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Place-Kicking Mules, Alien Cats, and a Surplus of Gambling: 12 Hours of Watching Disney+

One brave staffer streamed Mouse House content for half a day and found some … pretty strange stuff in the archives

Disney/Ringer illustration

With assets like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar in its library, it’s not entirely surprising that Disney+ already has 10 million sign-ups (and counting) just a week into its existence, which are the kind of early returns that validate the company’s plunge into the Streaming Wars. But while Disney+ is going to put things like The Mandalorian, Avengers: Endgame, and the Toy Story franchise front and center, the Disney vault is a lot deeper—and stranger—than casual subscribers might expect.

Last month, when the official Disney+ Twitter account began a comically exhaustive thread of all the programming that’d be available at launch, familiar things like Captain Marvel were overshadowed by myriad titles of pure WTFery with names like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Shaggy D.A., and The Cat From Outer Space. (Not to mention lots of films with, as Disney put it, “outdated cultural depictions,” which is corporate-speak for something being extremely racist.)

Since Disney’s been such a dominant entertainment entity this century, it’d be easy to forget they spent decades in the content doldrums releasing really weird, occasionally offensive, and often stupid shit. (For every Mary Poppins, there were twice as many Million Dollar Ducks.) Now, much of that content is available to stream for the first time. So, at the behest of my very sadistic editors, I spent 12 hours (or 720 minutes) bingeing stuff on Disney+ and navigating the bowels of its deep, quirky, and versatile catalog. There weren’t strict rules in play—the binge was punishment enough—but I wanted to check out only things I’d never seen before. I also felt it was important to spice things up with a little variety—mixing some of the old, just-pretend-it-isn’t-there entries with some of the new original content built exclusively for the streamer.

Below, you’ll find the results of this exercise in the form of a binge diary—and perhaps, depending how much existential dread begins to manifest, my letter of resignation.

I. Getting Acquainted

Lady and the Tramp (2019)

I’m starting the binge with the new, live-action Lady and the Tramp—a Disney+ exclusive that probably would’ve made close to a billion dollars if they released the film in theaters. (I’m sadly not kidding, seeing as Planet Earth Presents: The Lion King made a stupid amount of money this summer.) Thankfully, Lady and the Tramp doesn’t go full Lion King: The dogs used in the film are actual, flesh-and-blood canines. (LOOK HOW CUTE THEY ARE ON THE RED CARPET.) But when the CGI does kick in—basically, any time the dog characters talk—their mouths are digitally augmented in a way that’s quite uncanny. That’s when the movie starts to feel like Animal Planet footage crossed with a really unnerving dog deepfake.

The nightmare-inducing dog mouths notwithstanding, everything plays out the way I remember from the original, though the remake unsurprisingly omits the “Siamese Cat Song,” which is a lawful good move. But in righting this wrong from the past, the new film changed the cats entirely—instead of being Siamese, now they’re generic tabby cats singing a generic song with a similar penchant for destruction. (The fact they were Siamese wasn’t the problem, it was using that breed to depict racist caricatures. Siamese cats have done nothing wrong, they’re good cats!) Unlike the dogs, the cats are also entirely CGI—and look all the worse for it.

The good news: Lady and the Tramp’s famous spaghetti scene is still very cute and charming. But it does feel significantly weirder in live action to see Italian restaurant owner F. Murray Abraham going into an alley, talking to two dogs like they’re people, giving them a menu to read, and singing during their supper. (How do dogs tip?)

Disney

The strangest thing, however, might be that this remake almost entirely recreates the original Lady and the Tramp scene by scene, yet somehow runs about half an hour longer. But I guess this Lady and the Tramp could’ve been a lot worse—what really matters is that the dogs were super adorable up until the moment they opened their strange CGI mouths. One final gripe: I’m sorry, but casting Tessa Thompson (Lady) and Justin Theroux (Tramp) as love interests only to make them dogs is the definition of one step forward, two steps back.

