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|Kevin Krock, editor|
The Gnome-Mobile isn't exactly a Disney classic, but it showcases the better side of the innocent Disney live action films of the 1960s.
The story has lumber magnate D.J. Mulrooney (Walter Brennan) and his two grandchildren (played by The Mary Poppins kids, Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice) running into a couple gnomes while on a drive from San Francisco to Seattle. The two gnomes they meet, Jasper (Tom Lowell) and Knobby (also Walter Brennan) may be the last of their kind. There used to be many gnomes living in the redwood forests of Northern California, but these two lost track of the others when evil loggers came through and cut down all the trees.
Mulrooney promises to help them try and find other gnomes (he knows of a virgin stand) and then they're off for many farcical hijinks you expect from a Disney movie of this vintage.
There are two set pieces that have a pleaseant sense of fun. The first is a well-staged car chase through the forest (it appears that Disney tried to disguise the Sierras as redwood forest) and the second is the closing act in which a new ritual for gnome-marriage is tested out (essentially a dozen pretty gnomettes are let loose after our lonely handsome gnome lad and whoever catches him gets to marry him). This final scene is very bizarre, but if nothing else it is fun to watch and wonder if anybody would try to make the same scene these days.
The Gnome-Mobile was a special effects movie since the various gnomes are maybe six inches tall and interact quite a bit with the regular human characters. The effects are by no means convincing to modern eyes, but don't distract from the movie if you give allowances for the age of the movie.
This is a rock-bottom Disney DVD release. There isn't even a pseudo-goodie offered. Unless you consider trailers to be goodies, in which case you are treated to a trailer for other rock-bottom DVD releases such as Apple Dumpling Gang, Escape to Witch Mountain, and The Absent-Minded Professor.
The Video, Audio and Interface
As appears to be the trend with these low-emphasis releases, the only version on the disc is a pan-and-scan version done for VHS long ago. For the most part this doesn't affect things much (other than that there is no excuse for not at least providing the original aspect on the back side of the disc), but there are many scenes filmed inside cars that will seem to be weirdly framed.
On top of that, the transfer doesn't seem to have had any work put into it. In Leonard Maltin's review in the first edition of The Disney Films, he refers to the vibrant colors used in the film. Either the standard for vibrant colors was much diminished back then, or no attempt was made to restore the film before creating the DVD master.
While a couple scenes (particularly the first with the gnomes) are very pretty, most of the movie is washed out and there are obvious scratches and artifacts in many places.
The sound is fine and clear throughout, though as you'd expect it was not remastered, and remains in stereo.
The Final Evaluation
The Gnome-Mobile is a movie that for many will invoke fond childhood memories. For a film that is more likely to appeal to nostalgic adults than hooking young children, it would be nice to see it get an adult treatment with some extras to flesh things out.
However, if this is one for which you do have good memories, the bare bones disc should be readily available at well-discounted prices.
We have here a movie that starts with two blonde women on a college campus. Roller skating; not roller blading, but old-fashioned roller skates. They're wearing short shorts, a tube top, and knee-high tube socks with yellow bands at the top.
Though I'm sure it wasn't the intent, this movie immediately establishes itself as a product of its era. In it, game-fiend Leon brings together five teams to play a game which will lead them throughout Los Angeles during an all-night event of solving puzzles and guessing answers.
Fortunately for the players, every business in Los Angeles is open 24 hours (who knew that the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery gave 3 a.m. tours?).
This movie contains every stereotype you might expect from a 1980 hodgepodge of college students. Giggly fat girls? Check. Knife-wielding Hispanic? Yep. Ultra-nerd? Of course. Cute girl with a crush on the unassuming friendly guy who also likes her but doesn't have the confidence to do anything about it? Introduced in scene #2.
If you like Cannonball Run, Scavenger Hunt, The Gumball Rally, Rat Race, or It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, then you might enjoy this one. But you won't be getting the star power out of Midnight Madness that you did out of the ensembles in those other movies.
Nobody in this one was well known when it was made, and only three went on to any real fame. It was the first film appearance for David Naughton, Michael J. Fox, and Paul Reubens in his Pee Wee Herman-type character. Other than that, recognizing some bit players from Animal House is the best you're going to get.
Historically speaking, Midnight Madness was only Disney's second PG movie (after The Black Hole).
Nothing. Not even some trailers to give you a couple extra moments to grab a drink (a Pabst?) while waiting for the disc to load.
The Video, Audio and Interface
This is actually the second DVD release for the movie; the first was not from Disney. According to reviews I've read of the first release, this one was cleaned up a bit. Scratches, dust, and artifacts are not particularly obvious on a regularly sized screen and color is consistent.
The movie is presented in a 1:33:1 (full screen) ratio, which is likely not the original theatrical ratio (reliable information about the original aspect could not be found). If the movie is pan-and-scan, the set-up for most shots is so standard that it must have been filmed with TV in mind (in fact, what following this movie has apparently comes from endless showings during the early days of HBO).
Audio is essentially mono, and after the Disney DVD logo plays feel free to turn off your back speakers; they'll remain unused.
All the menu interfaces are static graphics (at least they made a custom graphic rather than just a still from the movie), with no animation from screen to screen.
The Final Evaluation
Unless you are one of the few in the cult following for Midnight Madness, it is unlikely that you're going to find this a valuabe addition to your collection. Or, you could be a Michael J. Fox completist. However, if you are nostalgic for 1980 (and who wouldn't be), you might want to give it a try from the video store if you're having friends over.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.
Goodies for The Gnome-Mobile
Goodies for Midnight Madness
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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