The Walt Disney company’s classic animated films are timeless, and a vast majority of them may remain that way. When it comes to the company’s live-action endeavors, however, many of those have aged quite a bit worse. Whether it’s the age we live in that makes some older titles bizarre, or these movies were always a little weird, here are a handful of weird live-action Disney films time forgot and the House of Mouse has swept under the rug.
Tom and Huck (1995)
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was one of the “it kids” of the 90s, and if audiences weren’t watching him on Home Improvement, they were seeing him or hearing him on the big screen. In 1995, the world received a unique addition to J.T.T.’s resume in which the young actor played a literary character. Thomas played Tom Sawyer in a period piece that would make teenage girls swoon for an adaptation of the work of Mark Twain.
Teen girls may have swooned, but critics almost universally tore apart Tom and Huck for its overall blandness. The movie was called “boring” which, in terms of longevity, can be worse than being bad. Those who remember it from their youth might still check it out, however, if only to spot a young Rami Malek long before his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With The Circus (1960)
There’s no evidence that Toby Tyler was made as propaganda to prevent kids from running away to join the circus, but it certainly feels like there could be. In the movie, Toby runs away from home after his uncle criticizes him, and quickly learns working for a circus isn’t a ton of fun. He makes the best of it though, and quickly rises through the ranks thanks to his connection to a chimpanzee called Mr. Stubbs.
Spoilers!Toby eventually reunites with his aunt and uncle, who he discovers love him despite his employer’s efforts to persuade him otherwise. Mr. Stubbs gets shot and is presumed dead, only to make a triumphant return in the midst of Toby’s circus act. It’s a wild scene, especially considering it looks like the actor Kevin Corcoron is trying to prevent being choked out by the ape the whole time. That alone makes this one a must-watch, if not a classic.
Mighty Joe Young (1998)
Some may think Disney’s recent trend of remaking classic films is rather new, but it’s something the studio has been doing for quite a while. Case in point, the 1998 version of Mighty Joe Young is based on a film from 1949 with the same name. The difference between them is that this one had Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, and a motion suit gorilla much larger than the gorilla that was in the original movie.
While the film may not be talked about much these days, it certainly should be. Joe may not be a gorilla as big as King Kong, but Disney’s decision to use animatronics, a human actor and miniature sets make for a gorilla that ages much better than a digital gorilla may have. Plus, it’s certainly one of the more quality forgotten films on this list, especially for those with children looking for a serviceable family drama.
Darby O’Gill And The Little People (1959)
Darby O’Gill And The Little People tells the tale of Darby O’Gill and his capture by Leprechauns after losing his job. Darby eventually outwits the Leprechauns and escapes and even manages to trick one into giving him three wishes which he uses throughout the course of the film. The film is certainly weird due to its general premise and a particular violin scene, but it’s also pretty good.
Audiences who tune into this one will find a quality adventure from start to finish from an era that was exceptionally impressed by the special effects work. Critics loved the film, although one did complain about the “weak” performance of a supporting actor in his late 20s by the name of Sean Connery. I’m curious as to what that critic thought three years later when he saw Connery as James Bond?
The Country Bears (2002)
Disney has often tried to spin its popular Disney World and Disneyland rides into film franchises, and sometimes, it pays off. Other times, not so much, and The Country Bears is a perfect example of that. As it turns out, not even a cast of celebrities and a leading performance by a bear version of Haley Joel Osment was enough to convince audiences to take a chance on this odd adventure.
The Country Bears was a box office disaster, with a worldwide total that came in slightly above $18 million. That’s only a little over half of what it cost to make the film, which fell flat with critics as much as it did the general public. As CinemaBlend’s own Sean O’Connell put it: “Bears is bad. Not ‘terrible filmmaking’ bad, but more like, ‘I once had a nightmare like this, and it’s now coming true’ bad.”
Almost Angels (1962)
Almost Angels is a story about a young boy that essentially serves as an educational documentary informing on the famous Vienna Boys Choir. I’m not sure how big a deal the organization was back then compared to now, but the fact that Disney paired this feature alongside a remastered screening of The Lady and the Tramp might mean executives thought it wasn’t good enough to put butts in the theater.
This feature is packed with traditional Austrian songs, all of which are performed elaborately. That’s typical of the time, but what makes it weird is all the crowd shots during these performances which presumably are done to drive the plot further. Unfortunately, the performances are very rarely interrupted with sound, so it’s just a lot of weird gestures and eye movements while these kids with beautiful voices belt out songs. It’s interesting, but weird.
