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Disney has always been a company that shoots for the moon. From their very inception, the House of Mouse has never shied away from concepts and endeavors that might seem bizarre to some people. And no other era in Disney history captures this attitude better than the 1970s.
After the passing of Walt Disney in 1966, the studio was at a creative turning point. The direction of the studio was in question, and this led to a lot of crazy ideas getting the greenlight throughout the 1970s. With the release of Disney+, we’ll be gaining a ton of access to some of the strangest entries in the Disney canon. Below are some of the weirdest movies Disney made in the 1970s that you’ll be able to watch when Disney+ launches.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Ostensibly, Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Watch now on Disney+) is an attempt to capture the same kind of whimsical spirit that Mary Poppins had done back in 1964. Based on a series of books, the story in this film centered around an apprentice witch (Angela Lansbury), a scam artist magician (David Tomlinson), and three young children as they attempt to find a missing part to a magic spell that will assist Britain during World War II.
Filled with musical hijinks and a lot of sequences that blend together live-action and animation, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is delightfully kooky and certainly feels like no idea is too ridiculous to attempt on-screen. If you liked Mary Poppins, this is a great spiritual successor to that landmark film.
Robin Hood (1973)
This might not seem that strange at first, but Disney’s take on the classic Robin Hood legend was actually a pretty nutty idea at the time. Though it seems a normal practice for Disney now, recasting the entire ensemble as anthropomorphic animal characters was the first time Disney had done so in one of their feature films. Not to mention the truly bizarre decision to turn the typically English tale into one filled with more American folksy riffs on characters.
Yet, these choices ended up working in the film’s favor as far as its legacy is concerned. The Southern-fried songs and down-home mood of the picture has helped cement it as a favorite to those who grew up with it. Robin Hood (Watch now on Disney+) might seem like a typical Disney animated move today, but it was assuredly a risky idea when it came out in 1973.
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Based on a novel by Alexander H. Key, Escape to Witch Mountain (Watch now on Disney+) is a sci-fi/fantasy movie that centers on two orphaned siblings, Tony and Tia, who exhibit strange psychic powers such as telekinesis and premonitions. A powerful millionaire that’s obsessed with the paranormal wants to capture them and the film follows their attempts to elude him while also finding out who they are and where they come?
And where is it they come from? Space! Yes, these two are aliens that were lost during a spacecraft accident and now they’re trying to reconnect with their people. Escape to Witch Mountain is a minor cult classic in the Disney canon, spawning a number of sequels and even a big budget remake.
The Shaggy D.A. (1976)
In 1959, Disney released The Shaggy Dog, a lighthearted comedy about a young boy, Wilby Daniels, who is randomly transformed into an English Sheepdog after reading a magic inscription off an enchanted ring. The film was an enormous success for Disney and actually influenced their approach to live-action comedies throughout the 1960s.
In 1976, Disney released a direct sequel called The Shaggy D.A. (Watch now on Disney+) that now sees an adult Wilby attempting to run for district attorney in the town of Medfield. However, that magic ring pops up, and Wilby begins to turn into a dog once again. It’s absurd and nonsensical, but it’s hard to deny that the film actually works as a goofball comedy for both children and adults.
Pete’s Dragon (1977)
Another attempt at showcasing a blend between live-action photography and cartoonish animation, Pete’s Dragon is a great example of Disney’s desire to blend family-friendly storytelling with a surprisingly dark undercurrent to its narrative. Pete’s Dragon (Watch now on Disney+) follows a young boy as he attempts to escape his abusive adoptive parents with the help of his invisible dragon, Elliot. Only Pete can see Elliot and this leads to a lot of misunderstandings with people that might be able to help Pete avoid returning to his miserable home.
Remade in 2016 with a great grasp on its tone, the original Pete’s Dragon is fun enough film that shows how a good idea can sometimes fall victim to a desire to make something a little too silly. Still, there are some great musical moments and the animation on display is some of the best from this era of Disney. In a perfect world, you should absolutely do a double feature of the original and the remake.
The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Just read that title again and tell me that doesn’t put a bewildered smile on your face? The title says it all: An alien cat lands on Earth and is stranded due to its damaged spaceship. Three scientists discover this and attempt to help repair the cat’s UFO so that it can return to its home planet, but foreign spies and the army end up causing more problems for the trio and their feline friend.
You don’t get much goofier than The Cat From Outer Space (Watch now on Disney+). It’s a movie littered (heh heh) with silliness in the best of ways. If you ever wanted to see a movie that featured a telepathic kitty on a flying saucer, The Cat From Outer Space has got you covered. Out of all the movies on this list, this is the one you have to see to believe it actually exists.
The Black Hole (1979)
After Star Wars changed movie history forever in 1975, every other studio was trying to find out how they could capitalize on the public’s ravenous desire for sci-fi fantasy. Disney’s attempt was The Black Hole (Watch now on Disney+), The setting is a mysterious ship that’s commanded by a strange scientist who is obsessed with discovering what lies on the other side of a black hole. Filled with extravagant production design and an oddly adult approach to the material, The Black Hole was the first ever Disney production to receive a PG rating.
And it earns it. The Black Hole has some intense moments of violence and gets legitimately surreal and scary during its climax. While it wasn’t the kind of rousing space adventure audiences wanted in a post-Star Wars world, its unique approach has earned it a deserved fan base to this day.
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