Running time: 107 minutes
Total time elapsed: 107 minutes

Brink! (1998)

It felt right to have a Disney Channel Original Movie represented in this binge. But that also meant, per my own self-imposed rule, that I’d have to watch a DCOM I’d never seen before. I’d have to hit play on Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century in my own time (don’t judge, space is dope). While conferring with my editor, he asked me about Brink!, which sounds like a term law enforcement would coin for an illicit drug. (You can totally imagine a cop on some network procedural being like, “We’ve already stopped five shipments of Brink into the harbor this month, sir.” And then the detective responds, “Looks like we’re on the brink of cracking this case wide open,” before putting on his sunglasses because he is Horatio Caine.) But no, it’s a movie—fellow millennials who found out I never saw Brink! acted like I’d desecrated a family member’s burial site—and one with perhaps the greatest log line in DCOM history: “An in-line skater quits his crew to join a corporate-sponsored team.” RAD.

Brink! is, in no uncertain terms, a cinematic masterpiece. It’s also the most ’90s artifact to ever exist. Brink (the nickname of our eponymous in-line skater, Andy Brinker, played by Erik von Detten) and his buddies, who call themselves the “Soul Skaters,” because they skate only for the love of the sport, say words like “chornage,” “phat,” and “jerkweeds” while dealing with a bunch of douchey sponsored skaters from Team X-Bladz, who have betrayed the spirit of their sport because capitalism. But Team X-Bladz makes money from their events, and Brink’s family needs an influx of cash because his dad, a construction foreman, can’t go back to work after an accident.

Can Brink catch some ill grabs for cash without his friends, the Soul Skaters, knowing about it? Will making money from something he loves ruin the purity of a gnarly pastime? How the hell is one member of Team X-Bladz nicknamed “Boomer”? Why is Brink’s dad equating his love of being a construction foreman to the joys of in-line skating? Am I getting too invested in the minutiae of this movie? I’ll answer that: No. If Brink! weren’t already available to stream on Disney+, it’d deserve a place on the Criterion Channel. Or, depending on how far you read into the psychosexual energy between Brink and Team X-Bladz captain Val, perhaps Pornhub:

Disney

Sorry, but now you can’t unsee it, either! Moving forward, my life is defined by two stages: Before Brink!, and After Brink! I’m feeling great about Disney+ at the moment, and I hope to ride this high for the next nine-ish hours.

Running time: 93 minutes
Total time elapsed: 200 minutes

The World According to Jeff Goldblum Episode 1, “Sneakers” (2019)

Needing a dose of shorter content before diving back into the slow IV drip of Disney films, I went with The World According to Jeff Goldblum, a Disney+ original series initially intended for National Geographic, which appears to combine the material of a Vox-style explainer video with the eccentricities of, well, Jeff Goldblum. (This all felt slightly less charming given that, prior to the Disney+ launch, the actor decided to support Woody Allen. Not great, Jeff!)

The only episode available at the time was the premiere, “Sneakers,” wherein Goldblum learns about the history of sneaker production—shout-out vulcanized rubber—and what it takes to be a hypebeast. It’s kind of an amazing hustle; Goldblum gets to indulge his curiosities for random things while getting paid to do it and score some free shit. In this episode, he receives custom kicks from the same guy who designs them for LeBron James.

In terms of actually learning something, “Sneakers” is pretty light on sneaker history—an aside about rubber notwithstanding—so the sell for this show begins and ends with whether you like Goldblumisms. (He literally says “Wow, hehe, wow” upon entering Adidas’s Portland headquarters, describes himself as an “open-faced sandwich,” and later talks about how his uncle could’ve been an NBA star.) The next episode of the show is “Ice Cream,” so I’m pretty sure the biggest winner of The World According to Jeff Goldblum isn’t the audience, it’s Jeff Goldblum. But for the purposes of “Sneakers,” I’d say the key takeaway is that hype, uh, finds a way.

Running time: 30 minutes
Total time elapsed: 230 minutes

II. Opening the Vault

Gus (1976)

I couldn’t think of a better film to kick off my exploration of the Disney archives than Gus, a heartwarming tale about a farm mule from Yugoslavia who becomes an NFL place-kicker for the fictional California Atoms. The Atoms have the same problem as the current Chicago Bears: They suck, and they could really use a consistent kicker—even if he happens to be a mule. Gus originally flew to California with his best buddy/human owner Andy to generate buzz for the Atoms’ halftime show, in which he would kick a ball, because a mule kicking a soccer ball really, really far made national news. But the team owner/general manager, played by Ed Asner, realized the rule book doesn’t state that NFL players can’t be mules, so he gamed the system by adding Gus to the team. Andy has to join the team as Gus’s holder, because he’ll only kick the ball when Andy says “Oiyich!” (which I assume is Serbo-Croatian for “Kick far so we may soon prosper in the United States of America”). Asner’s character has also accrued a lot of gambling debts, and he’ll lose ownership of the Atoms unless they can win the Super Bowl this season.

