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Million Dollar Duck
Reviewed by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Vincent McEveety, Director and Roswell Rogers, Screenwriter
Genre:   Family/Comedy
Released:   April 12, 2005
Review Date:   April 21, 2005
Audience Rating:   G
RevSF Rating:   3/10 (What Is This?)

Although Disney is invariably thought of as an animation studio, the House of Mouse has also produced some undeniably classic live action films. Family-friendly motion pictures that stand the test of time due to Walt Disney's high standards, not to mention an earnest enthusiasm radiated by the actors and no small degree of wit and inventiveness from the screenwriters. include such gems as Mary Poppins, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Love Bug and The Parent Trap.

Note that Million Dollar Duck from 1971 isn't in that list. If there's a film that more perfectly sums up the uninspired mediocrity that Disney Studios gleefully wallowed in following Walt's death, I'm hard-pressed to name it.

Riffing on the fable of the goose that laid the golden egg — or rather, bludgeoning it with a sledgehammer over and over, lest an audience of deaf and blind cretins somewhere overlook the duck-resembles-a-goose connection — this is one movie that misfires on all cylinders.

It's not that it's bad. A bad film might have at least offered some entertainment value of the MST3K vein. No, Million Dollar Duck is mediocre by choice, never quite reaching beyond safe platitudes or stock characters, because hey, if they tried for some quality or depth and missed the mark, well, that would be tragic.

Instead, Million Dollar Duck chooses to be a feature-length Brady Bunch episode, in which the Bradys ditch all the kids but one and come into posession of a duck that lays golden eggs. Hijinks ensue. In the end, everyone learns that love is more important than money. The film even comes complete with those high-quality, Brady-era bedroom sets, complete with twin beds for the husband and wife. Kind of makes you wonder how they ever had that one kid in the first place, doesn't it?

The plot, what there is of it, centers around Professor Albert Dooley (played by Disney stalwart Dean Jones) and his efforts to study animal behavior. For some unexplained reason, he's obsessed with the learning skills, or lack thereof, of a particularly stupid duck that lays eggs when it hears a dog barking. The duck manages to get itself irradiated in a nearby lab — the eclectic research center is one that would make the Professor from Gilligan's Island proud — and begins laying eggs with solid gold yolks.

Dooley's wife, Katie (Sandy Duncan) is a brain-addled ditz who inadvertently utters sage wisdom in the Gracie Allen mold, only without the sagacity or the wisdom. His son, Jimmy (Lee Montgomery), when he's not whining for a puppy turns in the most wooden performance this side of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace, while next-door neighbor and Treasury agent Finley Hooper (Joe Flynn) his hot on the trail of the suspected underworld gold cartel.

The climactic courtroom scene is awkward and falls flatter than the similar one from Son of Flubber, while the penultimate car chase goes on and on and on while committing the double sin of being both boring and unfunny. The only sequence that comes close to being amusing is an early swimming pool confrontation between a dog and the duck. The fact that the human actors are tangential to the events probably contributes significantly to the scene's appeal.

DVDetails

If Million Dollar Duck stands as one of the worst films of the 1970s Disney era, then this DVD stands as one of the worst Disney packages in the DVD era. Even for a mediocre movie, some effort should be taken to utilize the DVD format. Instead, it seems that every effort was made to undercut the very premise and flexibility of DVDs.

The version of the film here is a full-screen pan-and-scan, and to make matters worse it's taken from an old print, with more than an occasional scratch and flaw. With the film lasting merely 93 minutes, and dual-layers so common, there is no excuse for Disney not to include both full screen and widescreen versions on the disc, particularly in light of the fact that there are absolutely no other features on the disc. No theatrical trailers, no commentary, no deleted scenes or cast and crew biographies. If it weren't for the fact that the disc offers scene selections, this release would be undistinguishable from one taped off The Wonderful World of Disney on Betamax, circa 1979. Why bother?

I advise those tempted to pick up Million Dollar Duck is to resist that impulse and hold out for the upcoming August release of The Boatniks on DVD. It's not a very good movie, either, but it's from the same era, and Phil Silvers, Norman Fell and Don Ameche are good for at least a few laughs, generating a loopy charm that elevates the film to something close to likeable. That alone is more than Duck ever had going for it.

The Movie Itself: 3 out of 10
The DVD Features: 1 out of 10

RevolutionSF Fiction Editor Jayme Lynn Blaschke thinks Crap Through a Goose would be a more honest and accurate title for Million Dollar Duck. In an amazing coincidence, Disney executives are saying the same thing about his review.

 
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