Long before acquiring Marvel, Disney’s first major attempt at the superhero genre went off with a bang and a whimper.
As a youngling who grew up on a steady diet of comics, I’m still a sucker for superhero movies. But while ten years ago the kid in me was yearning for my favorite heroes to finally reach the big screen, now the practice has become somewhat commonplace. I mean, I get it: Marvel’s newly-achieved mainstream acceptance, their relatable cast of characters, and the availability of CG all make their stories more adaptable than ever before.
So… as is the case for many people, the cape-and-power genre has lost a bit of excitement for me. Which is why you can imagine my surprise when I left Green Lantern – which had been fucking trounced by critics – having enjoyed the hell out of it.
A helluva lot of merch for a movie few remember
Everyone that I saw it with was equally baffled, since they too had read the negative reviews and expected the worst. Our conversation moved to a recent episode of South Park (the episode doesn’t go live online until July 8th) where Stan turns 10, loses his cynicism filter, and annoys the piss out of all his friends by finding, and pointing out, the stupidity in everything they used to hold dear.
Thankfully, I’m beyond that phase in my life (a truly obnoxious period that lasted from puberty through my mid-twenties. Sorry, world!), but the episode also spoke to getting older – and how as you get older, the things you hated become the things you love, and the things you loved become the things you hate. Which is an idea that just screams “The Rocketeer!” to me.
My kingdom for a Goofeteer pin or watch!
Okay, it’s not that I hated The Rocketeer when it first came out, I just didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. As a kid really into superheroes and all things Disney, this movie was marketed at me non-stop for what felt like years (which I hope explains all the media I’m embedding in lieu of movie stills.) But I couldn’t understand, or appreciate, exactly what Disney was trying to do with its first balls-out attempt at a blockbuster superhero trilogy.
You can still find evidence of The Rocketeer in Disneyland if you look hard enough
Ten-year-old me loved the idea of jetpacks and high flying heroics, but I regarded The Rocketeer much like the original Superman that I had watched repeatedly: “Pretty cool, but a lot of boring talking parts.”
I wasn’t at the age where I could appreciate a breathtaking recreation of 1930’s, or the fact that The Rocketeer was striving to be the most accurate and authentic comic book adaptation ever made, or the unbridled badassery of a film – a Disney film! – depicting the rise of the Nazis as a primary enemy, or the presence of an Anti-American, Errol Flynn-esque villain played by our then-James Bond!
Concept art of a scrapped Disneyland Rocketeer attraction
With neither the historical context nor the pop culture references to appreciate all of this, to young me it just looked “old.” I had no idea what “art deco” was – how was I supposed to know that this was one of the greatest posters ever fucking made?!:
So, so beautiful…
Watching The Rocketeer today is truly awe-inspiring, as the film was made just before CGI became the standard in damn near everything…this movie is BIG! The practical effects and matte work are among the finest ever done, and the visually stunning look of the film easily holds up better than anything computer-rendered within at least 10 years of Jurassic Park.
I was so naïve to the sheer amazingness occurring onscreen that the outstanding animation sequence above was my biggest take-away from the movie. And even then I didn’t get the animation in-joke: it’s pretty clearly inspired by Walt Disney’s forgotten 8th animated feature, the amazing WWII propaganda saga Victory Through Air Power.
Big damn hero
If you’re one of the millions who can’t attend any of the 20th anniversary Rocketeer screenings occurring around the country, I highly encourage you to pick up The Rocketeer on DVD – if for no other reason than to prod Disney to release a HD Blu-ray loaded with special features. As it stands, the goddamned Laserdisc is still the biggest release it’s ever seen, and only because it contained a theatrical trailer.