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Friday, October 10, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Rocketman' Is Hardly A Stellar Disney Movie

Special To The Seattle Times

Movie review XX "RocketMan," with Harland Williams, William Sadler, Jessica Lundy, Beau Bridges. Directed by Stuart Gillard from a script by Craig Mazin & Greg Erb. Auburn Cinema 17, Aurora, Bella Bottega 7, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas, Issaquah 9, Kent 6, Meridian 16, Mountlake 9, Parkway Plaza, Renton Village, SeaTac Mall, South Hill Mall. 93 Minutes. "PG" - Parental guidance suggested for some language, bathroom humor.

Walt Elias Disney's name is on "RocketMan," and it seems doubtful he'd appreciate it. Oh, the company has put out a lot worse since Disney's death in 1966. In fact, that very year the abysmal "Lt. Robin Crusoe USN" was released.

"RocketMan" could be described as the '90s grandson of "Crusoe" - a tad more sophisticated but all the annoying familial traits are still there. Wait a second, did I just say sophisticated? What I meant was current, because any film where the entire marketing campaign is built on a set-up with two moonwalkers, an umbilical cord and space flatulence probably won't fit under anyone's working definition of "sophisticated."

This, of course, doesn't apply if you're a little kid (and you aren't all bumped up from running into walls after seeing "George of the Jungle"). Just as with "George of the Jungle," kids (7-12) are going to love "RocketMan" because it's affable, sometimes funny and runs mostly on bodily fluids.

Our "RocketMan" is Fred Z. Randall (Harland Williams), a computer programmer who designed the operating system for a new Mars mission. When NASA thinks the system is malfunctioning, they bring Fred in to fix it. This leads to Fred actually joining the mission where he shares a capsule with stern Commander "Wild Bill" Overbeck (William Sadler), the practical Julie Ford (Jessica Lundy), and a chimp named Ulysses. (What? You didn't think there was going to be a chimp?)

Their goal is to be the first astronauts on the Red Planet. The only one who seems to deem Fred worthy of inclusion on the flight is an old NASA stand-by named Bud Nesbitt (Beau Bridges). For reasons that stem only from the script's insistence, Bud thinks Fred will do just fine in space. But with such a dangerous mission, will Fred avoid jeopardizing the rest of the crew?

Finding out the answers is not as agonizing as it would seem. Big kids who take their turn chaperoning the kids to this won't suffer the blistering pain of a "Good Burger" or "Steel." Some actual levity can be found among the vast wastelands of old gags and cultural references.

There is, however, quite a bit of the latter that taps into the audience's fondness for certain music, movies and television shows. It's an easier trick for the screenwriters to pull off than creating original situations that are humorous. Disney must have spent a tidy sum procuring the usage of "My Sharona," "Tossin' and Turnin'," "Rocket Man" and "If I Were King of the Forest."

Not Walt Disney, mind you, but the big conglomerate company he created. This is something that Walt would never put his name on.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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