If you’ve been a stalwart supporter of the #366Movies claus, and have followed this blog throughout the year, you may have heard me wax lyrical about my unequivocal fondness Robin Williams. Never mind the heydays of Dead Poet’s Society and Mrs Doubtfire, I’m into the real trashy stuff too: Jumanji, Toys and, dare I say it, even Patch Adams. One film of his I hold as a particularly sickening guilty pleasure is Disney’s 1997 quirky comedy Flubber. Sick of watching that film once every month (I’m kidding, that would be worthy of psychiatric help), imagine how overcome with excitement I was to stumble across The Absent-Minded Professor, from which it derives.
A forgotten gem in the live-action Disney canon, this early sixties family drama puts a friendly face to the world of science. Hollywood’s gentle giant Fred MacMurray plays Professor Ned Brainard, a zany chemist nerd who is so caught developing the next scientific breakthrough that, for the third time, who forgets to attend his own wedding, leaving pretty college secretary Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olson) jilted at the altar. Caught in an explosion at his home laboratory, he wakes up to discover that he has accidentally created anti gravitational, flying rubber (or FLUBBER, if you will). He finds novel ways to use it; such as in the heel of his college basketball team’s shoes and inside the motor of his Model-T car, which enables the car to miraculously fly high into the clouds, an impressive accomplishment for science, but it doesn’t do much to mend his broken heart. With the invention talk of the town, Brainard tries to win back his lost love and sell on the invention to the American government, all before he is accosted by unscrupulous businessman Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn) who has his own advantageous ideas for the malleable play dough.
The comedy might not hit the high(ish) notes of the 1997 remake (a screenplay submitted by ‘king of the teen movies’ John Hughes), MacMurray is fantastically funny and comfortable in the lead, with Wynn stealing the show with a final scene that sees him exponentially bouncing into the high heavens wearing “flubberized” footwear.
Nominated for an academy award in the Best Special Effects category, The Absent-Minded Professor uses some archaic animation techniques and handmade visual tricks to great effects. Director Robert Stevenson clearly had a playful, creative vision for the look and feel of the film, so it’s no wonder that he was able to focus these ideas on a bigger budget four years later with the best Disney film ever made; Mary Poppins.
Of course, it’s all very silly and unsurprisingly dated, but The Absent-Minded Professor is a delightful, ‘fun for all the family’ yarn, effortlessly adopting that inexplicable Disney magic.