Survival is an Instinct

Mighty Joe Young (1998) brought the lovable 15 foot tall gorilla back when ape movies were all the rage. The 90’s saw the development of another King Kong remake, a Planet of the Apes remake, and of course Mighty Joe Young. Disney obtained the rights, but the defunct RKO Pictures still have their name on it. Terry Moore and Ray Harryhausen even make cameos. Like many family films released in the late 90’s, I have vague childhood memories of watching the movie. I might of even seen Mighty Joe Young (1998) in theaters, but I never got a straight answer. I didn’t realize it was a remake until I saw my parents watching the original.

Creature effects from the legendary Rick Baker are literally the biggest draw. Joe’s enormous size is addressed as a form of gigantism. He was achieved through a combination of stuntman John Alexander in a realistic gorilla suit, very convincing animatronics, and DreamQuest CGI to blend it all together. It was of course nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards, but the rest of the movie doesn’t compare. Director Ron Underwood has a very hit or miss track record. Mighty Joe Young (1998) is more environmental with Joe never performing in shows. Joe is only ever taken to an L.A. nature preserve.

Jill Young is now orphaned the same day as Joe by a ruthless poacher that was also added to the remake. Charlize Theron was born to play Jill since she is in fact South African. Bill Paxton is a fine zoologist version of Gregg with more of a romantic subplot. Joe causes a rampage while enclosed and on the city streets, but he proves himself a hero similar to the original. It’s just a burning carnival instead of an orphanage. Mighty Joe Young (1998) is a harmless live-action Disney movie, but it’s not quite as spectacular as the 1949 classic.

Mighty Joe Young 1998

Joe Young in Africa with Jill Young

Remake of: Mighty Joe Young (1949)

On the Open Road

A Goofy Movie is the goofiest, most heartfelt father/son adventure you’ll ever see. Unlike DuckTales, Goof Troop was never a major Saturday-morning cartoon. It only lasted 2 seasons and I honestly never knew it existed for a long time. So how did A Goofy Movie gain a stronger cult following than DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp? Although Scrooge McDuck is an icon in his own right, there’s no beating a classic character like Goofy. His goofy antics have been a mainstay of Disney since the early 30’s. Along with his popular How to… series, Goofy became something of an everyman with a job and family in the 50’s.

Goof Troop similarly turned Goofy into a single father with a son named Max. Since A Goofy Movie was made in the middle of the Disney Renaissance, soon to be fired Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg gave it the same treatment. Turning Goofy into a loving father just trying to connect with his son. Even though Walt Disney Feature Animation worked on the movie at the same time as The Lion King, no one believed in the project. Making it the second Disneytoon production. A Goofy Movie wasn’t an instant hit, but thankfully my generation has given it a second chance…

A Goofy Movie

Goofy on the road with Max

A Goofy Movie is just as much a childhood favorite as the rest of the Disney Renaissance. My brother and I watched it on VHS before it was cool. Something about A Goofy Movie really speaks to millennials such as myself. Maybe because it was one of a few contemporary Disney movies made in the 90’s. A Goofy Movie is filled with 90’s slang, pop songs, modern technology, and celebrities like Pauly Shore. Sure it’s dated, but timeless at the same time. A Goofy Movie picks up years after Goof Troop when Max is an average 14 year old dog. Jason Marsden replaces Dana Hill a year before her untimely death. Marsden gives Max all the attitude and awkwardness of a teenager. His biggest fear is turning into his father. Which is especially embarrassing when his dad is literally Goofy. Although strangely asked to tone down his goofy voice, Bill Farmer manages to make Goofy sincere without losing his “Hyucks.” Cartoony antics are maintained, but the story remains relatable. Goofy also remains a single father, but Pete is a different story.

In Goof Troop, longtime Disney villain Pete was Goofy’s brutish neighbor with a son named P.J, a daughter named Pistol, and a wife named Peg. Only Jim Cummings and Rob Paulsen return as Pete and P.J. in order to enforce the themes of fatherhood. Pete rules by fear, while Goofy prefers affection. All Max wants to do is impress his crush Roxanne. Roxanne has nerdy friends like Stacey and is just as shy as Max, but she does return his feelings. Max & Roxanne are honestly one of the cutest Disney couples. It’s literal puppy love. With the help of his friends, Max manages to put on a concert at his school dressed as their favorite popstar Powerline. Singer Tevin Campbell voices Powerline as a cross between Michael Jackson and Prince. P.J. is still Max’s best friend, but they’re joined by Bobby aka Pauly Shore as himself. Wallace Shawn voices the mildly villainous Principal Mazur who worries Goofy to the point of starting a father/son fishing trip. Max doesn’t want to go, but he makes things worse when he tells Roxanne he’ll be at a Powerline concert. A Goofy Movie is a particularly wacky road movie with references to Walt Disney and cameos from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

