By Stephanie Zacharek
By Michael Atkinson
By Chris Packham
By Kevin Dilmore
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Inkoo Kang
By Heather Baysa
In Flubber, Disney's new and improved version of The Absent Minded Professor, that famously bouncy green goop is still powering cars through the clouds and transforming lab nerds into high-flying basketball stars. But now the stuff also has personality--in gobs. It splits into a hundred little green dancers and does an impressive supper-club mambo before a waving stand of Flubberized palm trees. It morphs into a translucent Pillsbury Dough Boy and tweets appreciatively at its forgetful creator. It takes revenge on the bad guys and nuzzles up to the heroine.
That's not all. Flubber, circa 1997, also does the impossible: It upstages Robin Williams.
It's a hallmark of the age that a busy little blob of elastic revamped by the computer wizards at Industrial Light & Magic can express more life in one shimmy than the batty Williams does in ninety minutes' worth of pratfalls and goofs. He doesn't seem to mind. In inheriting the role pioneered by amiable Fred MacMurray back in 1961--scientific genius, practical incompetent--Williams takes every technical innovation and visual update in stride. As it happens, his Professor Phillip Brainard is also outranked here by a pert, school-bus-yellow computer named WEEBO, which speaks in a girl's voice, displays its memories and emotions on a little pop-up screen and hovers around Williams like a bug. It's the most lovable thing, electronically speaking, since Star Wars' R2-D2, and the kids at the screening I went to seemed to delight in it even more than in the movie's starring green globule.
Care for a spot of plot? Okay. An evil financier (Raymond Barry) wants to close down the prof's struggling college. But Flubber, WEEBO, Brainard and his plucky, oft-forgotten fiancee, Sara (Marcia Gay Harden), save the day. That's about it--except for the high-leaping basketball game (Michael Jordan would be envious), the soaring red Ford Thunderbird (Michael Andretti would be envious), Sara's conniving second suitor (Christopher McDonald) and a couple of hapless henchmen who wind up with big knots all over their heads, courtesy of assorted Flubber-powered golf balls, bowling balls and household objects.
Kiddy expert John Hughes produced and co-wrote this genial, clever remake. Encino Man's Les Mayfield directed. And a team of visual and special-effects people supervised by Dream Quest Images' Doug Smith have turned this new Flubber into a most winning fantasy. It should quickly bounce to the top of the family-movie charts.
Screenplay by John Hughes and Bill Walsh. Directed by Les Mayfield. With Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden and Christopher McDonald.
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