Saturday, May 20, 2017

Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979)

          Movies along the lines of Unidentified Flying Oddball underscore why Walt Disney Productions was in need of fresh ideas just prior to the studio’s first experiments with slightly more grown-up fare. A goofy riff on Mark Twain’s classic novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the movie imagines a nerdy scientist flying a spaceship back through time to Camelot, where he helps King Arthur repel an attempted coup by the treacherous Sir Mordred. Not only had Disney already explored Arthurian mythology with the animated feature The Sword in the Stone (1963), but everything about Unidentified Flying Oddball is enervated. The characterizations are thin, the FX are rickety, the jokes are tepid, and the performances fail to impress. Some very young viewers might find the picture’s compendium of medieval settings, sci-fi concepts, and slapstick comedy distracting, but most viewers with ages in the double digits will grow restless quickly. Even though this movie ticks a few important boxes for live-action children’s entertainment by presenting a brisk and eventful storyline within a compact running time, nearly everything that happens onscreen is contrived and dumb, and it’s plain that Disney allocated a B-level budget for the production. One can literally see the strings on the protagonist during a climactic flying scene, a sure sign no one felt compelled to put forth their best efforts.
          The jam-packed storyline begins with a U.S. Senator refusing to finance an experimental NASA spaceship because flying the vessel would take an astronaut into space for decades. Clean-cut scientist Tom Trimble (Dennis Dugan) is tasked with creating a lifelike robot, so he produces Hermes (also played by Dugan). Thanks to a ridiculous set of circumstances, both Tom and Hermes are inside the vessel when it launches, so both find themselves in medieval England. Evil sorcerer Merlin (Ron Moody) conspires with Mordred (Jim Dale) to dethrone aging King Arthur (Kenneth Moore), but Tom and Hermes ally themselves with local lass Alisande (Sheila White) and others to help the king retain control over the Round Table. Typical of the movie’s gentle humor is the way Alisande carries around a goose, mistakenly believing the fowl is actually her father, transformed by one of Merlin’s spells. For the most part, Unidentified Flying Oddball is harmless, a barrage of misunderstandings and physical comedy peppered with the occasional clever gag. But, man, does this picture lack that beloved Disney magic. By the time the action climaxes with Tom flying in a suit of armor while Hermes uses the spaceship’s giant magnets as weapons, the picture shows the strain of trying to create spectacle without spending big money. This film promises Camelot and delivers Camelittle.

Unidentified Flying Oddball: FUNKY


Cindylover1969 said...

It was probably still better received than Guy Ritchie's take on King Arthur.

Alan Beauvais said...

This actually was released in 1979 (August, to be exact). It was part of a double-feature, paired with "The Jungle Book" (1967).