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: