[Screen It]


(1997) (Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden) (PG)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor None *Mild Minor *Minor
Mild None Minor None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
*Minor None None Minor Mild

Comedy/Children's: An absentminded professor accidentally invents a flying rubber substance that might just save his university from closing, but only if he can keep it out of the hands of several greedy characters.
Professor Phillip Brainard (ROBIN WILLIAMS) is an absentminded professor. Having twice forgotten to marry his fiancÚ and university president, Sara Jean Reynolds (MARCIA GAY HARDEN), Phillip is usually found buried in his work. With the assistance of his small flying robot, WEEBO (voice of JODI BENSON), he's recently and quite accidentally created a marvelous invention. It's a green gooey concoction of flying rubber -- flubber -- that creates a rebounding amount of energy that's greater than what's put into it.

Soon Phillip sees the benefits of his bouncing rubber that include flying cars and super high jumping basketball shoes. Excited over his discovery, Phillip once again forgets his latest wedding date, much to the delight of Wilson Croft (CHRISTOPHER MCDONALD), Phillip's rival. Wanting to steal both Phillip's work and his fiancÚ, Wilson immediately tries to sweep Sara off her feet. Phillip's troubles extend to Chester Hoenicker (RAYMOND BARRY) the wealthy father of Bennett Hoenicker (WIL WHEATON), a spoiled student that Phillip recently failed in his chemistry class.

Chester wants Phillip persuaded to pass his son, and sends his goons, Smith (CLANCY BROWN) and Wesson (TED LEVINE), to do his dirty work. When they report back on Phillip's invention, however, Chester soon wants the flubber and its recipe for himself. From that point on, Phillip must do what he can, not only to win back Sara's heart, but also to keep Wilson and Chester from stealing his invention.

If they're fond of Robin Williams or have seen the barrage of ads for this movie, they most likely will.
For slapstick action and mild language.
  • ROBIN WILLIAMS plays a kind and devoted scientist who's also extremely absentminded. He forgets his wedding on three separate occasions, but evidently not because he doesn't care.
  • MARCIA GAY HARDEN plays Phillip's fiancÚ who isn't given much to do other than be exasperated at his forgetfulness.
  • CHRISTOPHER MCDONALD plays a self-admitted scoundrel whose goal is to steal the professor's work and his fiancÚ.
  • RAYMOND BARRY plays a stereotypical wealthy villain who also wants the flubber for himself.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    A remake of the 1961 Disney favorite, "The Absentminded Professor," this film was renamed after the gooey substance itself, most likely to avoid confusion with 1996's Eddie Murphy remake of "The Nutty Professor." Like that film, this one has substituted an original star from yesteryear (that kids wouldn't know if he stood before them), with a beloved comedic actor from today. Robin Williams assumes that duty and pleasantly inhabits the role originated by Fred MacMurray (of TV's "My Three Sons" fame, for those who wouldn't recognize his extensive film resume). Despite the ads, some of his past roles, and every interview he's ever done, Williams is surprisingly rather subdued in his role. Not that such a performance is a bad thing -- it's actually quite beneficial to make it work -- but those expecting Williams' often wild antics should be prepared for a rather low key performance on his part.

    Of course the real star of the show is the Flubber itself, and as Robin Williams normal persona is to Fred MacMurray's, this film's gooey substance is light years ahead of its predecessor. Instead of just being a chemical substance, this flubber has something of a personality. Or should we say personalities? The friendly and gelatinous critter morphs into all sorts of fun shapes, sizes, and in one scene, divides into the entire cast of a Busby Berkeley movie -- complete with the signatory overhead shot of synchronized performers dancing to the mambo. While that scene goes on perhaps a bit too long, and could have been a more ingenious spoof of those old films, parents will find it mildly amusing while kids will enjoy the visuals, but will certainly miss the reference.

    It's interesting how the film makers chose to depict the flubber. While they obviously gave it some personality, they didn't go far enough in making it distinctive. At the beginning, it's fun watching it emerge from its "womb" and interact with William's astonished character. But after a while they abandon this idea and go straight for the slapstick. Had they stuck with and then developed the character (it's originally given something of a non-speaking "voice"), this "creature" would have been more likable (think of a morphing, mischievous Gremlin). Likewise, its plight at the end (where it's stolen) would have been more of a personal predicament. As it stands, the professor just wants it back because it's his invention. Imagine instead if he wanted to "rescue" his new friend from the bad guys. It would have given the film a more "human" touch.

