Rated PG - Running time: 1:32 - Released 11/26/97

Hey, moms and dads, remember all those fun toy substances you (or your kids) used to play with? Silly Putty, Play-Doh, Slime...? Well, get ready with the sponge: this Christmas, it's flubber you'll be cleaning out of the carpet. Disney's remake of its own classic The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) is sure to start a craze for the stuff, and we should see it popping up in stores any second now.

Robin Williams stars as Phillip Brainard, the kindly scientist who has already missed two attempts at his own wedding. At the beginning of the film, his fiancée, Sara (Marcia Gay Harden), advises him that their upcoming planned nuptials will be his last chance. Also early on, we meet Wilson Croft (Christopher McDonald), Phillip's competitor not only for scientific ideas, but for Sara's hand. Wilson does nothing to conceal his plans to steal Phillip's girl, and even admits to having gotten wealthy off several of Phillip's inventions. He's comfortable admitting this because he knows that Phillip will forget the conversation minutes after it's over. After this brief period of exposition, the balance of the film is devoted to Phillip's pursuit of his elusive new substance and Wilson's pursuit of the ambivalent Sara.

The plot is really little more than a '90s re-hashing of the 1961 Fred MacMurray film, including the rivalry between the two local schools, the underdog basketball team being aided by the addition of flubber to their sneaker soles, and the flubberized flying car. Considering this along with the recent remakes of 101 Dalmations and That Darn Cat, Disney is obviously issuing an environmentalist hint: don't produce, recycle. Notable updates include a robot character called Weebo, a sort of flying R2-D2 (featuring the voice of The Little Mermaid's Jodi Benson), and the fact that in this version, the flubber seems to have a mind of its own. There is a spectacular dance number featuring the transparent green substance and a house full of robotic appliances, but no humans.

As expected, there is not a huge amount of social commentary or burning moral issues present in this film. Just about every character is a stereotype of the kind found in most Disney features, and there are a lot of running gags and slapstick comedy. But it is a lot of fun, and a great way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, as I found out this weekend with my 6-year old son. He absolutely loved the film, and I have no doubt that flubber will be on his Christmas list this year (and Flubber will be next year). ****

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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