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Disney Deja View: Sorting out the sequels II

Disney Deja View: Sorting out the sequels II

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By the 1960s, as the Disney Studios learned well that, despite founder Walt's original hesitance to repeat himself, thar was money in them thar box office revisits. For instance, 1961 became a watershed year in terms of fodder for future sequels and remakes.

A No Brainerd

"The Absent Minded Professor" (1961) was one of the results, a screwball setup wherein a university science teacher accidentally invents an elastic goo with amazing powers, including zero-gravity. Through the course of this 97-minute romp, Ned Brainerd fixes a basketball game, thwarts a plot to steal his formula, derails a plot to steal his *girl,* and advises the U.S. military on his new secret weapon. All in glorious black-and-white.

The comedic possibilities were just too ripe, so in 1963, "Son of Flubber" hit the screens. This time, Professor Brainerd deals with Flubber derivatives, including the glass-shattering notion of "dry rain." But once again, financial disaster looms at the hands of the greedy Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn, who is paired with his flustering dad, Ed Wynn), and a rigged football game substitutes for the hoops in the original.

Technology advancing as it did, Disney saw fit to remake the original "Absent Minded Professor" in 1997, titling it "Flubber." Robin Williams took over for MacMurray, with a new first name, Philip versus Ned. He also got a cutesy sidekick, a flying personal assistant named Weebo. Weebo, looking like one of those little aliens from "*batteries not included," is voiced by Jodi Benson, whose pipes brought Ariel to life in "The Little Mermaid."

There are missed weddings, a flying red convertible, and a Flubberized sports here, too, as well as a number of inept burglar gags. Flubberbabies also dance a Mambo and perform Busby Berkeley moves. All that and a fart joke.

Seeing Double... and Triple

1961 also brought forth "The Parent Trap," an eye-popping variation of "The Prisoner of Zenda," this time with identical twins (a double-shot of Hayley Mills) swapping places to get their divorcing parents back together. There's comedy and heart (and a terrific stop-animation title sequence), and although the pacing flags just a little in the second act, it's a gem.

The small screen saw "The Parent Trap II" in 1986. Sharon has divorced, and her daughter Nikki (and sister

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Susan) plot to repair her love life. Eagle-eyed Disneyphiles will get some of the inside jokes that revolve around character names (Nikki, Mary, Walter and Lillian Elias), but other than that, this TV sequel is more fondly remembered by the girls who were preteens when they saw it on The Wonderful World of Disney.

It did spawn yet two more outings with Sharon and Susan in 1989: "The Parent Trap III" and "Parent Trap IV: Hawaiian Honeymoon." There are triplets now involved, but more meddling over parents marrying the "wrong" person. In Hawaii, the plot echoes Disney's "Snowball Express," with everyone trying to keep an aging resort afloat.

Although "PTII" is fun to see the still-gorgeous Hayley Mills in action, as the concept wore on, it definitely petered out.

The *original* "Parent Trap" was then given a complete theatrical overhaul in 1998, with Lindsay Lohan replacing Hayley Mills. She juggles conflicting accents well, but the charm and innocence of the original aren't quite there. In a nod to the 1961 cast, Joanna Barnes plays her own mother (Barnes played Vicki in the original, and Meredith's mother, Vicki again, in the sequel).

Dots a Lotta Dogs

One more Disney release from 1961 supported a virtual assembly line of sequels: "101 Dalmatians." Based on a novel by Dodie Smith, this is one of Disney's most enjoyable animated features of the 1960s, a clever spy-escape story with a passel of pups and one of the most vicious villains to ever grace the screen, Cruella De Vil.

Disney dipped into the doggie dish again to launch a live-action version in 1996, shortening the title to a better-marquee-fitting "101 Dalmatians." Cruella was embodied by Glenn Close, who comes pretty close to her cartoon inspiration in both vocal delivery and physical shtick. The live action version juiced up the "Home-Alone"-style violence and misses opportunities like the original's clever Twilight Bark, but all is well in the end.