    Since this film is primarily aimed at children, it's surprising that many moments in it are quite boring for them. A good indicator of whether a film is entertaining the kids is the "chatter factor." The beginning of most kid movies is usually filled with a chorus of chattering that soon stops as the fun material begins. Any boring moments and the chattering quickly returns like the song of cicadas on a warm summer night. Kids begin fidgeting, playing, and occasionally leave their seats for a trip to the concession counter or just to entertain themselves after the movie has stopped providing that service. This film has many such moments, and while there's enough to entertain them overall, there are times when the kids will get very restless as the movie focuses on some no-nonsense bad guys or the tenuous love relationship.

    Speaking of the bad guys, these villains, like nearly everyone else in the movie, are all throw away characters with little personality or even standard menacing characteristics. The main "low brows" (the less than intelligent henchmen) are present simply to partake in some slapstick violence, a la "Home Alone." None of that's surprising as this remake was co-penned by none other than John Hughes, the creator of those Macaulay Culkin films. There are enough images of golf balls and bowling balls smacking the thugs in the heads that you might mistake this for the next film in that series, but alas, they've already made that third installment (coming soon to a theater near you, minus Culkin). Maybe they'll next combine the two and we'll get "Flubber Home Alone" (I want points for thinking that up if it comes to fruition).

    The kids will enjoy that kind of slapstick "humor," as they will WEEBO, the professor's talking and flying robot assistant. Looking somewhat like a flying saucer, this adult sounding creation (voiced by Jodi Benson, who also did the talking for Ariel in "The Little Mermaid") provides most of the humor that parents will enjoy. Sporting a pop up video screen and showing clips from older films and TV shows -- including quite a few Disney characters (what a surprise!) -- this device punctuates the robot's emotions. Stealing the idea from HBO's former long running series, "Dream On," it does provide some funny moments, including a shot of the Pope kissing the ground after Williams manages to safely land his flying T-Bird. What's somewhat surprising is that the film makers gave this helper an adult female voice, and gave her the obvious "hots" for the professor. The parents might find it cute, but the kids probably would have more greatly enjoyed a more rambunctious -- and juvenile -- creation.

    I suppose what I'm getting at is that there's just not enough fun to make this a great movie for kids. That's not to say that the film's filled with objectionable material -- far from it -- but despite the ads there are many dead moments. Sure it's cute, and warm and fuzzy, but that doesn't mean squat to kids who want to be wildly entertained. A young girl behind me at our screening loved the thought of "flubberizing" a bowling ball and verbally waited in anticipation after seeing the previous results with a golf ball. While the resulting moment is quite fun and crowd pleasing, there aren't enough of them to keep the momentum flowing throughout. For every scene where Williams wildly bounces around a basketball court attached to a bungee cord or flies around in his car, there are other adult oriented scenes that will bore the kids. That fault doesn't make this a bad film by any means -- one just wishes there were more fun moments for the kids, and the adults for that matter.

    Perhaps if Williams had been let loose a bit more, the results would have been funnier. While he often does well playing the more reserved roles (as in "Dead Poets Society"), one can always see the manic comic performance wanting to burst out. His streaming, spur of the moment style of humor is often hard to translate -- or better yet squeeze into -- an on screen performance, yet many of his characters have been quite funny (as in "Mrs. Doubtfire"). While there's nothing horrible with his performance, years from now this role won't be remembered as one of his better ones.

    Nor will this film. Yes, it will make a gazillion dollars during its holiday run, and Disney will try to merchandise every last drop of flubber from it (I wonder if they've entertained the thought of re-marketing Slime (the green gooey toy mess from years ago) as the new and improved Flubber toy?). Their marketing machine is mighty and the result will be your kids begging you to see this film. While it will entertain them, just be reminded that you might have to take over that duty when the film journeys into one of its duller moments. Fun, but nowhere near as good or as imaginative as it could have been, it's certainly innocent enough entertainment. We just wish it were better, and thus give "Flubber" a 6 out of 10.

