In 5 To Watch, five writers from The A.V. Club look at the latest streaming TV arrivals, each making the case for a favored episode. Alternately, they can offer up recommendations inspired by a theme. In this installment: With today’s launch of Disney+, The A.V. Club digs up five under-the-radar favorites available on the new streaming service.
In October, Disney+ revealed, one tweet at a time, some of the beloved properties that would appear on the new streaming service: from the 1937 classic Snow White And The Seven Dwarves and the Miley Cyrus star-making series Hannah Montana, to ’90s teen rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You and blockbusters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the combined libraries of the Walt Disney Company and 20th Century Fox contains a lot less widely celebrated titles, too, like The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, Turner And Hooch, and Herbie Goes Bananas. Now that Disney+ launch day has arrived, The A.V. Club offers our own personal favorites from the vault. Here are five places to start as you work your way through the Mouse motherlode.
Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971)
Sure, Bedknobs And Broomsticks is a kid-lit fantasy adaptation that casts a titan of musical theater as a magical caregiver improving the lives of British moppets. And yes, the film takes place in a bygone era of Old Blighty, blends live-action with animation, boasts a supporting turn from David Tomlinson, and is packed to its colorful cartoon gills with sticky compositions from the Sherman Brothers and Irwin Kostal. But it’d be a mistake to dismiss Bedknobs And Broomsticks as a pretender to Mary Poppins: First and foremost, the kids are orphans this time around—“three cockney waifs” as the trailer voiceover booms. But Bedknobs And Broomsticks is also unencumbered by the Best Picture-courting import of its more prestigious predecessor, possessing a ramshackle charm embodied by Lansbury’s apprentice witch, Tomlinson’s street-corner charlatan, and the practical-effect regiment of antiquated armor and weaponry they sic on invading Nazi forces. Add a splash of Main Street Electrical Parade psychedelia, and Bedknobs And Broomsticks makes for an absolute hoot from a transitional era for Disney. [Erik Adams]
Freaky Friday (1976)
Before Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis switched bodies, before even Tom Hanks became Big and Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage went Vice Versa, there was Jodie Foster in the original body-swapping romp, 1976’s Freaky Friday. Foster’s Annabelle is the coolest of cool kids, sporting a shag haircut and a puka shell necklace as she traverses her neighborhood on her skateboard, rebelling against her strict mother in the process. But then Annabelle becomes her mother, and her mother becomes Annabelle, and future Oscar-winner Foster and Second City alum Barbara Harris usher in the age of body-swap movies by taking on each other’s personalities. Foster asking her pal, “Could I trouble you for a dime, dear?” is comedy gold, as is Harris blowing bubble gum and heading out on that skateboard. Naturally, everything ends up with a car driving down stairs and a wild water-skiing stunt, because this is a 1970s Disney movie. But the two Golden Globe-nominated leads end up expertly delivering the true message of Freaky Friday: Nobody’s life is as easy as it looks from the outside. [Gwen Ihnat]
Return To Oz (1985)
The film that launched a thousand childhood nightmares, Return To Oz takes the sweetness and whimsy of the original 1939 film and strips it of… sweetness and whimsy. What’s left is a bleak and unsettling story about Dorothy (precocious Fairuza Balk, just 9 years old when it was filmed), now committed to a mental institution, who manages to return to her beloved fantasyland only to find it a barren shell, its citizens turned to statues and the countryside ruled by the Harryhausen-esque Nome King. Director Walter Murch, a legendary sound artist and editor who made his only feature film with Return To Oz, manages to craft some of the most disturbing kids’ entertainment this side of The Last Unicorn. His ear for haunting composition finds its scariest outlet in the Wheelers, the harrowing evil henchman with wheels for hands and feet, and he does cold justice to L. Frank Baum’s world, making it the sort of fantastical haunt of which no child would ever want to come within a thousand yards. There are other “dark and gritty” reworkings of the Baum mythos, but few achieve such a primal sense of trauma. In other words: perfect for family movie night! [Alex McLevy]
Flight Of The Navigator (1986)
Although it hits terminal cuteness sometime around the two-thirds mark—i.e., pretty much the moment a pseudonymous Paul Reubens arrives as the voice of a sentient spaceship who laughs way too much—the first hour or so of Disney’s attempt to cash in on the E.T. craze is remarkably bracing stuff. What’s most shocking about Flight Of The Navigator, to modern eyes, is what a slow, subtle burn it is; though director Randal Kleiser fills the movie’s opening act with tongue-in-cheek references to flying saucers and people staring up in wonder at the skies, the actual abduction that drives its plot takes place in the span of a single, barely noticeable cut. The upshot of all this misdirection is that the audience ends up just as scared and disoriented as poor David Freeman (Joey Cramer), who falls into a ravine near his Florida home one night, and somehow emerges eight years later, untouched by the ravages of time, and with a mysterious extraterrestrial voice yelling in his head. It’s actually a bit of a letdown once the movie gets to the kid-flies-a-spaceship parts that are ostensibly its reason for existing; it’s a better mystery movie than an action-adventure, no matter how many times Reubens does the Pee-wee Herman laugh. [William Hughes]
X-Men: Evolution (2000-2003)
The X-Men properties, be they blockbuster movies or long-running comics titles, mainly explore the goings-on at Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters—but often bypass the last part of that name. Not so with the animated series X-Men: Evolution. Scott, Jean, Kurt, and Kitty are all juggling life at a public high school while also learning to be X-Men, which leads to more adolescent-minded plot developments: The kids throwing a party when Professor X is out of town, which gets perilous when a partygoer discovers the Danger Room, or Scott being jealous of Jean dating the school football star. You can also spot some Buffy The Vampire Slayer parallels (reportedly the Evolution creators were fans), like Shadowcat doing a Cordelia-like dance in the credits, and the guitar-laden theme song. Makes sense: Both series explored the difficulty of growing up while having to save the world over and over again. Luckily, these young X-Men are guided by the patient Professor X, and the not-so-patient Wolverine—but even Logan lets his students just play dodgeball one episode instead of more strenuous training, because “sometimes you just gotta let kids be kids.” [Gwen Ihnat]