Though some beg to differ, I think Disney's last live action heyday occurred in the 1970's.
Escape From Witch Mountain? No Deposit No Return? The North Avenue Irregulars? Freaky Friday? True, a few of these pictures don't hold up quite as well but then, others seem to deepen (Freaky Friday in particular). With that, I had higher hopes for the 1971 Disney picture The Barefoot Executive, a movie that at best stars the consistently engaging Disney lead--Kurt Russell and a chimp named "Raffles." And yet, even with these two entertaining elements, the film never sent me--anywhere.
Too goofy and even (worse) boring, Barefoot never matches its unofficiall Dexter Riley comedies, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and Now You See Him Now You Don't (1972)--also starring Russell. Unlike watching something completely silly like say, The Apple Dumpling Gang a film where you recognize its out and out goofiness but remain oddly charmed (Don Knotts helps this for sure), Barefoot left me stone-faced.
Which I can't believe I'm writing since, again, Russell's co-star is a chimp named Raffles.
The very, very youthful Russell plays Steven Post, mail room boy at a TV network called UBC (patterned after NBC--peacock colors and all). Ambitious and full of ideas, he wants to get ahead and hope that improving station programming will kick him into a higher rank within the company. Problem is, his ideas are kinda lame--like a show called "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog." Sure, he's filled with pluck and a good work ethic, but no matter how much Steve pitches, station manager Francis X. Wilbanks (Joe Flynn)won't bite.
Things change when Steve's girlfriend Jen (a too low key Heather North), Wilbanks' personal assistant, is left babysitting her neighbor's pet. The pet turns out to be a chimpanzee named Raffles (why that name is funny I don't know), an animal that, as it turns out, has a knack for knowing what will bring the highest ratings on TV. The chimp's main enjoyment (apparently) comes from parking it in front of the set, allowing Steve the weird observation of Raffles particular prowess. Uttering loud proclamations for or against various shows, Steve realizes the chimp has a knack for picking out TV hits. Seeing Raffles as his way up the network ladder, he uses this phenomenon to flex his know-how muscles (not giving Raffles credit of course) and Steve's life changes radically.
Yep--not only is Steve promoted to Vice President but named TV's Man of the Year. He's also given a car, a sweet pad, fortune and fame. But is he happy? Eventually, no. Feeling guilty about his promotion, Steve begins to understand the ethical issues of literally, having a monkey do his job.
Though I liked that somewhere within this picture there's a major comment concerning the television habits of the masses, the idea doesn't remove the film's clunky manner and unfunny jokes. Even with both the strength of the film's humorous actors(John Ritter is great here; Wally Cox and Joe Flynn are amusing) and a naturalistic, charismatic Russell, The Barefoot Executive, Raffles and all, remains mereley mediocre.
Buena Vista presents The Barefoot Executive in a reformatted 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer. The quality is poor. One, it should have been restored to its original widescreen aspect ratio and two, the picture quality is soft with noticeable scratches. It looks bad.
Sound is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. Fine, nothing special, but not noticeably inferior. Though I did spy some out of sync moments.
Aside from promo's for other Disney films, nada.
Tepid and for the most part, unfunny, The Barefoot Executive disapoints even while containing the rather interesting message of a chimp choosing our mass TV tastes. But remember, this is Disney not Marshall McLuhan.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun