Connect with us

Film & Movies

Love Bug Parade: Disney’s Herbie and Sequels

Published

on

Walt famously once said “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” Which the world has since interpreted as Walt saying that “… I don’t like sequels.

Which simply isn’t true. In Walt’s lifetime, his studio turned out at least two sets of sequels.

  • “The Absent Minded Professor” — which was released to theaters in March of 1961
  • and its sequel, “Son of Flubber” — which was released to theaters in January of 1963 (less than two years later)

And:

  • “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” — which was released to theaters in March of 1964
  • and its sequel, “The Monkey’s Uncle” — which was released to theaters in August of 1964 (just 17 months later).

Walt was obviously an innovator and a storyteller.

But by the early 1960s, he was also a practical businessman who was always on the lookout for additional revenue streams – which Disney could then funnel into expanding his family fun park in Anaheim, CA.

Likewise underwrite the cost of developing Project Sunshine in Florida (which eventually became The Walt Disney World Resort).

Walt Disney Movies About Dogs

Walt detected a pattern — a certain type of Disney-produced film that audiences then seemed to respond to — he’d then have this Studio lean into that pattern.

Case in point:

  • “Old Yeller” came out in December of 1957 and did big business, Walt made note of that.
  • Then when “The Shaggy Dog” came out in March of 1959 and did even bigger business at the box office

… Walt said “Okay. That’s officially a thing. People like Disney-produced movies about dogs.”

He then had his Studio’s literary acquisition team go out and snatch up the movie rights to a bunch of books about dogs.

And then over the next five years, Walt Disney Productions released:

  • “Nikki: Wild Dog of the North” — in July of 1961
  • “Greyfriars Bobby” — later that same month
  • “Big Red” — in June of 1962
  • “Savage Sam” in — June of 1963
  • “The Incredible Journey” — in November of 1963
  • “The Ugly Dachshund” — in February of 1966

That’s six dog-based movies in just five years time. And every one of these films turned a tidy profit for Walt Disney Studios. Likewise gave Walt a movie that he could eventually turn into a two part episode of his “Wonderful World of Color” anthology series (which aired on NBC on Sunday nights).

Disney Films Starring Fred McMurray

Okay. So this is Walt Disney, the guy with an eye out for a new trend at the box office. So as soon as “The Absent Minded Professor” comes and does big box office, Walt asks himself “Was that because people like movies with Fred McMurray in them or was that because people like movies with flying cars in them?”

Given that Fred had previously starred in “The Shaggy Dog” for Disney Studios (which had also been a huge hit for the Mouse House), Walt hedged his bet. He had his Studio produce a series of new movies that starred McMurray:

  • “Bon Voyage!” — released in May of 1962
  • “Son of Flubber,” the sequel to “Absent Minded Professor” — released in January of 1963
  • “Follow Me, Boys!” — released to theaters in December of 1966
  • and “The Happiest Millionaire” — released to theaters in November of 1967

And since all but one of those movies (i.e., “Son of Flubber”) seriously under-performed at the box office, it was clear that Fred McMurray wasn’t exactly the huge movie star that Walt had hoped he’d be.

Disney Movies About Cars & “Magical Things”

Remember that Walt was hedging his bet here. So — while he was ordering his studio to make a bunch of Fred McMurray movies — Walt was also telling Disney’s literary acquisitions team to “ … find me a bunch of books about cars that do weird & magical things.”

During this time, Disney Studios’ acquired the film rights to Upton Sinclair’s “The Gnomobile” (His 1936 novel which Disney would then release to theaters in July of 1967) as well as … Well, not a book. And not a script really. More of a treatment for a film which Gordon Buford had written called “Car, Boy, Girl.”

“Car, Boy, Girl” – Herbie, The Love Bug Origin Story

This story can out of Buford’s childhood growing up on a farm in Colorado. Where he watched his mother & father regularly fight with the family car. Which — seemingly on a whim — would sometimes run and transport the family into town and back. And sometimes not.

Buford described how “ … Neither my mother’s gentle persuasion nor my father’s cussing could persuade this automobile out of its quiet, stubborn rebellion.” Gordon added fun details like how his mother would always hold her breath as she went to press her foot down on the starter. As if that would somehow placate the car. Convince it to start for her.

Credit: Small World / Geocities

Walt liked the potential he saw in “Car, Boy, Girl.” How a stubborn little car with a mind of its own could eventually bring a couple together. He thought that this sounded like just the sort of story that Walt Disney Productions should make. The sort of movie that his audience would eat right up. So Walt had Disney acquire the film rights to “Car, Boy, Girl.”

But then Walt died in December of 1966. And “Car, Boy, Girl” sat in a slush pile of scripts on Walt’s desk as the studio’s employees mourned and the Company tried to figure out how it would carry on without its founder.

“Car, Boy, Girl” Gets New Life

Luckily Walt has left behind a cadre of loyal creative lieutenant. People like Bill Walsh, the producer of previous Disney hits like “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Absent Minded Professor,” “Son of Flubber,” and — more importantly — Disney Studio’s biggest hit to date, “Mary Poppins.”

At that point, Bill was pretty sure that he had the formula for a successful Disney film down pat. As he said in a 1970 interview:

“I make movies for people between the ages of nine and fourteen. It’s a very intelligent and very honest audience. I don’t make movies to make personal statements. I make movies hoping they’ll make money so I’ll be able to make more movies.”

Bill Walsh
Disney Legend Bill Walsh with Walt Disney

So with this goal in mind, Bill got access to Walt’s office in the Summer of 1967 (The place had been locked up tight since his passing in December of 1966) and started going through that slush pile of scripts on Walt’s desk. With the goal of finding a film that would appeal to nine to 14 year-olds that would also make some money for the Mouse. And there — in the pile — was “Car, Boy, Girl.”

Walsh read through Buford’s script treatment and thought “A stubborn little car that bring a couple together. I can do something with that.”

But the question now was: Which small car should be the star of Walsh’s next project for Disney Studios?