    In the "Home Alone" spirit, there's a great deal of slapstick violence where people are struck by flubber or flubber-covered items such as golf balls and bowling balls. The stereotypical "bad guys" have stereotypical bad attitudes that are not much worse than wanting to steal the professor's formula or his fiancÚ. While the usually standard and seemingly required flatulence has been left out of this kids' movie, there is a scene where a man accidentally swallows the flubber and it then zigzags around inside him. Guess which part of his body it uses to exit. Beyond a little computer assistant "dying," there's not much else to be concerned about, other than a nude drawing class that initially seems worse than it turns out to be. Still, since many young kids will want to see this film, you should probably look through the material before allowing them to see it.

  • Wilson and Sara drink wine at night.
  • Chester asks his henchmen if they were drinking (in response to their stories of bouncing bowling balls) and they comment that one had several beers and the other had wine.
  • None.
  • Most of what's listed here is played in more of a comic fashion than to be 100 percent serious.
  • Phillip has already twice forgotten his pending marriage(s) to Sarah, and stands her up for a third time. While this seems disrespectful, he is noted for being absentminded and blames the condition on a chemical imbalance caused by his deep love for her.
  • Wilson admits to having stolen Phillip's ideas in the past, and states that he'll do it again (even saying he's "petty" and "corrupt" and "hates" Phil's brilliance).
  • Wilson plans to steal Sarah from Phillip.
  • Bennett is a spoiled student who's upset that Phillip was "allowed" to flunk him in chemistry class.
  • Likewise, his father Chester sends his henchmen to convince Phillip to pass his son.
  • Later, Chester tries to coerce Phillip into giving him the flubber formula in exchange for keeping the university open.
  • Smith and Wesson kick down Phillip's door and then vandalize his place and finally steal the flubber.
  • The youngest of kids might be a bit unsettled as Phillip opens his refrigerated canister of Flubber for the first time (as some suspenseful music plays).
  • Phillip turns off his flying car (in midair), and it begins rapidly falling toward the ground. Of course it won't restart until the very last second.
  • WEEBO creates a translucent womanly image of herself, and this ghostly looking creation may be just a bit scary for young kids who may think it's a ghost (but none of it's played to be scary).
  • Phillip and Sarah return home to find the "mortally wounded" WEEBO who/that dies in Phillip's hands. This may be unsettling to some kids.
  • A young boy has a futuristic toy gun.
  • Phillip has a realistic-looking squirt gun filled with flubber.
  • Phrases: "Nuts" (crazy), "Screwed up," "Morons," and "Cad."
  • Phillip wants to show Sarah the bouncing properties of flubber. He puts some in his back pocket, and then purposefully falls out a window several stories above the ground. Unfortunately the flubber flies out and he crashes to the ground. Since this is played for laughs and he's later unhurt, some kids might get the wrong idea.
  • Phillip shoots off an air-horn in Wilson's ear at a basketball game.
  • None.
  • Only a few scenes have just a minor bit of suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • 1 damn and 1 incomplete "What the..." are used as exclamations.
  • Phillip accidentally enters the wrong classroom and begins teaching, unaware of the two nude models in the human drawing class. We see the man and woman's bare backs and when the camera finally makes it around to their fronts, her crossed arms cover her breasts, and both have some sort of material draped across their laps.
  • None.
  • None.
  • That having bowling balls, etc... falling on people's head is funny only in the movies.
  • Scientific discoveries.
  • One of Phillip's experiments blows up part of his lab.
  • There are several scenes where the flubber, or flubber-covered items (golf balls, bowling balls, etc...) ricochet through Phillip's lab, house, or other locales and break stuff (vials, windows, etc...) they hit.
  • Several people are hit (usually in the head and in typical slapstick fashion) by the flubber, or flubber-covered items. Smith and Wesson are often hit by falling or ricocheting golf balls and bowling balls.
  • Phillip wants to show Sarah the bouncing properties of flubber. He puts some in his back pocket, and then purposefully falls out a window several stories above the ground. Unfortunately the flubber flies out and he crashes to the ground.
  • Seeing Wilson "courting" Sarah, Phillip throws an apple at him and hits him on the head.
  • Phillip accidentally knocks two guys backwards after putting flubber onto his own hands.
  • Smith and Wesson kick down Phillip's door and then vandalize his place. WEEBO attacks and hits them several times, until one of the men finally smashes her with a baseball bat.
  • Sarah repeatedly punches Wilson like a punching bag.
  • Most of the bad guys are knocked or punched around the room after coming in contact with the flubber.

  • Reviewed November 22, 1997

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