I had planned on writing a Forgotten Film Gem article this week about a 1979 Disney film called Unidentified Flying Oddball. I hadn’t seen it in years, but I remembered enough good things about it that I figured it would be fun to revisit it with my wife, who had never seen it before.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan.
This is probably the longest 90-minute movie I’ve ever seen. It drags on and on. It’s a comedy without jokes, a romance without passion, and an epic without scope. In short, I have to ask: What were the filmmakers thinking?
Unidentified Flying Oddball is atrocious. It does have a couple of good aspects, so I will give credit where credit is due. But 99 percent of this film is utterly awful. Let’s see what went wrong with this Disney non-classic.
Unidentified Flying Oddball is about a NASA employee named Tom Trimble who accidentally gets launched into space in an experimental spaceship that can travel faster than light. He then pulls a Superman: The Movie trick and spins around the Earth so fast that he actually goes back in time and lands in Medieval England during the reign of King Arthur. Hijinks and misunderstandings ensue.
This movie attempts to be a comedy, but all of its jokes fall flat. Here’s one example that characterizes the majority of the jokes in this film:
Tom Trimble: I think Merlin and Sir Mordred are in cahoots!
King Arthur: Where is Cahoots?
Trimble: No. Partners. They’re partners.
Did you hear the thud when that joke landed? This movie is littered with the corpses of jokes that are dead on arrival. The sad thing is that there are plenty of ideas for jokes that could have worked quite well.
For example, a pretty woman named Alisande is always carrying a goose that she believes to be her father. That could have been a hilarious running gag with a great payoff when she’s finally confronted by her real father while still holding the goose. Sadly, the movie doesn’t even have the brains to do such a simple thing as that.
Hey, I just had a thought: If she was running around with multiple geese, it would be a running gaggle. Wow, that pun was funnier than almost any joke in this movie. Also, it turns out that she has been holding a female goose the whole time, so if she had just taken a gander she would have known that she hadn’t taken a gander. You see? That goose could have been a goldmine for jokes!
Okay, I have to admit that this movie does have a couple of pretty funny fight scenes. Early in his medieval voyage, Trimble is pursued by the evil Sir Mordred. Trimble is no match for him at swordplay, so he thinks up a creative solution. He magnetizes Sir Mordred’s sword, so every time the knight winds up to deliver a killing stroke, some other object gets stuck to it, throwing him off balance. It gets so heavy that he finally collapses under the weight of his own sword, and Trimble wins without hardly having to lift a finger.
There’s also a memorable jousting sequence where Trimble’s doppelganger android first loses an arm and then his head, but he just keeps on coming back for more. It has sort of a nice Monty Python Black Knight feel to it.
But the climax squanders all the goodwill those early scenes built up. How do you get excited about a guy doing battle using a remote control while sitting comfortably on a flying lawn chair? Yeah, the climax is one big joke, and not in a good way. King Arthur’s knights just stand around doing nothing while Trimble and his android fight by proxy. It’s not really superior intelligence that wins the final battle, but mostly just the villains’ stupidity and lack of adaptability. The magnet joke I found so funny at the start is amped up to an utterly ridiculous degree until I find myself sort of annoyed that I thought it was funny at all in its first use.
I understand that this is a kids movie and it’s not meant to portray deep romantic relationships. But my goodness the romance in this film is so insulting to the intelligence. Alisande comes across as hopelessly incompetent in the way she talks to Trimble. Because she’s the only female character in the film (besides the Mother Goose, I suppose), she is designated as the love interest. But there’s no chemistry between her and Trimble. The two share a few awkward conversations and there’s even a poorly executed love triangle involving the android, but I never felt like I wanted them to end up together. They’re just a couple of brainless souls who wind up together by accident.
The Time Travel
Usually in time travel tales, the protagonist at least mentions the danger of his actions altering the timeline. Serious consequences could flow from changing even the smallest thing in the past or revealing information about future events. But what does Trimble do upon meeting King Arthur? He spills the beans about everything from Columbus to the Beatles. The English are not supposed to know that the Americas even exist for centuries, for heaven’s sake! He also gives space-age weapons to a group of medieval warriors and blows their minds by introducing them to robotics and other completely foreign concepts. Basically, preserving the historical timeline takes a backseat to insanity in this movie.
This is just a personal taste issue, but should a G-rated Disney movie really be flaunting a Playboy magazine? The android apparently has certain needs that can only be met by sneaking a dirty magazine aboard. And it keeps showing up and even becomes a plot point. It just strikes me as extremely out of place for this type of movie. At least that magazine got burned so it wouldn’t keep showing up and adding to the discomfort level of this movie.
This Movie Can Stay Unidentified
What a strange and awful movie this turned out to be. Unidentified Flying Oddball had everything I could want as a kid: spaceships, robots, laser guns, and swordfights. But as an adult I find its attempts at humor off-putting and its characters to be dull and charmless.
The final moments of the film, when the goose reveals itself to be a female, sum up the whole thing nicely: This movie definitely laid an egg.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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