How Herbie Became a Volkswagen Beetle and the Love Bug

To get the answer to that, Bill did something unusual. Early one morning, he had a dozen or so small cars —  a couple of Toyotas, a handful of Volvos, an MG and one pearl white Volkswagen Beetle — parked out in front of the studio commissary. Then Walsh got himself a cup of coffee, sat out on the commissary patio and then watched Disney employees arrived to work that day.

What they’d do when they saw all of these small cars parked out in front of the commissary.

What Bill noticed that morning proved to be significant. For while those Disney employees admired the Volvos & that MG & the Toyotas, the only car that they petted was the Volkswagen.

Credit: Autoblog

So that small car wound up being the star of … Well, this movie had a lot of names as it went into production in the Fall of 1967. At various times, it was called:

  • “Beetlebomb”
  • “Wonderbeetle”
  • “Bugboom”
  • “Thunderbug”
  • “The Magic Volksy”
  • and “The Runaway Wagen”

What made coming up with a title especially difficult was that Volkswagen wouldn’t allow Disney to use the real name of this car in their movie. This is why — when you watch the first Herbie movie — you’ll hear him called “the small car,” “the Douglas special,” and the “compact car.” But they never call him what he actually is. Which is a Volkswagen Bug.

Finally … Well, Walsh needed to call the title character of his new movie something. So — since they started shooting this movie’s racing scenes in the Fall of 1967 and that Summer had supposedly been “The Summer of Love” … Bill took those two ideas and mashed them together, winding up with the name “The Love Bug.”

Disney Releases of “The Love Bug”

By the Summer of 1968 (when Walsh finished shooting all of the scenes for “The Love Bug” with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett and David Tomlinson on the Disney Lot and they began roughly assembling that footage), it became apparent that “The Love Bug” was something special. The sort of film that — if promoted properly — could be a huge, huge hit for the Studio.

So Disney’s PR team assembled an elaborate release plan for “The Love Bug.” It would first be released in just 50 cities around the US in late March of 1969. They’d let word-of-mouth build for a few weeks. And then — just as drive-in movie season arrived — make hundreds of other prints of this family comedy available to screen.

But to help make sure that “The Love Bug” stayed front-of-mind in April, May & June, Disney Studios’ PR team staged an amazing stunt. They contacted thousands of Volkswagen owners in Southern California in February of 1969 and invited them to come to Disneyland Park to take part in a “Most Lovable Bug” contest.

Disneyland’s “Most Lovable Bug” Contest – The Love Bug Parade

The idea was that the owners of all of these Volkswagen Bugs would first decorate their cars and then drive them down to Anaheim. Then 1200 of these vehicles would be parked in the Disneyland parking lot on March 23, 1969. 300 entries would be allowed in four different categories:

  • Best Personality
  • Most Toy-Like
  • Most Comical
  • and Most Psychedelic (It was the 1960s after all)

25 finalists would then be selected in each of the four categories. And then those 100 cars would be paraded through Disneyland Park (rolling in from backstage right onto Main Street, U.S.A. Then driving up to the Hub, taking a right onto Matterhorn Way and motoring on through Fantasyland. Eventually exiting backstage to the left of “it’s a small world”).

At the end of the day, the four winners in each category would be parked in front of “it’s a small world.” With the owner / owners of the winning entry in Disneyland’s first-ever “most Lovable Bug” contest then being given the keys to a brand-new 1969 Volkswagen Beetle by Dean Jones himself (the star of “The Love Bug”).

March 23, 1969 started off as a cold grey day but eventually brightened up. That was honestly the only thing that went wrong of “Love Bug Day” at Disneyland. Over a thousand Volkswagen owners showed up to take part in that day’s “Most Lovable Bug” contest. They filled the “X” section in this theme park’s parking lot.

Major media outlets & publications from around the country turned out to cover the event. You can watch a 12 minute-long film taken on that day which shows a wide variety of the entrants as well as covering the actual Love Bug parade through Disneyland Park (footage take from the Skyway shows all of these decorated Volkswagens rolling around the Hub and then drive up Matterhorn Way). Closes up with footage of Dean Jones handing the keys to a new Volkswagen to Morton & Barbara Allen of Studio City, CA.

Hugely successful PR stunt. Did just what Disney hoped it would do. Photos from the event turned up in all sort of national magazines (“Time, “Life,” “Look”) plus footage take on that day aired on TV news shows around the country.

The Success of “The Love Bug” Franchise

The PR helped turn “The Love Bug” into Disney’s largest hit since … Well, “Mary Poppins.” Of all the movies that were released in 1969, only “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” sold more tickets / earned more money than “The Love Bug.”

Which is why the Company — of course — greenlit a sequel (the first of three, actually. Not to mention that “Love Bug” reboot starring Lindsay Lohan — “Herbie: Fully Loaded” — that Disney sent out into theaters in June of 2005). “Herbie Rides Again” arrived in theaters in June of 1974.

Another Disneyland Love Bug Contest

With the hope that lightning might strikes twice, Disneyland Park staged another “Love Bug” -related contest. This time, Southern California VW owners were invited to “Beautify their Bug.” And the cars were judged in three categories, rather than 4:

  • Most Comical
  • Most Nostalgic
  • And Most Patriotic (We were just two years away from the start of American Bicentennial after all. And earlier that same month, “America on Parade” had just premiered at Disneyland Park & WDW’s Magic Kingdom

This contest was held on June 30, 1974. And — once again — almost a thousand VW owners turned up to participate. With the 25 finalists in each category then being allowed to parade through Disneyland.

Herbie The Love Bug in Disneyland Parade (1974) Credit: Hbvideos on YouTube

By the way, the footage that was take at this “Herbie Rides Again” promotional event was then edited together and turned into a syndicated TV special, which then aired on over 80 TV stations around the country.

These “Love Bug” contests became so well known that … Well, if you watch that “Disneyland Showtime” episode of the “Wonderful World of Color” TV show (the one which originally aired on March 22, 1970. where Kurt Russell & the Osmond Brothers visit that theme park to commemorate the grand opening of the Haunted Mansion), E.J. Peaker shows up in that program with a VW Bug that she’s supposedly decorated herself. Only to then be told that Disneyland’s “Most Lovable Bug” contest was held the year previous.