There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, the nation of Yugoslavia was dissolved due to political upheaval in the region during the early ’90s—so Gus truly is a relic of its time. Secondly, if anyone caught wind of the owner of a major sports team being too broke to pay off gambling debts, it would be one of the biggest sports stories of the year before said owner could make a mule an NFL kicker. Also, how the hell is the owner paying the players/staff on the team if he can’t even pay off a gambling debt? But more than anything—even more than the kicking prowess of a random mule from Yugoslavia—I was confused how a team that solely kicked field goals could win most of their games and make it to the Super Bowl. Could an NFL team really go all the way with an offense entirely composed of field goals?

“The average NFL team scores about two points per drive, so a mule-led team that instantly kicked a field goal every possession would win most of its games,” Ringer staff writer Rodger Sherman told me. “Some years, it’d win the Super Bowl, but some years—like this year, when the Baltimore Ravens are averaging a bit over three points per drive—they might lose.” However, Rodger sees two ways that a Gus-led Atoms could almost guarantee a Super Bowl: “The first is obvious: if the team ran a regular offense that sometimes scored touchdowns but ended every failed possession in a field goal. The second is if a team abandoned the concept of offense entirely, refusing to pay or draft offensive players, and stocked up its defense with stars at every position, building the best defense in history, and then automatically kicked a field goal every time it got the ball.”

Rodger brings up some excellent points. Unfortunately, the opening-credits montage implies the Atoms defense is just as bad as the offense, which wouldn’t explain how the team is consistently outscoring opponents en route to (Gus spoiler alert!) winning the Super Bowl. And from what we see in Gus, the team never comes close to scoring any touchdowns—aside from on the final play of the Super Bowl, when Gus and Co. slip in the mud trying to kick a game-winning field goal and Andy eventually picks up the ball and runs about 90 yards across the field, outpacing several professional athletes to the end zone.

But the beauty of Gus isn’t the realistic, grueling grind of an NFL season, it’s that a mule from Yugoslavia could disrupt the most popular sport in America—all while flying coach and getting a window seat:

Disney

Apropos of nothing: In the same year that Disney released Gus, rival studios dropped films like All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, Rocky, and Carrie. I can’t believe this company is ruling Hollywood.

Running time: 96 minutes
Total time elapsed: 326 minutes

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

I gotta confess: I only picked this movie because, even for the high standards of old Disney stuff, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes sounded ridiculous. Little did I know that the star of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes was a young, baby-faced Kurt Russell, or that its plot was more absurd than I ever could’ve imagined. While repairing a computer donated to the school by local business magnate A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero), Dexter (Russell) of Medfield College suffers an electric shock and accidentally fuses his brain with the machine. How serious is Dexter’s condition? Look what happens when he has a routine eye exam!

Disney

The movie follows Dexter as the world discovers he is a boy genius (nobody seems terribly concerned about his brain fusing with a computer, even after they’ve learned about his condition); he helps NASA with rocket launches and makes out with random women who find his immense intelligence hot or something (presumably, he only wears tennis shoes, taking cues from nascent hypebeast Jeff Goldblum). The thrill of Computer Kurt Russell would’ve made for a fun, strange Disney+ diversion in and of itself, but then the movie takes a truly iconic turn, as it’s revealed that Dexter’s brain—because it’s also the computer once owned by A.J. Arno—has information on Arno’s illegal gambling operations. Arno enlists his goons to capture Dexter and kill him before more gambling secrets spill out. I should add that this revelation happens because Dexter’s doing a quiz tournament with his Medfield classmates—he finds the time to do this when he isn’t working on a nuclear fusion or kissing strangers, apparently—and one of the words, “Applejack,” causes his computer brain to short-circuit and make him blurt out gambling jargon.

