As we close out the first month of TBT’s for the year 2015 here, I’d just like to remind everyone not to panic. Although it seems like the calendar is already rushing by, uh. . . well, actually. Yeah it is just rushing by. I had a thought there for a second and lost it. This is getting a bit silly, that I’ve already done one month’s worth of these things (and it’s been a long month too — there were five Thursdays this month). At the same time, we are getting that much further away from the terrible day wherein our beloved Robin Williams left us. I’ve never been able to stop thinking about that day really. So I thought it was high time we revisit one of his lesser known, perhaps lesser-quality roles in
Today’s food for thought: Flubber.
Bouncing off the walls since: November 26, 1997
It may not be a good movie, much less a remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, but who doesn’t remember flubber — either the title or the namesake green, gooey stretchy stuff? This is one of those movies that just reeks of ’90s cheese, but personally that’s a scent I enjoy. Robin Williams may be one of the only good things about this flick about a college professor attempting to save the local college by raising money through his science experiments, but that was really enough for me as a kid.
Flubber helped pass the time on so many car trips my family used to take out West. All five of us Littles schlocked into the family SUV, a travel-sized TV shoved in between the driver’s seat and passenger’s seat aimed back at three youngsters struggling to not get on each other’s last nerve over the course of a 20-plus hour journey. Ah yes, these were the days. For 28-year-old me, Flubber represents innocence if nothing else. This ain’t a film built to withstand even the most generous of criticism. It’s poorly written, hastily executed and mired in virtually every cliche you can attach flying rubber to.
But it’s a film that guards some oh-so-precious memories I have swimming around in the old noggin. Memories of how when we finally broke out into the open plains of the sprawling mid-west just beyond St. Louis, how the sun would take forever to set over the horizon; memories of how tight-knit a family unit can be for some time before the inevitable adolescent stages set in and slowly but surely pull the dynamic into an entirely new direction. I’m still very much close with my brother, my sister and my mom and dad. But we don’t take these car trips anymore. We’ve sort of grown out of them. Just like when (or if) I choose to go back and watch Flubber now, I’ll notice how much my critical mind will not allow me to just enjoy the film for what it presents: good-natured, high-spirited mischief.
Robin Williams is Professor Philip Brainard, a well-meaning man but whose dedication to science overshadows pretty much everything else in his life. He has attempted to marry his sweetheart Sara (Marcia Gay Harden) on a couple of occasions but each time something has come up. On the eve of the third go-around, Philip discovers an unusual compound that contains a ridiculous amount of energy that only increases as it interacts with other objects; he sets his ‘It’s Time to Get Married Finally’ alarm but sets it for the wrong time. Sara understandably has had enough. Enter a typically smarmy Christopher McDonald as Philip’s former partner, Wilson Croft, who has his heart set on making up for Philip’s indiscretions with his (former) lover as well as financially benefitting from Philip’s hard work.
The fictitious Medfield College, where Sara is college president, is in trouble if this new energy source fails to demonstrate its practical applications. A majority of the film is spent watching professor attempt to simply keep flubber in control. He thwarts home invaders in the process of discovering that his creation actually has personality and energy in overwhelming abundance. I’m sure if I go back and watch now, I’d be struck by the uncanny resemblance between the energetic green goo and Williams’ off-screen persona. As he slowly starts mastering how to control flubber, he starts to really have some fun. He sticks it to the shoes of college basketball players to make them jump higher and run faster (and the team of course ends up winning the game), and he liberally applies it to a number of everyday objects including a golf ball, a basketball and his car.
It has been years since I’ve last experienced the whiz-bang-pop of Les Mayfield’s creation, but I still fondly remember Professor Brainard’s curious floating robot, Weebo (voiced by Jodi Benson). If it wasn’t Williams’ appropriately whacked-out hairdo or his fumbling professor that’s memorable, then surely it’s the little yellow, round droid that leaves an impression. Dear Weebo, the voice of reason and optimism in times of hardship and heartbreak, you were a strange but wonderful invention of this film. It was very sad indeed watching you get struck down by a bad guy with a baseball bat. This is the kind of movie that inspires the child in me to question what kind of trouble I would get into if I had some flubber of my very own. What kind of good would I be able to do with it, if any? Would I use it for personal gain, or would I share my creation with others? Would I save that local college so I could rekindle my love with someone whom I’ve had great difficulty in expressing my true feelings for? Would I use it for a specific purpose, i.e. kicking Christopher McDonald’s ass?
Flubber is not a memorable film if you’re just considering the story. But the title of the movie alone is fun to play around with. Is it a noun, a verb, an adjective? Is it alive or just a chemical/CGI creation of Disney? Most importantly: what happens when you accidentally ingest the stuff . . . . would it taste good?
Recommendation: This modern spin on the 1961 Robert Stevenson film about a professor who discovers an anti-gravity substance is perhaps not the best use of Robin Williams’ talents but it features him in a lovable enough capacity. A few elements on the periphery help make this one a fun outing for youngsters — i.e. the titular green goo and Professor Brainard’s robotic helpers. It is highly slapstick, though and could have benefitted from stronger writing. If you haven’t ever seen this, I’d be willing to recommend checking it out if you have kids.
Running Time: 93 mins.
TBTrivia: According to Wil Wheaton, in the scenes that he was in with Robin Williams, they would film a take the way it was supposed to be filmed. After that take, Williams would often want to improvise scenes differently than the script, just for fun. Those scenes were not added to the actual film, but there were enough scenes to make an entirely different movie.
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