Disney Parks Love Bug Attraction

By the way, it’s worth noting that “Herbie Rides Again” did so well at the box office in the Summer of 1974, that — in early 1975 — the Imagineers were tasked with coming up with a “Love Bug” attraction for the Disney Parks.

There are a few pieces of concept art for this proposed attraction that have popped up online. One shows this “Love Bug” ride recreating that moment from “Herbie Rides Again” where that VW rolls up the support cables of the Golden Gate ‘til he reaches the very top of that bridge. Whereas another piece of concept art shows the proposed finale for this attraction. Which echoes the ending of the original “Love Bug” movie, in that — just before the finish line of a race — this VW-shaped ride vehicle would then split in half. And the Guests seated in the back seat would suddenly find themselves competing with the people in the front seat to see who would get the checkered flag.

Credit: Davelandblog

From what WDI insiders have told me, Disney Company managers thought that the Imagineers’ plans for a “Herbie” ride were cute, but not necessarily strong enough to warrant the construction of an actual attraction.

The Love Bug would eventually find his way into a Disney theme park, though. How many of you remember — as you were experiencing the Backstage Tram Tour at Disney-MGM Studios — how you’d encounter Herbie popping a wheelie and then revving his edge / blowing out clouds of exhaust as he sat in a driveway on Residential Street.

Really tricked out. Lights would flash. Horn would honk. Car doors & hood would open. Passengers on the tram would be squirted with water spraying from Herbie’s windshield wipers.

Credit: Flickr Loren Javier

Herbie was there on display from May of 1989 (when the Tram Tour first opened) ‘til the early 2000s when this tricked-out vehicle suffered an electrical fire and basically burned up in front of hundreds of tourists. It was later replaced with a static prop car from “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” Backstage Tram Tour closed September of 2014.

If you’re at WDW these days and want to see “The Love Bug,” you need to go to the All-Star Movies Resort and seek out Buildings 6 & 7. Those two wings of this hotel are bisected by an oversized Herbie.

This article is based on research for The Disney Dish Podcast “Episode 368”, published on April 4, 2022. The Disney Dish Podcast is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Film & Movies

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!”: Sequel Troubles and New Attractions

Published

on

Honey I Shrunk the Audience
Listen to the Article

This article is part of a series documenting the story of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and Disney Science-Based movies. Be sure to check out our additional research on the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.

On the heels of the enormous success of the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” movie (which was released to theaters in June of 1989) — Disney Studios made plans to release a whole series of science-based gimmick comedies based on the “Honey” characters. A number of the titles that the Studio copywrote as possible follow-ups to that film:

  • “Honey, I Sent the Kids to the Moon”
  • “Honey, I Swapped Brains with the Dog”

With the plan here being that — from here on in — every two years, just like clockwork, a brand-new “Honey” movie would arrive in theaters (ideally in early June) and then clean up at the box office. Just like the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” did in June of 1989.

“Honey, I Blew Up the Baby”

We now jump ahead to June of 1992. Which is when “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” finally arrived in theaters.

Now if you’re halfway decent at math, you’ll immediately notice that — hey — the follow-up to the original “Honey, I Shrunk” film didn’t arrive in theaters two years later (like Disney originally planned) but three years later.

“And why was that?,” you ask. Well, at it turns out, it was a lot harder to develop a suitable sequel to the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” than anyone at Disney had thought it would be. The Studio went through dozens of drafts before executives at Disney finally threw up their hands and said “We give. Let’s just go buy someone else’s script and then turn it into a ‘Honey, I Shrunk’ movie.”

And that’s exactly what Disney did. They found this script called “Big Baby.” Which was originally supposed to be a parody of all those Godzilla movies. Only — in this case — instead of a giant radioactive lizard rising up out of Tokyo Bay and then laying waste to the city, the monster in this movie was a toddler who’d accidentally been made 200 feet tall. And who was now disrupting Rush Hour because he kept picking up cars off of the freeway and then making them go “Vroom Vroom.”

Very cute idea for a movie. Definitely something there that could then be used for a “Honey, I Shrunk” story. But here’s the thing: At this time, the State of Nevada was offering movie studios in Hollywood a huge tax break if they came and shot movies in that state.

Filming in Las Vegas, Nevada

And given that the movie that Disney was then calling “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” was going to be hugely expensive to make (what with all of these elaborate special effects scenes of that giant toddler wandering around that regular-sized cityscape) … Well, Mouse House executives then began to think “Could we switch the location of ‘Honey, I Blew Up the Baby’ from a generic Southern Californian suburb to — say — the Las Vegas Strip? Which has all sorts of famous, recognized-around-the-globe super-sized icons like Vegas Vic, that giant neon Cowboy who’s been a fixture on the Las Vegas Strip since 1951.

The only problem is that a story that’s set in Las Vegas doesn’t exactly scream “Family friendly.” Of course, the real irony here is that — while “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” was actually in production in June of 1991 was when Las Vegas was beginning its initial flirtation with becoming a more family-friendly destination resort. This is when we saw resorts like the Luxor first announced. Heavily themed hotels & casinos which would also have rides & attractions incorporated into their designs that would then appeal to kids.

Credit: Walt Disney Company

From Blowing up the Baby to Blowing up the Kid – Movie Name Change

Disney didn’t initially realize that setting “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” in Las Vegas would then have an impact on this “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” sequel. They were more concerned with what focus groups were telling them about the title of this “Honey” sequel. As is: They didn’t want to take their children to see a Disney movie where babies got blown up. That was cruel & gross sounding.

Disney’s marketing team tried to explain to the people in these focus groups that no babies would actually be harmed over the course of this sequel. That — when they said “Blew Up” — they didn’t mean “exploded.” But — rather — made bigger.

It didn’t matter. According to what Disney learned from all those focus groups, “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” was the sort of film title that turned people off. It sent the wrong message to would-be movie-goers. So they would up trashing the thousands of teaser posters that had already been printed for this project as a new title was crafted for this “Honey, I Shrunk” sequel. Which would now be known as “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

Credit: Walt Disney Company

Box Office Troubles for Franchise

The new title didn’t matter. To this day, no one at Disney knows what exactly went wrong here. Whether it was the movie’s title or that decision to take advantage of the tax credit that the State of Nevada was offering and changing the story’s location to Las Vegas … But long story short, “Honey, I Blew Up the Kids” cost almost twice as much as the original “Honey,  I Shrunk” did to shoot and only did 2/3rds of the original film’s ticket sales.