Even a movie as zany as this isn’t exempt from creepy Disney moments. The opening is a dream turned nightmare that somehow manages to make Goofy’s laugh scary. Goofy taking Max to a corny hillbilly possum show always upset me when I was younger. Goofy later tries to bond over teaching Max the perfect fishing cast, but it only succeeds in finding a vicious, albeit rambunctious Bigfoot. Leading to a genuinely heartfelt connection ruined by Max changing the map. As they start to compromise over the things that they enjoy, Max starts to have second thoughts. When he doesn’t act on them, it leads to an appropriately goofy father/son talk that sends their car off a canyon, plunges them in a river, and nearly takes them over a waterfall. Max performs a perfect cast and Goofy takes his son to the concert. Ending with Max telling the truth, getting an innocent kiss from Roxanne, and fully embracing his dad.

A Goofy Movie may have outsourced its animation, but I honestly can’t tell the difference between other Disney movies of the era. The open road feels grand and concerts feel like actual events. A Goofy Movie is a contemporary musical with a seriously underrated soundtrack. “After Today” highlights the high school experience and Max wanting to stand out. “Stand Out” is a fun Powerline single that helps Max get noticed. “On the Open Road” gives Goofy his silly showstopper, while the “Lester’s Possum Park” theme is just cringy. “Nobody Else But You” is the right song to bring Goofy & Max together. Until the much more energetic and catchy “I 2 I” performed by Powerline on stage. A Goofy Movie took a forgotten show and made something special out of it.

A Goofy Movie 2

Max sings to Roxanne

Followed by: An Extremely Goofy Movie

Life is Like a Hurricane

DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp is a tale of derring-do bad and good luck tale. DuckTales is one of the most popular Saturday-morning cartoons on TV in the 80’s. I didn’t watch it regularly, but my brother and I did watch episodes on VHS. The adventures of Scrooge McDuck and Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewy, and Louie eventually warranted their own movie. The problem was Walt Disney Animation Studios always being responsible for every animated film. After 28 films, DuckTales: The Movie became the first in a new line of Disneytoon productions. Animation was done in France, but it still retains the charming look of the cartoon.

DuckTales: The Movie is officially the final Disney movie to use cel-animation. Although I vaguely remember watching it when I was younger, Treasure of the Lost Lamp is mostly just another adventure. Similar to Indiana Jones, Uncle Scrooge travels to the Middle East to find the treasure of Collie Baba. He’s joined by the mischievous Huey, Dewy, Louie, the adorable Webby, accident prone pilot Launchpad McQuack, grandmother Mrs. Beakley, and faithful butler Duckworth. All characters retain their signature voice actors, but celebrities join the cast as usual.

Treasure of the Lost Lamp is practically a precursor to Aladdin. The story is almost exactly the same except with anthropomorphic ducks. Comedian Rip Taylor voices the fast talking Genie from the titular lost lamp. Similar to Aladdin, Genie grants three wishes to his master and wants to be free. Christopher Lloyd stands in for Jafar as evil shape-shifting sorcerer Merlock. Together with slimey partner/Indian stereotype Dijon, Merlock seizes Scrooge’s Money Bin as he fights to take it back. It’s not a musical, but the catchy DuckTales theme can be heard at the end. Although it failed to launch a franchise, DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp is like a hurricane of fun.

Ducktales Treasure of the Lost Lamp

Scrooge McDuck and the Genie

If I Were a Boy

Boys Don’t Cry is the most transformative film of Hilary Swank’s career. Although I would’ve prefered seeing American Beauty win all five major Oscars, I completely understand Swank winning Best Actress. The Academy loves major transformations. No matter how controversial the subject matter is. Boys Don’t Cry is centered on real life transgender individual Brandon Teena. Although I rarely gravitate towards movies like this, I can still appreciate the performances, direction, and handling of tragic events. Transgender movies were almost unheard of in 1999.

Until director Kimberly Pierce learned about the story in college. Swank lost weight, cut her hair, and wore male clothing to effectively pass for Teena. The movie tries to focus on a love story and coming-of-age themes before the brutality comes in. Pierce uses several artistic techniques to represent confinement and longing. The Nebraska trailer park setting only emphasizes 1999’s fascination with escaping a mundane lifestyle. Teena tries to live like a boy, but several reckless decisions with rough male friends make things worse.