That’s now two old Disney films in which gambling is surprisingly integral to the plot. Is this going to be a trend? It was tempting to see whether illicit gambling would be a through line for The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes’ two very real sequels, both of which also star Kurt Russell. (In the second movie, Dexter accidentally becomes invisible and in the third he becomes a living planet who fathers a human child and—oh, sorry, wait, that’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.) In case you were wondering, a routine concussion rids Dexter of his computer brain at the end of the film, leaving me with as many questions as I have answers. But now my own mind was beginning to short-circuit, so I decided it would be better if I watched something a little more off the beaten path to cleanse the brain palate.

Running time: 90 minutes
Total time elapsed: 416 minutes

Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings Episode 1, “Relationship Goals” (2018)

This is a Freeform reality series, but really, Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings barely even tries to hide the fact that it’s just glitzy Disney World sponcon. “Relationship Goals” jumps between two couples who both plan to elope at Disney World. While I tried my best not to judge these people for how and where they choose to spend one of the most exciting occasions of their lives, one bride-to-be said, “I’m sorry, Sleeping Beauty, today it’s my castle,” and I briefly considered committing seppuku.

Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings has the same trappings as a Black Mirror episode, only the couples don’t realize they’re living in a nightmare. One of the grooms said he’d been to Disney World 30 (!) goddamn times. I haven’t been this haunted by reality TV since I started recapping The Masked Singer, which set the bar very high. Suffice it to say, I’m never watching Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings of my own volition again—unless someone plans to get married in a ceremony with the Na’vi on Pandora, in which case I’ll become an ordained space minister.

Running time: 43 minutes
Total time elapsed: 459 minutes

The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

While this sounds like a Captain Marvel prequel following the early days of Goose the Flerken, The Cat From Outer Space has no universe-building pretensions. It’s just one of those classic stand-alone yarns about a UFO crash-landing on Earth with an alien on board that looks just like a house cat. The alien is in dire need of an earthbound substance that can put his ship back into orbit before the cat-adjacent species’ mothership returns to its home planet. Helping the cat on his quest is Frank, a scientist who does a surprisingly good job of handling a cat beginning to talk to him about repairing a spaceship.

I ought to mention that the cat, whom Frank calls “Jake” because his alien name is just a confusing series of letters and numbers, communicates with him telepathically. This was a relief, seeing how horrifying the CGI was for animal mouths in the new Lady and the Tramp. Aside from being able to talk with Frank, Jake’s alien powers mostly stem from the special collar around his neck, which can freeze people in time and move objects, suggesting that the cat-alien could do potentially terrifying things and harm mankind if so inclined. Instead, Frank and Jake are going to use his special collar to—oh my God—rig sporting events? Please enjoy this GIF of Jake helping the L.A. Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics at the buzzer:

Disney

Three officially makes it a trend: WHY ARE ALL THESE OLD DISNEY MOVIES TANGENTIALLY RELATED TO GAMBLING? In this film, it’s because the material Jake needs from his ship, which he calls “Org 12,” is gold, and he requires over $100,000 worth of gold to get back to his space comrades. A shocking amount of time in The Cat From Outer Space is spent with Jake, Frank, and Frank’s neighbor Norman changing the outcome of sporting events with Jake’s collar to win thousands and thousands of dollars. In an alternate timeline, Disney+ is probably sponsored by Against All Odds With Cousin Sal.

This film is truly bonkers and often quite silly—in the end, Jake opts to stay with Frank and applies for U.S. citizenship—but that doesn’t take away from the performance of the cat (or cats) who played Jake. As any pet owner will tell you, cats are fiercely independent creatures, and it’s hard to get them to do anything on command. Jake’s magical collar might’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for sports betting, but the cat was also a very good on-screen presence. This was the Daniel Day-Lewis of cats, and given how little I’d heard about this film before this tortuous binge, the cat(s) were clearly underappreciated in their own time—and now that cat is dead.

I am up to four Advils, and I just spent five minutes fruitlessly looking for a replica Jake collar on Etsy.