Which then sent the message to Disney film executives that perhaps this was NOT the studio’s next big film franchise. More to the point, that the enormous success of the first “Honey, I Shrunk “ movie may have had more to do with “Tummy Trouble” (the new Roger Rabbit short that had been placed in front of this film when it went out into theaters back in June of 1989) more than audiences falling in love with the antics of Wayne Szalinski.

So the idea of creating any further theatrical releases based on the “Honey, I Shrunk” characters was temporarily tabled as execs at the Mouse House regrouped. Debated about what should happen next with this franchise.

More “Honey, I Shrunk…” in the Disney Theme Parks

Whereas the Imagineers, they had no such qualms when it came to the “Honey, I Shrunk” franchise. They had seen how popular the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” was with Guests at Disney-MGM Studios. Likewise the Flying Bumble Bee vignette in the Special Effects Workshop of the Backstage Tour at this theme park.

And given that — starting in August of 1993 — accusations had begun to surface about Michael Jackson and some of his younger fans, the thinking at Imagineering (at that time, anyway) was that maybe it was time to start working on a replacement for “Captain EO” (which had first opened at the Parks in the Fall of 1986).

And given that “Captain EO” was being presented in 3D theaters that were located in Future World at EPCOT and in Tomorrowlands at Disney Parks around the globe, the thinking was that a new movie that featured characters from a Disney-produced science-based gimmick comedy would be the perfect replacement for this Michael Jackson movie.

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” – Hiring Eric Idle

So production began in earnest in the Fall of 1993 on this new 3D movie. But “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” almost stopped before it even began. Monty Python vet Eric Idle likes to tell the story about how — one afternoon — he walked into a hotel bar in Los Angeles and found actress Marcia Strassman sitting there, nursing a drink. Eric noticed that Marcia looked a little down and asked if he could join her.

Anyway, Idle eventually asked Strassman why she looked so depressed. And Marcia — who played Diane Szalinkski, Wayne’s wife in the “Honey, I Shrunk” film — explained that they were supposed to begin shooting “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” (a new 3D movie for the Disney Parks) that morning. But that — just before shooting was to begin — the actor who was supposed to play Nigel Channing in that film had dropped out. And now the whole project was on hold while Disney scrambled to find a new actor to play the host of that show’s “Inventor of the Year” ceremony.

It was then that Eric Idle supposedly said “Well, I’m not doing anything for the next couple of days. Do you think that Disney would consider me for this part?” And Marcia said “Let’s find out,” and then asked the bartender for the house phone.

And the very next day, Eric Idle is on the set for “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” As director Randall Kleiser walked this Monty Python vet through this hugely-difficult-to-shoot / FX-filled production. Kleiser — by the way — got this gig because the Imagineers thought that he’d done an amazing job with the direction of that “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

And speaking of doing a great job, the Imagineers were so pleased with Eric Idle’s performance as Nigel Channing, the MC of the “Inventor of the Year” Awards that — when it came time to redo the “Journey into Imagination” ride — they reached out to Idle again and asked if he’d be willing to reprise that character. Which he was. So now Eric Idle is an established fixture at Future World … I mean, World Nature.

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” – Attractions Around the World

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” finally opened at EPCOT in November of 1994. And it proved to be so popular with WDW visitors that Oriental Land Company execs (They’re the folks who operate Tokyo Disneyland & Tokyo DisneySea) insisted that they get a clone of this 3D movie for the Tomorrowland theater at their Disneyland.

Honey, I shrunk the audience Epcot sign
Credit: Flickr Gary Burke

The Tokyo version — which went by the name of “MicroAdventure!” There’s an exclamation point at the end of that attraction’s name, by the way) opened in April of 1997. It was so well received that the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim — which was in the process of designing its second New Tomorrowland (which would open for the Spring of 1998) — said “Hey, we want a clone too.”

So the Anaheim version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” opened in May of 1998, going into the exact same theater that Disneyland’s version of “Captain EO” had been screened in. And then — the following year — Disneyland Paris got its own version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” Which opened at that theme park in March of 1999.

Closing for “Captain EO”

All four versions of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” then screened at theme parks around the globe the next 11 years. Until May of 2010 arrived. Which was when — within one month’s time — all four versions of this 3D attraction shuttered.

Michael Jackson had died back in June of 2009. And since Disney believes firmly in death being the ultimate disinfectant, the Summer of 2010 was deemed to be the perfect time to begin screening “Captain Eo” at the Parks again.

“Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves” & “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show”

In May of 1997 — Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment releases “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.” Which was a home premiere extension of that film series which marked Rick Moranis’ last appearance as Wayne Szalinksi.

In September of 1997, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show” debuts in syndication. This hour-long adventure comedy series ran for three season. With Peter Scolari (formerly Tom Hanks’ co-star on “Bosom Buddies”) now playing the role of Wayne Szalinski.  A total of 66 episodes were produced, with the last one airing May 20, 2000.

Next Steps for “Honey, I Shrunk” Film Franchise

On May 13, 2019 , a“Honey, I Shrunk” reboot was announced. To star Josh Gad playing Wayne Szalinski’s son Nick. Josh persuaded Rick Moranis to come out of retirement to play Wayne again & recruited Joe Johnston — the guy who directed the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” more than 30 years earlier to come back and direct the sequel.

Joe was done in Atlanta in March of 2020 directing the construction of the sets for “Shrunk.” That’s what this sequel (which will air of Disney+) will be called. Just “Shrunk.” When the pandemic happened. Production suspended.

Good news. “Shrunk” is now back on. Can’t reveal where it’s going to be shot. But Josh & Rick are slated to go before the cameras next year. Can’t wait.

Continue Reading

Film & Movies

“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”: The Movie & Early Attractions

Published

on

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids - Wayne looking through magnifying glass
Listen to the Article

This article is part of a series documenting the story of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and Disney Science-Based movies. Be sure to check out our additional research on the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.

