When I go to Disney, which is often enough as an annual passholder, I sometimes look for references to obscure titles from their extensive collection of live-action and animated movies. Some of these, it seems, the Mouse would rather forget, Song of the South (1946) being a prime example. To date, the only reference I am aware of to this nearly forgotten title is the theming of the Splash Mountain rides in a few of its theme parks. Rumor has it, though, that this will not be around for long, and my understanding is that the one in the Magic Kingdom is slated to be redone (or reimagined, as the Mouse executives will tell you) as a The Princess and the Frog (2009). This is not simply a matter of updating decorations. Song of the South is racist, and you do not have to be “woke” to see that on Splash Mountain as it is currently configured. I am just happy that they still have the tree house from Swiss Family Robinson (1960), though I suppose the park overlords will get rid of that at some point, too. It is all the man, Walt Disney’s, fault. His company seems to follow his commandment of amusement parks being never finished like the dying wishes of a family member. In my own lifetime, I have seen the demise of the Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954) ride (which was in an actual submarine!) and the Great Movie Ride, among many others. This last was a personal favorite, and almost made me quit going to the parks altogether had it not been for the announcement of the Star Wars playground that is Galaxy’s Edge. Through it all, though, not once have I seen a single mention anywhere of one of my personal favorites Flight of the Navigator (1986). Still, who knows? A little recent research reveals that Disney is working on a reboot of the 1980s film, with Bryce Dallas Howard set to direct.
I told you I liked obscure Disney titles, and Flight of the Navigator is as little ballyhooed as it gets. Is that why there is no ride? Anyway, the film begins with dogs catching frisbees in Fort Lauderdale in 1978, which has nothing to with the subject matter of the film other than to introduce us to the Freeman family. I guess the frisbees look like flying saucers? The one Freeman we focus on the most is David Freeman (Joey Cramer), the oldest of two boys. On their way home from the show, his younger brother Jeff (Albie Whitaker), is let out of the car to play with some neighborhood friends. It being the Fourth of July, when it comes time to collect Jeff and go watch fireworks, mom Helen (Veronica Cartwright) sends David to bring his brother home. The two bicker a lot, and David only reluctantly agrees to the task. As he crosses the woods between the Freeman’s and where his brother is, a strange noise distracts and he falls into a ravine. He is temporarily knocked out, but comes to and returns home seemingly none the worse for wear. The problem, though, is that it is now 1986 and there is a new family living in the home he had just left. When the police arrive, they initially do not believe he could be who he claims since eight years had passed and he still looks like the same twelve-year-old boy who had gone missing in 1978. It is when they take him to the Freeman’s new residence and David sees dad Bill (Cliff de Young) that they believe he is who he says. While these revelations are taking place, nearby National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) representative Dr. Louis Faraday (Howard Hesseman) is summoned to a row of downed power lines through which a strange, silvery, almond-shaped craft has crashed. They take it back to NASA headquarters for analysis. What brings David to Dr. Faraday’s attention are the tests they run on the boy. During them, David unconsciously recreates star charts in alien languages and a full schematic of the unidentified flying object (UFO). This is sent to NASA for analysis, and soon Dr. Faraday comes to ask David to come to Cape Canaveral in order to undergo further testing. David reluctantly agrees when they promise no more than forty-eight hours away from his family. Once under Dr. Faraday’s care, David begins communicating with the spaceship, even though he is not able to control it. The spectacular nature of the things going on with David’s brain means that Dr. Faraday wants to keep him longer. As this is not to David’s liking, David enlists the help of NASA intern Carolyn McAdams (Sarah Jessica Parker) in order to escape what he sees as a prison. In the process, he makes his way to the spaceship and boards it. Once there, he meets (consciously, this time) the ship’s brain, the Trimaxion Drone Ship, which David quickly shortens to Max (Paul Reubens). Max sees David as “the Navigator,” referring to the boy as such, and helps him escape so that he can get the star charts he needs from David’s head and return to its home planet. This is apparently what David had been doing for the last eight years, though he has no memory of it. Max is also a collector, wandering the galaxy collecting specimens to take home and analyze. Once that is done, he returns them to the time period they came from as if they had never left. David sees this as an opportunity to get his normal life back, but, citing some science mumbo-jumbo, Max says it is too dangerous for him to attempt. However, after gallivanting around the globe at terrific speeds for some time, and seeing all the security personnel around the 1986 version of his family, David is finally able to get Max to agree to at least try the time travel. Because this is Disney, it works, of course, and David is able to get to his family in time to go see fireworks with a new appreciation for them all, even Jeff.
There is a certain The Wizard of Oz (1939) vibe to Flight of the Navigator. In the end, there really is no place like home. On our home planet, we have experienced God come to earth in the form of Jesus. One thing that I have heard mentioned many times is that the supposed “fact” of extra-terrestrial beings somehow contravenes the existence of God. We humans are so full of hubris. We think we know everything. To be sure, we know a lot, and there are a few things of which we can be certain. The sun will rise in the east and Jesus did die for our sins. Interestingly, the Church has never come out and definitively said that there is not sentient life out there amongst the stars. Further, some of the most important astronomical discoveries have been made by Catholics. The Big Bang Theory, for example, was first put forward by a Belgian priest named Father Georges Lemaître. To get off the Catholic apologist beat, for a moment, let us speak philosophically. A few weeks back, a rather interesting chap asked me while standing in line for Confession whether or not I believe in aliens. I took the question as impertinent. I still do. The main argument for the existence of alien in life is a rather flimsy one, basically saying, “Hey, look how big the universe is! If we exist here, there must be others out there somewhere, right?” There are also the conspiracy theories as to what the government may or may not know, blah, blah, blah. The one thing nobody has yet to come up with on the matter is conclusive proof of aliens. Until that is given, I see no reason to worry about whether or not there is other intelligent life. Who knows, outside of God? We could be the only intelligent life in the universe, regardless of the Drake equation. Stranger things have happened. And if the day comes when LKJHfklrejhgerlkgbalkjzhfgLOHIF visits us from the planet Lresglk:LKHF:DLKHLKFJDHG;LKHJST, I see no reason to abandon my Faith. Hence, movies like this one do little to suggest otherwise.
Another reason why Flight of the Navigator does not challenge my belief system is because it is a little cheesy. Its special effects, which looked cool when I was a kid, show their age to a modern audience. It is also distracting that Paul Reubens decided to employ the Pee Wee Herman laugh while voicing Max. Let us hope they get rid of that feature in the reboot. Otherwise, it is a perfectly functional bit of cinema with a little something for the entire family.