Eventually Teena falls in love with burnt out singer Lana Tisdel. Chloë Sevigny gives the second best performance that also deserved an Oscar nomination. There’s plenty of intense passion even if it isn’t entirely factually accurate. As I saw in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, Boys Don’t Cry nearly received an NC-17 for its graphic sex scenes and inevitable assault. The latter is particularly hard to watch. Teena was later murdered by the same “friends” who committed the assault. Leading to a change in hate crime law. Boys Don’t Cry leaves a lasting impact.

Boys Don't Cry

Brandon Teena in a skate park

Keep the Peace

Beverly Hills Cop III isn’t a total rehash like Beverly Hills Cop II, but none of its changes worked out. The unnecessary third installment took 7 years to make, yet it still ended up being the worst film in the trilogy. With a pitiful 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, Beverly Hills Cop III was torn apart by everyone including Eddie Murphy. The only awards attention it got were Razzies. Although John Landis directed two successful Eddie Murphy comedies, the problem mostly lies with the latter. For some reason Detective Axel Foley is so serious that he isn’t even funny anymore.

He once again moves from Detroit to Beverly Hills in order to track his police chief’s killer. Though the actual setting isn’t funny either. Turns out setting an R rated action flick in an amusement park is as ridiculous as it sounds. I say R rated, but Beverly Hills Cop III is a 90’s movie that could’ve easily been PG-13. Apart from language and over-the-top violence, there’s no nudity or drug use. Wonder World is a standard Disney World stand-in ran by a counterfeit operation led by John Saxton. The latest female lead also works at the park. This time Judge Reinhold is the only returning character as a promoted Billy Rosewood.

Reinhold actually began The Santa Clause trilogy the same year he finished the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy. Taggart is replaced by Héctor Elizondo and Bogomil is never mentioned. The only other returning character is the eccentric Serge from the first movie in an overlong bit about superweapons. Foley uses one of the weapons and ends up in several silly situations. He’s forced to wear an elephant costume and scale an amusement park ride. There are celebrity cameos, but they’re all filmmakers that no average person would recognize (except for maybe George Lucas). Until they make a IV, Beverly Hills Cop III is weak way to end Axel Foley’s career.

Beverly Hills Cop III

Axel Foley in Rosewood’s office

Preceded by: Beverly Hills Cop II

Meet Your Mountie

Dudley Do-Right is no George of the Jungle. Despite being based on another cartoon by Jay Ward and starring Brendan Fraser. Dudley Do-Right has always had a bit of a reputation with my family. I saw it when I was 4 and never watched it again. 22 years later I can understand why it was so bad. George of the Jungle has always been a personal favorite of mine, but Dudley Do-Right is just too off-beat to have a movie. Not even with a narrator announcing everything. Dudley Do-Right was once a segment from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

The simple premise saw dimwitted Canadian mountie Dudley Do-Right riding his Horse backwards and saving damsel in distress Nell Fenwick from the dastardly villain Snidely Whiplash. Nothing about that screams cinematic potential. Dudley Do-Right starts with a Fractured Fairy Tale that’s honestly better than the entire movie. I appreciate Brendan Fraser, but all he has to work with is painful slapstick. Sarah Jessica Parker is a shallow Nell who never ends up tied to a train track. Even Horse doesn’t stick around for very long.

Only Alfred Molina feels like he’s embracing the ridiculousness of Snidely Whiplash. The movie’s premise has something to do with a gold rush that inserts a lot of Eric Idle in the story. There’s also a cringey amount of Indian jokes and out of place 90’s pop culture references. Eventually the movie kind of gives up on Dudley Do-Right by modernizing everything about him. I have no idea who the target demographic is supposed to be. Dudley Do-Right does wrong in every way.

Dudley Do-Right

Dudley Do-Right on Horse

The Boys Are Back in Town

Another 48 Hrs. is exactly what the title suggests. I never even heard of the sequel for a long time. Although the director returns, Another 48 Hrs. feels like it came out too late. Between 1982 and 1990, Eddie Murphy was a big star more than worthy of top-billing. Nick Nolte was no slouch either, but neither needed to follow up their concept driven buddy cop movie. Another 48 Hrs. never mentions a time limit, yet the movie feels almost exactly the same.

Jack Cates is softened up, but he’s still the mean cop dealing with a criminal case. This time he’s the one who might go to jail after a botched manslaughter incident. Reggie Hammond is still in jail despite previously having 6 months on his sentence. As expected, Jack and Reggie are right back to fighting each other. Murphy and Nolte still have a unique chemistry, but it’s wasted on a barely funny script.

Although edgy like the first movie, the R rating isn’t as exploited. The criminals to catch aren’t that different either. One of the bikers is the brother of Ganz and the mystery man behind it is named Iceman. The case is overly complex with too many players crossing Jack and Reggie’s path. Some of the confusion is likely thanks to the sequel being trimmed down to reach the hour and a half length of the first 48 Hrs. It’s quick, but that’s even more reason why Another 48 Hrs. doesn’t leave an impression.