When Michael Eisner came on board as Disney’s new CEO in the mid-1980s, he had gone over the company’s books and learned that there was this certain type of film (a science-based gimmick comedy) that the Studio used to release that had done very well at the box office over the past 25 years or so.

We’re talking about Disney-produced comedies like “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.” FX-filled films where college kids accidentally a paint that could then make them invisible.  Or a family pet — in this case, a duck — gets exposed to radiation and then starts laying solid-gold eggs. You know, things that could happen to anyone in every day life. Provided — of course — your name is Dean Jones or Kurt Russell.

Flight of the Navigator and Rebirth of Science-Based Movies

So Eisner decides that it’s high time that Walt Disney Pictures gets back in the science-based gimmick comedy business again. Which is why he greenlights production of “Flight of the Navigator,” which arrives in theaters in July of 1986. The only problem is … This Randall Kleiser film (Remember that name. It’s going to come up again) suffers from “This-movie-really-wants-to-be-E.T.-instead” syndrome. Which means that it’s heartfelt and has some wonderful, sincere moments as well as some killer visual effects.

Credit: Disney

 But “Flight of the Navigator” is not long on laughs. And remember that the reason that Eisner put this Randall Kleiser film into production in the first place is because he wanted to revive the science-based gimmick comedy genre at Disney Studios.

But “Flight of the Navigator” (while it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire when it was released to theaters in the Summer of 1986) did well enough when the VHS version of this movie hit store shelves in January of 1987 that Eisner thought “Okay. We can take another stab at this. Get me a script for another science-based gimmick comedy.”

Which is when the script for “Teenie Weenies” shows up on his desk.

Teenie Weenies – Origins of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”

Now “Teenie Weenies” has kind of an interesting pedigree. Because it came to Disney by way of Stuart Gordon. Who — back in the mid-1980s, anyway — was best known for having written & directed some pretty out-there horror comedies, 1985’s “Re-Animator” and 1986’s “From Beyond.” But Stuart also had a love for cheesy 1950s sci-fi films like “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (which Universal Pictures first released to theaters in April of 1957).

And one day Gordon had a brainstorm: What if — instead of some earnest white guy scientist in a lab coat who gets shrunk down to the size of a bread crumb — it’s a kid instead? Or — better yet — kids? What would happen in that case?

So Gordon and his frequent collaborators — Ed Naha & Brian Yuzna — work up a screenplay that explores this idea. And it eventually makes its way to Disney. And Eisner likes what he sees. But even so, Michael doesn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on this movie. Plus he’s not crazy about that title, “Teeny Weenies.” Can we please come up with a better title for this movie? Which is why — for a time — this film is called “Grounded,” then “The Big Backyard.”

Credit: Worthpoint

So Stuart is initially supposed to direct this movie for Disney. Which — I know — given that this guy previously directed really out-there horror comedies (Trust me, folks. If you’ve ever seen “Re-Animator,” you’ll know what I’m talking about) seems like a weird choice for the Mouse House.

But Michael’s thinking at the time was … Well, “The Big Backyard” is going to be full of visual effects shots. And given some of the scenes in “Re-Animator” & “From Beyond,” this guy already knows how to do this stuff. So better to stick with the devil you know.

So — to keep production cost down — Disney decides to shoot “The Big Backyard” down in Mexico City at Churubusco Studios. So Stuart casts up the project.

FYI: The role of inventor Wayne Szalinski was originally written with Chevy Chase in mind. But since he was shooting “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” around this same time, he wasn’t available. So Disney then offer this part to John Candy. Who — when he passed on the role — suggested that the Studio consider Rick Moranis, his old pal from “SCTV,” for the part. Which is how Moranis became Szalinksi.

Production & Filming “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”

Production is just about to get underway on “The Big Backyard.” But then Stuart Gordon gets sick and has to withdraw from this project. Michael Eisner now starts freaking out. I’ve got a big new visual-effects-drive comedy for Disney Studios all set to start shooting and — days before production is supposed to begin — I don’t have a director.

Enter Academy Award-winning visual effects guy Joe Johnston. This is the guy who started as a concept artist on the first “Star Wars” film, went on to design Boba Fett for “The Empire Strikes Back,” and — by the time “Willow” rolled around — George Lucas had promoted Joe to associate producer. More to the point, Johnston was the production designer on those two “Ewok” TV movies that ran on ABC in 1984 & 1985.

So Joe had come up through the ranks at Lucasfilm. Yet, he hadn’t actually directed a movie up until that time. But he’d basically done everything else you could do behind-the-camera on a big visual effects film. Johnston was the right guy in the right place at the right time when Disney desperately needed a director for “The Big Backyard.” So tag. You’re it.

And Joe — to his credit — delivered. Disney was so pleased with the work that he did on “The Big Backyard” that — after this science-based gimmick comedy officially opened at the box office in June of 1989 and did really, really well, the Studio immediately offered Johnston another FX-fille project. This one being a big screen adaptation of Dave Stevens’ cult classic comic book, “The Rocketeer.”

Joe Johnston, Thomas Wilson Brown, Amy O’Neill, and Robert Oliveri in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) Credit: iMDB

From “The Big Backyard” to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”

But that title. “The Big Backyard.” Michael still hated it. He wanted something punchy & fun like the titles of those earlier Disney science-based gimmick comedies from the 1960s & the 1970s. Something like “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t” or “The Monkey’s Uncle.” A title that tells you right up front that this is a family comedy.

There was a line in the movie that always got a big laugh at test screenings. It was when Rick Moranis turned to his wife Marcia Strassman and then reluctantly admitted “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Eisner said “That gets a laugh. Let’s go with that.” Which is how “The Big Backyard” became “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” Box Office Success

And “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” did crazy business at the box office in the Summer of 1989. We’re talling $222 million in ticket sales worldwide. Which is the equivalent of nearly a half a billion dollars in today’s money. Which then made “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” the highest grossing live-action Disney film of all time. A title it retained for five years, only to then be dethroned by “The Santa Clause.”

