I’ve always had a strange fascination with films that get made, maybe make a little money upon their release, and then disappear into the annals of cinema history never to be thought of again. I like to think that every movie ever made is someone’s favourite, which is probably impossible, but it’s a nice thought, and it may explain my interest in these forgotten films. But even that doesn’t quite do my fascination justice. In the end, I think it comes down to me being just as intrigued by cinema’s failures as I am by its successes. What follows is a list of five animated movies that I saw as a child, and remember vividly if not fondly. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen each of these films once, but the fact that they made enough of an impression on me to stick in my mind all these years must mean something, right? Well…probably not. I certainly wouldn’t call any of these “classics”.
5. Rover Dangerfield (1991)
This movie was such an obvious vanity project for Rodney Dangerfield that they even stuck his name right in the title. Rover Dangerfield is a dog living the high life in Las Vegas, but when a showgirl’s boyfriend tries to kill him by tying him in a bag and dumping him off the Hoover dam, Rover escapes and finds himself in farm country. There he falls for a farmyard bitch and the two of them sing oddly suggestive songs together like “I’d give up a bone for you”. The most vivid memory I have of this one is the song where Rodney…er, Rover sings about how he’ll never pee on a Christmas tree.
4. Rock-a-Doodle (1991)
Don Bluth is a bit notorious for creating dark, grisly and bizarre children’s animated films, and Rock-a-Doodle is no exception. Even the basic plot description is totally surreal: while reading his favourite book about Chanticleer the singing rooster one night, Edmund is suddenly confronted by the Grand Duke of Owls who turns him into a cat. Escaping the owls clutches, Edmund goes on a wild and trippy adventure to find Chanticleer, because the world has been consumed by darkness and only the singing rooster – now an Elvis impersonator – can bring out the sun with his crowing. Even as a kid I found this totally off-the-wall weird.
3. We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Tale (1993)
This one is a REALLY strange one. A mad scientist travels back in time and makes a group of dinosaurs intelligent, then transports them forward in time to the modern age, where the scientist’s maniacal brother Professor ScrewEyes hopes to turn them into a circus act. The dinosaurs also befriend a couple of kids from two different walks of life, who then help the dinosaurs escape Professor ScrewEyes’ clutches. I wonder what drugs the filmmakers were on when they came up with this.
2. Balto (1995)
I remember Balto being significant because it was Kevin Bacon’s first, and seemingly only, foray into the world of voice acting. Balto is the story of a half-wolf pooch who leads a team of sled dogs on a 600-mile journey through the Alaskan wilderness in an attempt to stop an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome. Apparently the movie was based on a true story and was popular enough to garner a couple of direct-to-video sequels, but I only saw it the once and then forgot about it until I began compiling movies for this list. Not a bad flick, as I recall, but not a particularly memorable one, either.
1. The Pagemaster (1994)
I love animated films that try to explain why a previously human character has transformed into a cartoon. Obviously trying to cash in on Macaulay Culkin’s box office success meant that they had to feature him as an actual person for the film’s bookends. This is the story of a safety-paranoid kid who goes on adventure through the pages of a story book and walks away from it more enlightened and less safety-conscious. He’s helped out by some books with celebrity voices. That’s about all I remember of it, though I think I may have seen this one more than once.