Running time: 103 minutes
Total time elapsed: 562 minutes

Forky Asks a Question Episode 1, “What Is Money?” (2019)

Time for another brain cleanse. You remember Forky, the sentient spork having an identity crisis over his own meandering existence in Toy Story 4? Well, now that he has accepted the value of being a child’s plaything until his creator’s attention inevitably moves on to something else, he’s curious about how the world works. “I was made from trash, like, two days ago,” he tells us, “so I have a lot of questions.”

This episode is three minutes long—and all I wanted was something cute, brief, and harmless before I jumped back in the Disney vault. But perhaps because I just spent several hours watching old Disney content where everything somehow involved a gambling subplot, I think it’s deeply suspicious that the first lesson Forky imparts on the viewer (i.e., little kids who watch the show and also me, a 27-year-old blogger) is about the concept of money and how it works. Forky is just another tiny, spindly spoke (made from googly eyes, popsicle sticks, bubble gum, plasticine, and pipe cleaner) in the well-oiled wheels of capitalism. OK, uh, it turns out having a Forky Asks a Question diversion wasn’t as low-key as I thought. Please, someone, anyone—the embalmed, frozen corpse of Walt Disney?—help me.

Running time: 3 minutes
Total time elapsed: 565 minutes

III. Despair

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

If you thought Leprechaun Cinema peaked when Warwick Davis hit a “leprebong” in Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, y’all have missed out on Darby O’Gill and the Little People. This movie is basically about some Irish dude named Darby who kidnaps a leprechaun king in order to coax three wishes from him—but it’s also about Darby’s daughter Katie looking at a pre–James Bond Sean Connery and thinking “this man right here is a goddamn snack with franchise potential.”

Disney

This is G-rated thirst at its finest, and certainly far less overtly sexual than the looks between our in-line skating kings Brink and Val in the critically acclaimed Disney Channel Original Movie Brink!, which I think I watched approximately three years ago. The Irish accents in the film are, per my own notes, “dumb thicc,” and the delirium of a leprechaun dance coupled with the hours I already spent on Disney+ have rendered Darby O’Gill and the Little People near-incomprehensible to me. I think I zoned out for about 30 minutes in the middle of the movie—which, given my recent Disney+ experience, can only mean that I missed Darby losing a few leprechaun shillings betting on the Boston Celtics.

Still, because of its Connery thirst alone, I’m confident enough to endorse Darby O’Gill and the Little People as a great double feature to go with The Luck of the Irish—and if you really want to make your weekend as try-hard Irish as possible, wait for the Shamrock Shakes to return to McDonald’s and then watch both films, and then cleanse your palate with a pint of Guinness and a pot of colcannon.

Running time: 90 minutes
Total time elapsed: 655 minutes

The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror V” (1994)

I broke my own “don’t watch things you’ve already seen” rule to revisit The Simpsons Halloween special that parodies The Shining. Unfortunately, it reinforced what I’ve begun to suspect: By accepting this assignment, I’ve become the Jack Torrance of blogging.

Running time: 24 minutes
Total time elapsed: 679 minutes

IV. Acceptance

The Mandalorian Episode 2, “The Child” (2019)

I was so caught up with drunk leprechauns and sports gambling that I forgot there was a new episode of The Mandalorian sitting in my queue. I promised to watch this episode with my girlfriend, so I headed to her apartment to watch it. Everyone with a soul is fond of Baby Yoda, but seeing his beautiful little green visage after a day of talking space cats, place-kicking mules, dystopian Disney World weddings, and Kurt Russell as a computer was a euphoric experience that’s hard to put into words. I will die for this alien baby (who is technically more than 20 years my senior).

Disney

I got some whiskey to pair with this episode—and thus, the culmination of my Disney+ binge. I was feeling good. I learned a lot, but mostly I discovered that Disney executives in the ’60s and ’70s must’ve really loved gambling, and that these projects could’ve only been green-lit by dudes tripping on massive amounts of LSD. This was all entertaining, sure, but it was a lot. I know that I need to take a good long break from Disney+ after this is over.

As I began to pour and ease into the final moments of this bingeing experience, it occurred to me the whiskey brand is “Applejack”—the same words that caused Kurt Russell’s computer brain to spin out of control in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. I filled the glass as high as I could.

Running time: 33 minutes
Total time elapsed: 712 minutes (close enough!)

Two hours after The Mandalorian, I hit play on Tron: Legacy.

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