Now it’s worth noting here that one of the reasons that “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” did so well at the box office in the Summer of 1989 was that — right in front of this Joe Johnston movie — was the very first “Roger Rabbit” short, “Tummy Trouble.” The film that inspired this short — “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” — had come out the previous summer and done very well at the box office. That Robert Zemeckis movie had taken home four Oscars at the 61st Academy Awards, which had been held just three months previous in late March of 1989.

So there are some folks even today who say “Well, ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ wasn’t really this monstrous hit back in the Summer of 1989. It was more a case that ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ — when it was paired with “Tummy Trouble” — was such a tempting combo that moviegoers just could not resist this double bill. Especially on the heels of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and how well that movie had done the previous Summer.

“Honey, I Blew Up the Kid”

This would become painfully clear in the Summer of 1992 when the sequel to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” — “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” — finally arrived in theaters. Only instead of a new “Roger Rabbit” short, this Randall Kleiser film (See. I told you that name would come up again) had a Disney-produced CG short in front of it called “Off Your Rocker.” And that Barry Cook cartoon — while fun — just wasn’t the box office draw that “Tummy Trouble,” “Roller Coaster Rabbit” or “Trail Mix-Up” had been.

Consequently, “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” only did about 2/3rds of the business that “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” did domestically. We’re talking $96 million in ticket sales in North America versus $130 million in North American ticket sales back in 1989.

Which — when you factor in that the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” cost $18 million to make versus the $32 million it cost to make “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” — isn’t a great place to be. Especially in a Hollywood where — increasingly — the Studio’s accountants are the ones calling the shots. Rather than the creatives.

Honey I Blew Up the Kid Movie Poster

Potential “Honey” Sequels

It’s the Summer of 1989 and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” is still this enormous hit. Which Disney immediately wants to make all sorts of sequels to.

Which is why — as the Wall Street Journal reported in August of that same year — the Studio pre-emptively trademarked a bunch of possible titles for follow-ups to the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” movies. These titles included:

  • “Honey, I Sent the Kids to the Moon”
  • “Honey, I Made the Kids Invisible”
  • “Honey, I Xeroxed the Kids”
  • and “Honey, I Switched Brains with the Dog”

“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” Attractions at Disney MGM Studio Theme Park

Now where this gets interesting is that — even before “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” had opened in theaters (on June 23, 1989) — Michael Eisner was insisting that this Joe Johnston movie be folded into the Disney theme parks somewhere.

Luckily in the Late Winter / early Spring of that same year, the Imagineers were readying the Disney MGM Studio theme park for its May 1st opening.

Tram Tour Blue Screen Bumble Bee Experience

Since WDW’s 3rd gate was supposed to help promote the Studio’s latest releases … Well, WDI decided that — as part of the Visual Effects portion of that theme park’s Backstage walking tour (which used to be the second half of the Tram Tour at Disney MGM) — they’d use Blue Screen as a way to recreate that moment from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” when the boys accidentally fall onto the back of a bumble bee and then get flown all around the backyard.

This experience selected two kids to demonstrate how blue screen technology worked. They were then strapped by Cast Members to this huge fake bumble bee. These kids were then told to flail about as a camera moved in and out, capturing their expressions.

Then — seconds later — this just-captured footage was inserted into a clip from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Which then showed these same kids — now miniaturized — buzzing around a backyard on the back of a giant bumble bee.

Siskel and Ebert Cameo

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel (who — at the time — were the hosts of the hugely popular “At the Movies” show) suddenly came onscreen. Roger & Gene then seemingly began to criticize the performance of the two kids who had just volunteered to demonstrate how blue screen technology worked. With Roger Ebert (he was the heavy-set grumpier member of this duo. Siskel was the more even-tempered, bald-headed guy) complained that “ … it looked like those two were hanging onto a huge fuzzball.”

This cameo was made possible by a deal that Disney had made with Roger & Gene back in 1986. Prior to that, Ebert & Siskel’s movie review show — which began life as a one-time-only TV special on Chicago Public Television back in 1975 — had been shown on various PBS stations around the country. Disney offered to make “At the Movies” the very first syndicated show offered by Buena Vista Television and to then take Ebert & Siskel nationally.

Roger & Gene agreed to this deal with one condition: That Disney execs wouldn’t then interfere in any way with the production of “At the Movies.” More to the point, if Walt Disney Studios made a stinker of a movie, that Ebert & Siskel would then be allowed to state that opinion — loud & clear — on a TV show that the Mouse himself produced.

Michael Eisner personally guaranteed that Roger & Gene would be free to say whatever they liked about Disney-produced films. And because Disney execs made a point of being completely hands-off when it came to “At the Movies” …

Well, that’s why — when the Imagineers came a-calling and said “Would you please shoot this 30 second bit for the Special Effects Workshop. Which will be part of the Backstage Tour thing we’re now building at Disney-MGM Studios,” Ebert & Siskel said “Sure.”

I mean, these two guys took their film criticism jobs seriously. They were total pros. But at the same time, Roger & Gene didn’t take themselves all that seriously. They got the gag, I mean.

“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” Playground

When “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” finally opened in theaters and then became the fifth highest grossing film of the year (behind “Batman,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Lethal Weapon 2” and “Rain Man”), Eisner insisted that something of size that celebrated the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” be built at Disney MGM. Which is why — between New York Street and the Studio Catering Company — a brand-new playground began to rise up.

The gimmick of the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” was — as soon as Guests enterted this space — they were shrunk down to the size of an ant. This enclosed space (which was designed to look like a teeny tiny chunk of the Szlanski’s backyard that was now writ huge) featured 30-foot-tall blades of grass that were built out of metal & fiber glass. Which — prior to installation — had to (in model form, mind you) go through a wind tunnel test to prove that these faux enormous blades of grass could withstand 300 MPH winds and still stay in place. Because … Well, Florida. Hurricanes. You do the math.

And since this “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” play area was being built in Florida … Well, keeping Guests cool was a major consideration. So the Imagineers have people choices. They could either stand under a 52-foot-long nozzle of a giant garden hose and periodically get dripped. Or they could stand in front of a giant dog nose. And — every so often — that enormous canine would sneeze. But instead of snot, a cool mist of water would come shooting out of those enormous nostrils.

