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movie review by
Gary Johnson

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Official Web site for FLUBBER

Disney's Flubber began life as a remake of The Absent-Minded Professor (the 1961 Disney classic starring Fred MacMurray), but somewhere along the way, the title was changed to Flubber. Pay attention to that name change, for while in the original movie "flubber" had no character, in this new version, flubber is a precocious little gremlin-like creation that twirls, bounces, and twitters. As the title change indicates, much of the emphasis has been shifted from the Professor to his creation. Now little blobs of flubber can dance the mambo and give us Busby Berkeley-like dance extravaganzas where they spin geometric patterns while shaking their little green booties.

It's easy to imagine Disney executives sitting around a conference table, throwing out ideas about how to create marketable toys for Flubber. Disney loves tie-in toys. A cute little critter is a lot easier to sell to prospective moviegoers than a real, live human character. It's easy to get cynical about Flubber and disparage the movie for its pre-fabricated commercial appeal, but at the heart of the movie is still the Professor. And thanks to Robin Williams, the Professor doesn't get steam-rolled over in the rush to create a new lovable creature for the Disney stable. Maybe no other actor could have survived the competition with the special effects and the butt-shaking flubber, but Williams is no ordinary actor. Even while playing an habitually-dazed character like Professor Phillip Brainard, Williams is a ball of energy waiting to explode. The flubber works like an extension of his personality: it vibrates and pulsates, ready to take off in twenty different directions at the same time. Williams and flubber actually end up complementing each other: while he slightly underplays his character, the flubber works like the repressed part of his personality. This approach nicely dovetails into the character of the Professor, who is so absent-minded that his own energy rarely gets funneled in the right direction. He's so blissfully unaware of the world around him that at one point he walks into a classroom--a classroom filled with art students busy drawing nude models--to deliver a lecture and not until he's well into the lecture does he realize he's in the wrong room. He even uses the nude male and female models as examples while he describes the force of gravity!

The Professor's mania for his work is so great that nothing else can compete. He has even left his fiancée (Marcia Gay Harden) standing at the marriage altar, not once but twice, while he forgot about the wedding ceremonies. And a co-worker (Christopher McDonald) has eagerly stolen the Professor's ideas and marketed them, knowing the Professor would never market them on his own. In fact, if left in the Professor's hands, the inventions would undoubtedly have done little more than gather dust on a shelf. But thanks to Robin Williams' warm smile and his soft, gentle eyes, the spark of humanity in his character never dies out. We always root for him to pull his life together and make things work with his fiancée.

Flubber never provides many laughs. In fact, there are only a couple really funny scenes in the movie. However, the filmmakers have created such a blissfully crazy atmosphere that almost anything seems possible. You'll see flying cars, soaring pudgy basketball players, and exploding laboratory equipment. The Professor's home is a whir of electrical activity as gizmos wake the Professor and cook his breakfast. His laboratory assistant is a flying robot with a vast database of choice movie clips that it plays back at appropriate moments.

The movie's main plot involves the efforts of an evil financier (Chester Hoenicker) and his spoiled son (Wil Wheaton) to steal the flubber. Compared to the love story between the Professor and his fiancée, the Professor's efforts to thwart the theft become merely irritating, but the rest of the movie feels like vintage Disney magic. Thanks to the work of producer/screenwriter John Hughes and director Les Mayfield, Flubber is one of the best live-action Disney movies in recent memory, and Robin Williams is absolutely marvelous.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]

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