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Ok, so Who Framed Roger Rabbit is as much an animated film as it is a live action picture, but I chose to include it among other live action films. At the time, it felt like the most revolutionary demi-cartoon ever: blending animated characters and human actors to an extent that no one – including Disney – had done before, and employing favorites from just about every animation studio. Heck, Disney even added lands to its parks based on the Toontown concept.
But let’s face it: today, Who Framed Roger Rabbit looks like a dated, ‘80s take on a mid-century screwball comedy, and as such, it hasn’t made that much of an impact on the culture, save for the theme park lands, one of which (Walt Disney World’s) doesn’t even exist anymore. And Roger Rabbit the character? Could there be a character more annoying? I say no, unless you count the Sprint Family.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was high concept and high stakes for the time, and, though it was a hit and it was innovative, it just hasn’t had the staying power that Disney probably thought it would.
What do you think? Which films should or shouldn’t be on this list?