The animated feature produced a live-action remake, which then produced a live-action *sequel* in "102 Dalmatians" (2000). Cruella is released from prison, but her 12-step canine addition program was a few installments short. Before long, she's lusting after spotted fur once more. She is aided by Monsieur le Pelt, played by Gerard Depardieu in a god-awful mullet. The law of diminishing returns is definitely in effect.

So the thought became to return to the 1961 animated movie and make a sequel to *that.* Hence 2003's direct-to-video "101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure." Patch, the TV-addicted dal from the original, goes off to London to help his hero, Thunderbolt. Cruella, Jasper, and Horace still want puppy fur, so they tail along, blah-de-blah. The under-10 set, who can identify with the desire to be 1 dog, not 1 of 101, seem to accept this Saturday-morning TV-style animation and color-by-numbers scripting best.

SPCA Meets AAA

"The Incredible Journey" (1963) is a beautifully filmed animal adventure in which a Siamese cat (Tao), a Bull Terrier (Blodger), and Yellow Labrador Retriever (Luath) traverse 200 miles of wilderness to return to their family. The film, based on Sheila Burnford's novel, follows the pets as they face predators and perils, with Disney staple Rex Allen providing a warm, homespun narration.

In "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" (1993), the original story is remade and updated. There's no narration -- and even the pets' names have been changed: dogs Chance and Shadow, and kitty Sassy. They speak for themselves (thankfully with no "Babe"-like mouth manipulations) in the voices of Michael J. Fox, Don Ameche, and Sally Field, respectively. The emphasis is more on one-liners, ad libs, and slapstick, but the movie finds the right amount of heart to be effective.

"Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco" (1996) stretches the original concept to the breaking point. The family is going on vacation to Canada and loses the pets in the airport, stranding them in the City by the Bay. Will someone please advise this family of the value of microchipping their pets? Chance, Shadow, and Sassy continue cracking wise and (barely) avoiding trouble. There's also a romance thrown in for Chance. And, Shadow now sounds like Pa Walton, with good reason: Don Ameche's passing opened the role to Ralph Waite.

Jonesin'

"The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" was conceived for the Disney television show, where Walt figures a series starring Tommy Kirk as sort of a Ned Brainerd Jr. would work nicely. A number of comedic vignettes were developed, but in the process, the decision was made to string 'em together and release them as a feature film. "MOMJ" came out in 1964 and although critics were unimpressed with Tommy Kirk's abilities to read minds and engage in hypnotism, kiddy audiences lapped it up. The beautiful Annette Funicello didn't hurt things, either.

The following year, the formula was re-mixed and re-served in "The Monkey's Uncle." Merlin tries his hand at sleep-learning and man-powered flight, to big laughs.

Neither of these movies, in the vein of the "Crockett" films, escapes their TV look and feel. "The Monkey's Uncle" gains a slight edge for its deeper visual humor. The very notion of man-powered flight contains more gags, and the movie plays these to the hilt (including a funny dream sequence). It also has the advantage of a boppy title tune by the Beach Boys.

Darn It!

"That Darn Cat" (1965) involved a more grown-up Hayley in a bank-robbing/kidnapping plot, when her feline, DC, arrives home with a wristwatch mysteriously around the neck. The FBI is brought in, and dual romances evolve, as sisters Ingrid (Dorothy Provine) and Patti (Mills) get involved with men (Dean Jones' cat-allergic Agent Kelso and Tom Lowell's surfer-dude Canoe). Nosy neighbors provide comic relief.

Remade in 1997, "That Darn Cat" retained the original plot elements but scrambled the details. There's a cat and a kidnapping and a message scratched into a collar, but the laughs are gone. Christina Ricci takes over for Hayley Mills, and Agent Kelso is now the grossly unfunny Doug E. Doug. Not even a cameo by the original Kelso, Dean Jones, can save this dog of a cat movie.

Herbie!

