Saturday, March 28, 2015

Million Dollar Duck - 1971

Walt Disney Productions' zany comedy for 1971 drew inspiration from Aesop's Fables. The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs inspired Million Dollar Duck. Using a familiar formula and familiar faces, Disney seemed to be playing it safe with this film.

Director Vincent McEveety made his Disney film debut with this film, although he had previously directed three TV movies for the studio (The Ballad of Hector the Stowaway Dog, Smoke and Menace on the Mountain). The story was created by Ted Key, who would go on to write other Disney films including The Cat From Outer Space, with a screenplay by Roswell Rogers. Dean Jones was cast in the lead role, his first Disney project since The Love Bug three years prior. Sandy Duncan was not yet a household name when she was cast as his wife (she went on to have her own TV special filmed in Disneyland). Other familiar Disney faces include Joe Flynn (The Love Bug, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes) and Atrhur Hunnicutt (A Tiger Walks).

An open casting call was held for the duck, with Webfoot Waddle winning the role. He enjoyed weekends off floating in the studio pond during production. Most of the film was shot on the Disney lot, with residential street as the main backlot setting for exterior shoots. The farm set appears to be Disney's Golden Oak Ranch and there is also quite a bit of shooting around the greater L.A. area.

The film begins with an animated title sequence where the duck keeps bringing eggs to the bottom of the screen. Albert Dooley is a scientist with money problems. When his boss decides to get rid of a lab duck, Albert takes it home. But after the duck ate his wife's weird apple sauce and was exposed to radiation, the duck begins laying eggs with a golden yolk. When Katie begins to spend the eggs, the government gets on their trail and spies on them. When Albert's son runs away with the duck, it becomes a race against the feds to get them back.

Million Dollar Duck was released on June 30th, 1971. Critics bashed the film, which was reportedly one of only three movies that Gene Siskel ever walked out on. It didn't cause much of a sensation at the box office. It debuted on The Wonderful World of Disney in 1974 and was released on home video in 1986.

I've read several reviews of this film from various blogs and they all unanimously hate it, but I can't understand why it deserves such scathing reviews. Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan are delightful in this. Sandy Duncan was even nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in this film. Is it dated? Very much so. Duncan's character is a dumb-as-rocks housewife stereotype and there are a few racist elements to the film as well, although nowhere near as bas as in The Boatniks. But when viewed through a nostalgic lens as a reflection of the time in which it was created, Million Dollar Duck is fairly enjoyable. It has a heartfelt message about not letting money destroy relationships and the formulaic chase is fun with the addition of Dean Jones (and a mannequin stand-in) riding through L.A. on a raised cherry picker.

Million Dollar Duck is currently available on DVD, where it is presented in fullscreen. The presentation is an open matte VHS master that features dust, scratches and excess grain. A more recent restoration was done that is available digitally in HD on iTunes. That version is in widescreen 1.66:1 (correct aspect ratio would 1.75:1). Scratches and dust have been removed from this version and the film looks much better in HD.