Wholesome family entertainment somewhat in the Disney style, low-budget action/comedy Where’s Willie? tracks the adventures of an eight-year-old computer genius during a time when computers were still novelties. The movie is drab and obvious and saccharine, but it’s also fairly imaginative, and, in a bumbling sort of way, it expresses the worthy theme of parents learning to recognize their children as individuals. So while most contemporary viewers would find this picture a tough sit thanks to the cutesy vibe and the weak leading performance by juvenile player Marc Gilpin, folks of a certain age might enjoy the film as a throwback to a simpler time. What’s more, although the onscreen gadgetry requires a significant suspension of disbelief, Where’s Willie? is more palatable than some actual Disney movies with similar themes because it doesn’t edge into ridiculous fantasy. (Translation: Nobody transforms into an animal or travels through time.)
In generic small-town America, kindly Sheriff Charlie Wade (Henry Darrow) and his wife, Beth (Katherine Woodville), raise their son, Willie, who becomes more of a handful with each passing year. Thanks to his natural affinity for electronics, he constantly invents gadgets, some for practical purposes (e.g., a self-driving lawnmower) and some for pure boyish mischief. Willie confounds neighbors by messing with traffic lights, causing a huge traffic jam, and by tweaking the clocks at school, triggering an early dismissal of students. Willie’s parents try imposing discipline, but the boy misinterprets their reactions as a message his parents don’t want him, so he runs away, the first of many misadventures.
Nothing in Where’s Willie? generates much in the way of narrative surprise, but of course that’s not really the point of a movie like this one. The idea is to reaffirm such concepts as family values, the importance of imagination, and the need for civic responsibility. It’s all quite vanilla, to the extreme that at one point during Willie’s prolonged absence from his hometown, a neighbor says to Charlie: “Everybody loves that boy in spite of his computer tricks.” It feels callous to criticize a movie of this sort unless it becomes sanctimonious or stupid, which Where’s Willie? never does. Accordingly, the fact that Where’s Willie? never becomes anything truly special seems almost irrelevant.
Where’s Willie?: FUNKY