By the way, both of these enormous props — the leaky nozzle of that garden hose AND that giant dog nose — were manufactured out in California at WDI’s Tujunga facility and then shipped cross country. You gotta wonder what motorists in the Midwest thought of that as they saw a flatbed with a giant dog nose on it rolling by them on the interstate.

A lot of folks — when talking about the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” — remember that soggy material which covered the ground. It sort of looked like dirt. That was Safe Deck, a material that the Imagineers found which was made up of ground-up old truck tires. Mind you, to make it actually look like the dirt you have in your own backyard, the Imagineers had to scatter little handfuls of ground up green truck tires & red truck tires & blue truck tries. Which brings us to the real important question: Where do you get green & blue truck tires?

Kodak-themed Slide: Was Kodak the Sponsor of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure”?

One of the most popular and famous props in the play area was a slide that was shaped as an enormous, partially opened cannister of Kodak film.

Because that huge cannister of Kodak film was so obviously on display in the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” — did that then mean that Kodak was the sponsor of this Disney-MGM attraction?

And the answer to that question is actually “No.” Eastman Kodak Co. signed a 15-year-long promotional agreement with The Walt Disney Company the year previous (On April 27, 1989. Just days before Disney-MGM officially opened to the public). And this was a deal that linked Disney & Kodak in multiple ways. On television, at the movies and in the Disney theme parks.

The Kodak-themed slide was actually something of a freebie. I mean, you have to understand that the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” was one of the very first projects that Walt Disney Imagineering put into development after the Mouse House signed that new 15-year-long deal with Eastman Kodak.

And what better way to tell all of those Kodak executives back in Rochester, NY that we really appreciate you sticking with us for the long haul and being a participant at Disney Parks & Resorts but then surprise them with a slide that was shaped like an enormous cannister of Kodak film.

Mind you, all of this goodwill would evaporate just a few years later when the Imagineers went to Kodak and said “Hey. It’s time to redo the ‘Journey into Imagination’ ride at Epcot.” To which Kodak executives replied “Film sales are falling through the floor because of the rise of digital photography. We have no money available to fund a redo of the ‘Imagination’ ride. You’re on your own, Disney.”

Closing “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure”

The “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” had a good long run at the Studio theme park. It officially opened on December 17, 1990 and then closed on April 2, 2016 to make way for an entirely different sort of movie set adventure. Maybe you’ve heard of the place? “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” ?

Up Next: Sequel Challenges and 3D Movie Experiences.

Anyway … On the next installment of this series (The third & final chapter of the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” story), we’ll discuss Disney’s troubles when it came to developing a suitable sequel to the first film in this series. Not to mention the challenges that the Imagineers faced when they decided to build a new 3D movie experience around Wayne Szalinski’s shrink ray.

Get ready for way too many mice.

This article is based on research for The Disney Dish Podcast “Episode 374”, published on May 16, 2022. The Disney Dish Podcast is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

Continue Reading

Film & Movies

“Honey, I Made a Science Movie”: Disney Science (1961-1989)

Published

on

Science Based Movies

The Johnny Depp / Amber Heard defamation trial has been all over the news this past week with talk of the  $22 million dollar deal for Depp to appear in “Pirates of the Caribbean 6” that Amber supposedly spoiled by making so much of this couple’s private business public knowledge. Which then got people talking about how the modern Disney Studio makes far too many sequels. And how — back in the day — Walt would never do anything like that.

Which is a lie. By that I mean:

Disney Studios used to make an awful lot of money off of making a very specific type of gimmick comedy. One where some sort of scientific breakthrough / invention of brand-new technology then served as the jumping-off point for all sorts of hi-jinks.

Disney & Early Science-Based Movies

Disney first discovered this niche back in March of 1961 with the release of “The Absent-Minded Professor.” Given that this Fred MacMurray movie did huge box office for that time, Walt quickly ordered a sequel. “Son of Flubber” arrived in theaters in January of 1963 (less than two years after “Absent-Minded Professor” debuted) and did just as well at the box office.

Following “Son of Flubber” ‘s strong ticket sales, Walt now saw this science-based gimmick comedy niche as something his studio could exploit. So he then ordered his creative team to cast around for similar stories and to then quickly put them into production.

Credit: comics.ha

February of 1964 saw the release of “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.” This Tommy Kirk comedy did so well that Walt quickly ordered up a sequel to that Robert Stevenson movie. “The Monkey’s Uncle” arrived in theaters just 18 months later in August of 1965.

Just so you know: Robert Stevenson was the guy who directed “Mary Poppins,” Disney’s biggest hit of the era. He also directed “The Absent-Minded Professor” & “Son of Flubber,” which were written by Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi, the very same guys who wrote the screenplay for “Poppins.” So Walt put his A-Team on these science-based gimmick comedies.

 Walt’s death in December of 1966 temporarily put a pause on the Studio’s steady production of science-based gimmick comedies. But starting in December of 1969 with the release of “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” Disney returned to this particular line of business in a big way.

In short order, there was:

No Tennis Shoes Allowed in the Computer Room at Epcot’s Journey Into Imagination with Figment. Nod to “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes”? Credit: Twitter @HoneyIShrunkAge

The “Star Wars” Impact on Science Fiction Movies

“Star Wars” arrival on the scene in May of 1977 made Disney pivot from making science-based gimmick comedies to trying its hand at making really-for-real science fiction films. Their two very-expensive-to-make attempts at this genre, 1979’s “The Black Hole” and 1982’s “TRON” were often visually impressive but were seriously lacking storywise. Which is why both of these films — during their initial theatrical runs — were considered box office disappointments.

Teen Comedies & “My Science Project”

We now jump ahead to 1984. Where Ron Miller — who’s then in charge of Walt Disney Productions — is looking at all the money that raunchy teen comedies like “Animal House” and “Porky’s” is making. He’s just started up Touchstone Films at Disney Studios (Whose very first release is the adult fantasy comedy, “Splash.” Which arrives in theaters in March of that same year).