Another 48 Hrs.

Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond on the job

Preceded by: 48 Hrs.

Memory! All Alone in the Moonlight!

Cats (1998) has a bit of a reputation on Broadway. Although I was once a theater kid, I never really appreciated one of the longest-running musicals of all time. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, it seems you either love or hate Cats. The 1998 movie is simply the play put to film with more effects and several returning cast members. I distinctly remember watching a VHS tape of Cats when I was 4.

I only remember being a combination of confused, creeped out, and bored to death. I don’t even remember how vaguely sexual the cats are. In case you’ve never seen the musical, Cats doesn’t really have a straightforward plot. It’s 100% singing, loosely tied together with various Jellicle cats wanting to be reborn in the Heaviside Layer. Don’t try to make sense of it. The stage is a more extravagant moonlit junkyard where each colorful cat is musically introduced. Each of them dressed in wild cat makeup and unitards.

There’s the ballet dancing Victoria the White Cat, storytelling Munkustrap, all-knowing Old Deuteronomy, seemingly lazy gumbie cat Jennyanydots, fun loving Rum Tum Tugger, fancy fat cat Bustopher Jones, cat burgling Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer, aging theater cat Gus, mischievous Macavity, flirtatious Bombalurina, railway riding Skimbleshanks, magical Mr. Mistoffelees, and sad former glamour cat Grizabella. Between all of those funny names are some genuinely catchy songs. I have a lot of personal favorites, but nothing beats Elaine Paige performing the showstopper “Memory.” Cats is still an acquired taste regardless of medium.

Cats

Cats

Bury it

Pet Sematary Two is another unnecessary sequel with no involvement from Stephen King. The director surprisingly returned, but this is far from the original. A movie that I was never a big fan of to begin with. Pet Sematary Two starts like an ordinary pointless sequel, but it quickly becomes very over-the-top and gory. Rather than follow the sole surviving Ellie Creed, they ditch her storyline to focus on a teenage boy. Edward Furlong’s immediate follow up to Terminator 2 ended up being a far less successful sequel.

The Creed burials have become an urban legend when Jeff and his veterinarian father move to Maine after the death of his mother. She was an actress who died in a freak on-set accident. Jeff isn’t nearly as interesting as his new friend Drew. His white dog Zowie obviously ends up buried near the pet cemetery where he comes back as a much more convincing monster. King had nothing to do with the movie, but it does feel like his work at times. Especially with its overly sadistic bullies and cruel stepfather.

Although Clancy Brown is really the only actor trying to have fun. He plays Drew’s police officer stepfather Gus who shoots Zowie before being killed by his undead body. Despite being a jerk, Jeff and Drew for some reason bring Gus back as an almost comedic zombie dad. Until he becomes sadistic and helps Jeff get his mother back. The sequel gets really disgusting with much more gruesome deaths involving people as well as animals. Pet Sematary Two should’ve been buried, because “Sometimes, dead is better.”

Pet Sematary Two

Zowie growls

Preceded by: Pet Sematary

Magic Grits

My Cousin Vinny is one of the funniest courtroom comedies I’ve ever seen. I don’t watch trial movies often, but my mom strongly recommended it. I’m glad she did, because My Cousin Vinny is both an accurate and entertaining depiction of the legal process. It brings together three of the biggest Italians working in Hollywood at the time. The hotheaded Joe Pesci is perfect for inexperienced New York lawyer Vinny Gambini. He’s profane, but hilarious in a culture clash story where his young cousin and friend end up in a rural Alabama murder case.

This is one of a few times I’ve seen Ralph Macchio in a role other than The Karate Kid. Bill and his nervous friend Stan are falsely imprisoned when a car matching their description is mistaken for theirs. Several misunderstandings made me laugh out loud. Vinny does his best to talk his way through court, but the more reserved Southern inhabitants don’t make it easy for him. Fred Gwynne shines in his final film role as the judge looking for any reason to hold Vinny in contempt. Stan wants someone more professional, but the public defender is a bit of a mess.

Between those challenges is a particularly funny running gag where several things keep Vinny and his fiancé awake. Easily the biggest standout is relative newcomer Marisa Tomei as the fiery, but intelligent Mona Lisa Vito. She steals the show and won a much deserved Oscar for her humorous dynamic with Pesci and courtwinning automotive knowledge. Vinny eventually gets the hang of being a lawyer by using what he learns about the town. Everything from grits to tire tracks. My Cousin Vinny makes court fun.

My Cousin Vinny

Vinny cross-examines Mona Lisa