March 13, 1969 saw the beginning of what was to become one of the most prolific franchises the Studio ever saw, with the release of "The Love Bug." The tale of the scrappy Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own, the washed-up racecar driver who finds it/him (Dean Jones), his wacky mechanic (Buddy Hackett), a dark villain (David Tomlinson), and the girl (Michele Lee) caught audiences' fancies and drove off with significant box office returns. "The Love Bug" out-earned numerous notable films of that year, including "Midnight Cowboy," "True Grit," and "Easy Rider."

The studios revved up the first sequel in 1974 with "Herbie Rides Again." None of the original cast returns, which caused this movie to sag like a leaky tire. Still, the film -- with Ken Berry, the venerable Helen Hayes (who plays Tennessee Steinmetz' aunt!), and Stephanie Powers -- is enjoyable enough, thanks again to some great stunt work and camera tricks from director Robert Stevenson.

Dean Jones returned as racer Jim Douglas in 1977's "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo," but mechanic Tennessee is apparently still on that mountaintop, nursing his guru. Replacing him as both grease monkey and comic relief is Don Knotts. At stake is the purse for a Paris-to-Monte Carlo race. The villains this time are a pair of British jewel thieves who hide a gem in the Beetle's gas tank. Herb also has a love interest. It all starts to feel like so much retread.

In "Herbie Goes Bananas" (1980), the anthropomorphic car becomes the property of Jim's nephew, Pete (Steven W. Burns). Pete and his friend Dave (Charles Martin Smith) go south of the border to pick him up and get involved with an orphan boy on the lam. They all go shipboard, where Herbie predictably creates havoc, and another race is needed to make everything right.

The needle in the Herbie franchise was beginning to hover around E at this point.

In March of 1982, Herbie crossed over from the big screen to the small, as CBS green-lighted a weekly sitcom with the car. Jim Douglas has retired from racing and holds Herbie's registration card once again. Herb thwarts a bank robbery, rescues the pretty captive (played by Claudia Wells), and arranges a marriage. Jim runs a driving school and supplements his income teaching drivers' ed at a local high school. The series lasted exactly five episodes and was cancelled in April 1982.

Herbie was revived again in 1997, this time in a TV movie that went back to the original title "The Love Bug." Hank Cooper (Bruce Campbell) wins the Volkswagen in a lottery, and soon learns of his quirky talents and madcap capabilities. Evil Simon Moore III (John Hannah) let the car slip through his fingers inadvertently, and so, out of revenge, creates a black anti-Herbie Beetle. About the only thing this TV remake has going for it is a brief appearance by Jones, one more time as Jim Douglas.

Disney recognized finally that Herbie deserved a rest, so for the next eight years, he was garaged. In 2005, amid much trumpeting (and press reports on bad-girl behavior from Lindsay Lohan), "Herbie: Fully Loaded," roared out of the studio lot.

Herbie is languishing away at a junkyard but "chooses" Maggie (Lindsay Lohan), a plucky 20-something whose family -- imagine! -- is into racing. Dad (a grizzled Michael Keaton) was good years back, but there's some sort of family curse going on, affecting both him and his wanna-race son, Ray Jr. (Brecklin Meyer). Villain this time is a slick racecar driver with Whitestripped sharky teeth, played by Matt Dillon. Mechanic/comic/love interest (!) is Kevin (Justin Long).

The 2005 edition makes much more use of CGI effects to give Herbie his personality, and he's never been more animated. He blinks. He winks. He smiles and frowns with his bumper. He lusts. He pants. He shakes like a dog. In fact, "Herbie: Fully Loaded" plays like a live-action version of "Speed Buggy" (sputtering voice of Mel Blanc), the Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the 1970s, which is ironic, considering "Speed Buggy" ripped off "The Love Bug" in the first place.

But best of all, Herbie races. And as he's done five times hence, he comes through in the -- excuse the expression -- clutch.

Next up: The Disney live-action movies of the 1970s-1980s and their sequels.

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