Ron wonders. Could it now be time for Disney to revisit its history of science-based gimmick comedies? Only this time with a wee bit of a raunchy edge?

With this mind, Ron greenlights production of “My Science Project.” Which actually has a really clever premise: It actually starts in 1947 with the infamous UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico. President Eisenhower himself orders that the debris at the crash site be packed up and put where no one can find it.

Credit: iMDB

Jump ahead to 1985 where high school senior Michael Harden needs something impressive to showcase at his school’s science fair or he will fail that class and not be able to graduate from high school. Desperate for something — anything — to showcase, Michael breaks into an Air Force aircraft boneyard  (which — it is strongly insinuated — is closely associated with Area 51). Harlan comes across this weird glowing orb thing. Which he runs off with once a guard at this airbase approaches.

Michael then hooks this thing up to a car battery and offers this thing up as — you guessed it — “My Science Project.” The only problem is, where Harlan fires up this weird glowing orb thing, it then promptly rips a hole in space & time. Which is how a T-Rex ends up in the school gymnasium.

You might love this movie just because the cast features Dennis Hopper. Who — towards the end of “My Science Project” — is accidentally blasted back to Woodstock and then, when his Doctor Roberts character (Hopper plays the science teacher in this film) returns for the finale of “My Science Project,” Dennis is wearing the exact same outfit that he wore at the end of “Easy Rider.”

Okay. So “My Science Project” gets some of the time-line wrong. Roswell happened in July of 1947. Whereas Eisenhower didn’t become the 34th President of the United States ‘til January of 1953. But given the whole point of this movie was screwing with the space – time continuum, why quibble with a plot point like that.

Gone with Miller, In with Eisner, and Questions About “My Science Project”

Unfortunately, “My Science Project” never got the release that it deserved from Disney. By the time that this Jonathan Beutel movie had finished principal photography in November of 1984, Ron Miller — the guy who set this project in motion — was no longer the head of Walt Disney Productions. Michael Eisner was.

And Eisner — to be honest — didn’t really know what to make of “My Science Project.” By that I mean, while he was in charge of Paramount Pictures, that studio had made & released a number of raunchy comedies that appealed to teens. Among them Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” in September of 1978 as well as its 1983 sequel, “Up in Smoke.”

And what Michael saw when he looked at “My Science Project” was something of a camel. A movie that was too dirty … Well, edgy, really … to go out into theaters under the Walt Disney Productions. But at the same time, “My Science Project” really didn’t have enough edge to draw in teenage audiences.

Eisner’s choices — at that time — were to order reshoots of this Jonathan Beutel comedy to add some more edge & raunchy humor to this movie or just let this picture go out into theaters as is. And given that “My Science Project” was really a legacy production at this point (i.e., something that Disney’s previous management team had ordered into production. Which Michael was then obligated to release), Eisner opted not to throw good money after bad and opted to send “My Science Project” out into theaters as is in August of 1985 and — predictably — under-performed at the box office.

Michael Eisner’s First “Science” Project with Disney

That said, when Michael arrived at Disney in September of 1984 and did his due diligence as the Company’s new CEO, he dug down deep into Disney’s books. Looking for previous hits that he could then order up sequels to.

Because that’s what Michael did when he was over at Paramount, if he had a hit film of any kind (EX: “Saturday Night Fever” in December of 1977 and “Grease” in July of 1978), he immediately ordered sequels to be developed. Which is how we wound up with “Grease 2” in June of 1982 and “Staying Alive” in July of 1983.

Anyway … Michael noticed — as he was going over Disney’s box office records of the past two decades — that the Studio had a history of produced these science-based gimmick comedies which had consistently been successful. So Eisner put out word that he’d like to make one of these as well. Only one that was aimed at the modern family audience.

And you have to remember — in the early 1980s — Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” was the gold standard when it came to family-friendly films. That Universal Pictures release originally arrived in theaters in June of 1982 and almost immediately became this box office phenomenon. By the end of 1983, it had surpassed the original “Star Wars” as the highest grossing film of all time. It also became the very first film to blow through the billion dollar barrier at the worldwide box office.

Which is why it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that — when Michael Eisner put out the word that he was looking for a science-based gimmick comedy for Disney Studios produced — he also let folks know that “Hey, if this script also has a few elements that make it similar to ‘E.T.,” I wouldn’t complain.

Which brings us to “Flight of the Navigator,” which was directed for Disney by Randal Kleiser. Who had previously directed the original “Grease” for Michael back when he was in charge of Paramount.

Unfortunately, because “Flight of the Navigator’ tried to be two things at once — a science-based gimmick comedy as well as a heartfelt, sincere science-fiction adventure — it wound up being a hard project to promote properly. Disney clearly didn’t know how to market this movie prior to its arrival in theaters in August of 1986.

Note about “Flight of the Navigator.” It was Paul Reuben’s vocal performance as the alien intelligence that powered the craft in that Randal Kleiser movie that convinced the Imagineers that he’d be the perfect guy to voice Rex, the pilot of our Star Speeder, in the original version of “Star Tours.” Which makes it an important movie as far as Disney theme park fans are concerned.

That said, when Buena Vista Home Entertainment released “Flight of the Navigator” as a video cassette in January of 1987, those folks knew exactly how to promote this Randall Kleiser movie. Which is when it became a solid, steady seller to home video enthusiasts.

Which is what convinced Michael Eisner that he was actually on the right track here. That there was actually an audience out there for an updated version of these old science-based gimmick comedies that Disney Studios used to make.

In fact, Eisner was so certain of this that — when “The Wonderful World of Disney” weekly television series was revived for the 1988 – 1989 season on NBC — he ordered that, as part of that anthology series, Disney create an “Absented-Minded Professor” show. Only this time around, Harry Anderson — who was fresh off of his hit NBC series, “Night Court” — star in the Fred MacMurray role.

Credit: Disney

But in the meantime, Michael was looking for some sort of theatrical release that could then get Disney back into the science-based gimmick comedy business. Which is when the script for a film called “Tweeny Weenies” landed on his desk.

This article is based on research for The Disney Dish Podcast “Episode 373”, published on May 9, 2022. The Disney Dish Podcast is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

Continue Reading

Trending