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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Condorman

Time once again for Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly love-fest for one of the many DVDs in my collection.  Today, we do a beloved forgotten Disney movie from the early 1980s, Condorman.  This review is originally dated March 31, 2012.

Well, it's time.

Over on my blog, I've been telling the tale of my quest to see Condorman.  Quick recap:  Condorman is a Disney action/comedy from the early-80s that I hadn't thought about in years until Pixar made a joke about it in their short film Small Fry.  Thus, I began a quest to track it down on DVD.  It's only available as an exclusive in the Disney movie club, and through the Disney reward program.  So, I went through all my Disney DVDs, cashed in all my Disney reward points, and got me a copy!  So, the big question, was it worth it?

Condorman is really one from my youth, and fondly remembered from the early days of home entertainment.  Much like The Last Unicorn and Snowball Express from a few weeks ago, we're going back to the days when you had to rent movies and a VCR to rent them on.  Not a lot of Disney movies at the only place in town that rented them, so Condorman was rented a lot.  It wasn't long before everyone in town had seen it and was talking about it.  "Dude, it's like Disney doing James Bond!" was the recommendation that came from one of my Dad's friends.

The early 1980s was an interesting time in Disney history.  They knew they had to start diversifying and making more than the family films they were known for if they wanted to survive as a studio.  This is the era where they produced the beloved sci-fi film Tron, the thriller Watcher in the Woods, and the Oscar-nominated drama Never Cry Wolf.  Eventually, they got the idea to release their more grown-up films under a different name, and thus their Touchstone Pictures label was born.  But it wound up being a very experimental time for Disney, and they made one last stab at a family comedy with 1981's Condorman.

Our hero in this film is comic book artist Woody Wilkins, currently living and working in Paris.  His quirk is he won't draw anything in his comic books unless it can be done in real life...so when we first meet him, he's constructed a convoluted flying rig and is trying to fly off the Eiffel Tower.  In one of those wonderful movie contrivances, Woody's best friend Harry is a CIA agent.  When an upcoming document exchange with the Soviets is coming up, the Soviets insist that civilians be used.  So, Harry convinces Woody to do it, and Woody is off to Istanbul. 

Woody arrives, and the Soviet he is to meet turns out to be a drop-dead gorgeous woman by the name of Natalia.  Woody is instantly smitten.  Trying to impress her, he tells her that he's not a civilian, but is in fact a top agent with the code name "Condorman."  When a trio of rival spies ambushes the two, Woody manages to fight them off, lending credibility to his story.  The exchange goes off without a hitch, and Natalia returns to Moscow.  That's where we learn the truth.  She's not a civilian either, but a top KGB agent.  She meets with her superior/lover Krakov, who's disappointed in how she went on this mission.  Finally seeing how cruel Krakov is, and equally smitten with Woody, she plans to defect.  But she tells the CIA that the agent who is to assist in the defection is Condorman, no one else.

So, Harry and the CIA draft Woody.  Woody, taking inspiration from his comic books, says he'll only do it if the CIA provides him with the arsenal of high-tech weapons and James Bond-style spy gadgets that he frequently incorporates into his comic books.  The CIA is compelled to comply.

And thus the majority of the film is a slapstick chase across Europe...Woody and Natalia (and eventually Harry, too), as they escape to the West with Krakov's men in tow.  We're treated to a pretty good James Bond-style car chase, as Woody had the CIA whip him a super-duper Condormobile.  As is the case with things like this, everything falls apart and Woody can't keep his lie up, when the children in a small Italian village recognize Natalia as "Laser Lady," a comic book superheroine that Woody created, inspired by Natalia.

Now this is interesting.  As we all know, from many, many, many animated films, when our heroine makes the discovery that the hero has been lying to her all this time, she feels betrayed and violated and confronts the hero.  But the twist in this is, before she can confront the hero, she runs into the wacky sidekick, that would be Harry, and they have a heart-to-heart that smooths things over.  So when she does run into Woody again...she's pretty cool with everything.  Harry:  the ultimate wingman. 

However, around this time, Krakov, being a top KGB agent and all, has done the background check on Woody and discovered the truth about him, and they're able to anticipate all of his moves by reading the comic books he's written.  They eventually lay a trap for our trio.  Natalia is captured, and Woody and Harry are left for dead.

Natalia is taken to Krakov's villa in Monte Carlo.  The CIA is ready to declare the operation a wash.  But Woody and Harry go rogue and attempt a daring a rescue of Natalia.  They manage to pull it off, Woody and Natalia make their daring escape as the flying rig from the start of the film, and we have a climactic James Bond-style boat chase.  Our heroes escape, evil is punished. Woody and Natalia live happily ever after, and Condorman is recruited for another mission.

And that's Condorman.  One thing that struck me is, even though it would be another 20 years before it came set in stone, is how this film does seem to mimic the formula that was laid out in Disney's Aladdin and is now used in damn near every DreamWorks animated film.  Hero comes up with some outrageous lie to impress the girl, things seem to go along fine, lie gets bigger and bigger, lie blows up in hero's face, hero is able to pull it together and rescue the heroine and live happily ever after.  It's all pretty much there.

And now that I'm a grown up watching this again, I can see most of the bad in this film.  You can see the wires on the flying harness.  YOU CAN SEE THE WIRES ON THE FLYING HARNESS.  I couldn't stop laughing when Condorman took to the skies.  And what's with Michael Crawford's voice?  Yes, Woody is played by British actor Michael Crawford, best known as the original Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.  I don't know if it's because he was doing a bad American accent, or if he was dubbed by Regis Philbin, but he sounds like Regis Philbin.  It's very off-putting.

But in the end, the film is just bland.  For an action film, there's not a lot of action.  For a comedy, there's not a lot of laughs.  For a spy thriller, there's not many thrills.  It offers nothing but heaping gobs of nostalgia. 

Apparently, much like a lot of other Disney films from the era, like Tron, it's developed a bit of a cult following.  Come on, Disney!  Superheroes and remakes are all the rage now.  Time for Condorman to get a gritty reboot!

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