Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Age Of Believing

I know I'm a little late in writing about this, but keep your eyes on Turner Classic Movies' schedule for its next showing of the documentary THE AGE OF BELIEVING: THE DISNEY LIVE-ACTION FILMS, which will certainly be of interest to moviegoers of a certain age. As you can imagine from its title, the documentary by Peter Fitzgerald attempts to pack too much information into its running time. I've seen DVD supplements that ran as long, but managed to focus its attention on just one film.

I was amazed to realize how many of the films chronicled here I had seen as a kid, even though most of them were made before I was even born. Not only did Disney have a penchant for theatrically re-releasing (though his Buena Vista company) his films every eight or nine years, but most of them also aired on his television show, which had many titles and formats over the three decades it was on, but was called THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY on Sunday nights on NBC when I was growing up.

Many of the surviving filmmakers and actors are interviewed, notably Dick Van Dyke (MARY POPPINS), Tommy Kirk (THE SHAGGY DOG), Dean Jones (THE LOVE BUG), Kevin Corcoran (OLD YELLER), and Kurt Russell (THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES). Notably absent are Annette Funicello, who probably was the most important star Disney ever had under contract--she suffers from MS and was likely unable to be interviewed--and Fess Parker, whose portrayal of Davy Crockett sparked a merchandising phenomenon unmatched until STAR WARS came along twenty years later.

Told mainly through well-chosen film clips interspersed with talking heads and Angela Lansbury's narration, THE AGE OF BELIEVING probably will strike a chord among those who grew up watching Disney films, back when the Disney label on a film meant something. What it meant was wholesome and, yes, sometimes hokey entertainment, except we didn't know it was hokey when we were nine years old.

THE AGE OF BELIEVING isn't perfect, however, and is even disappointing in some areas. For one thing, almost everything produced after Uncle Walt's death in 1966 is ignored. The 1970s in particular get just a handful of minutes, including a brief bit of Jodie Foster from FREAKY FRIDAY and a surprisingly uninvolving story by Tim Conway about his APPLE DUMPLING GANG costar Don Knotts. While the documentary and interviewee Kurt Russell admits that Disney had tough times during the 1970s, refusing or being unable to adapt to the swiftly changing social mores in America, the film doesn't go into any details. While the '70s were not a great period for Disney films, it would have been nice to have seen clips of GUS (which I saw about a million times, it seems) or NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN, or even an acknowledgment that the Disney studio remained busy during the decade.

The documentary's most egregious omission is 1979's THE BLACK HOLE, which is totally ignored. One of Disney's most important live-action films was both its most expensive (at the time) and riskiest, and it was also the studio's first PG-rated production. TRON, which this documentary would have you believe was Disney's final live-action film, is the last one mentioned and just barely.

Despite its problems, check out THE AGE OF BELIEVING on Turner Classic Movies if you get a chance, and recapture some of those fond memories you have of sitting in a darkened theater and being entertained. Chances are excellent that one of the movies showcased here was the first one you ever saw.


TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
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Chris said...

Too bad Watchers in the Woods didn't get chronicled, either. Pretty scary flick.

I'll always remember these movies for the oversized white cases they came in at the video store.

Nice post!