102 Dalmations (2000)
How many Dalmations does it take to make a sequel of a live-action adaptation of a Disney classic? I’m not entirely sure about that answer, but it seems as though the producers of 102 Dalmations believed they really only needed Glenn Close to make this sequel a success. To their credit, Cruella de Vil’s relapse into puppy killing for high fashion was a commercial success.
Critically though, this one was a dud. In what’s essentially a movie that repeats the big high notes of the original, 102 Dalmatians has been largely forgotten in the years since its release. To be fair, I’m not sure the original live-action really gets a lot of love these days either, and even the animated original is not as fondly thought of as some other Disney flicks. Perhaps that means it’s time for yet another reboot?
The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones (1964)
Merlin Jones is a clever college student who, through the use of a helmet with a lot of antennae on it, gains the ability to read thoughts. This leads to events that one would typically deem not exciting enough to appear in a film, such as Merlin mistaking a judge for a criminal but he was actually a secret author of crime novels. How come his mind-reading abilities didn’t pick up on that detail?
Of course, who am I to criticize Disney for taking a light approach to mind reading and hypnotism in what’s meant to be a light-hearted movie. The Misadventures of Merlin Jones isn’t necessarily good, but it’s not at all a film anyone should call awful. Perhaps its mediocrity is why many have forgotten it over time?
Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)
Audiences may be well familiar with Disney’s ghost tale The Haunted Mansion, but it’s safe to say a fair few less remember Blackbeard’s Ghost. That’s a real shame because if ever there was an obscure film for Disney to remake into a live-action adventure, this is it. A mild-mannered man named Steve wins an item at a charity auction, only to be cursed by the spirit of Blackbeard upon receiving the item.
Steve is the only person who can see Blackbeard, who immediately lands Steve in trouble with the law by driving his car as if it were a ship. Blackbeard also steals the Steve’s arresting officer’s motorcycle and crashes it into a tree. Basically, Blackbeard is an asshole, and it’s up to Steve to get Blackbeard to perform a good deed so that his soul can move on to the afterlife.
The Monkey’s Uncle (1965)
Remember Merlin Jones? Well, his first film was a big enough success that Disney decided to make a sequel where Merlin is tasked with creating a man-powered flying machine that will win Midvale college a huge donation. Merlin then tries his best to create a machine, lest the donor’s money go to a rival college and impact Midvale’s bottom line.
So, what does any of this have to do with a monkey? As it turns out, Merlin is the legal uncle to his nephew monkey named Stanley. Stanley has almost nothing to do with the film’s plot and was potentially only brought on to justify the title. Keep in mind, Disney put some money into this, or at least enough money for the Beach Boys to appear in it and perform.
The Devil And Max Devlin (1981)
Remember when Disney made a film about a guy being sent to hell and Bill Cosby played a demon? I’m doubtful many do, or there would’ve been several memes referencing this bizarre Disney film last year. Yes, Disney actually made a movie that featured a rather frightening and grotesque version of hell, and it’s actually rather impressive how scary the studio made it look.
There were those at the time who were less than impressed with The Devil And Max Devlin, and the movie ended up convincing Disney to release its more mature-themed films under the umbrella of different companies. Had it not been for this feature, Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures may never have existed. That alone should make it relevant enough to be remembered, and maybe even rented by some film group looking for a truly bizarre entry in Disney history.
Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)
Jungle 2 Jungle is one of those movies where a person might question whether or not it truly existed, or if it was all a fantasy like that genie movie starring Sinbad. Yes, Jungle 2 Jungle did happen, and for those who forgot, involves a New York businessman finding out he has a son who was raised in the jungle. He then takes the boy to New York and attempts to teach him about city life.
Folks may remember the kid killing the fly with a blow dart in the car, but the rest of the plot may be fuzzy. Just to fill in the rest, Tim Allen’s character ends up leaving his fiance and his life in New York to reconcile with his ex-wife who he only saw briefly after learning he had a 13-year-old son. If that’s not the weirdest most unrealistic ending Disney has ever delivered, I don’t know what is.
Hopefully, a few of these entries arrive on Disney’s upcoming streaming service Disney+ so that the world can remember these weird films and enjoy them time and time again. For an update on Disney’s latest exploits in the world of live-action, find out what animated feature the company made that is planned to be getting the live-action treatment next!