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by: Scott Renshaw

Walt Disney and his heirs spent over half a century turning the Disney name into the gold standard for charming family entertainment. In only a handful of months, the clown princes currently running the Magic Kingdom appear to have made it their mission to make the name an indicator of pure garbage. The annual animated feature aside, Uncle Walt's factory has taken to churning out insulting, embarrassing live-action features which stink like the flatulence they so often feature: 101 Dalmatians, That Darn Cat, Rocket Man, Mr. Magoo, and now Meet the Deedles

The story this time revolves around a pair of ne'er-do-well teenage brothers, Phil (Paul Walker) and Stew Deedle (Steve Van Wormer), who spend all their time surfing and slacking in Hawaii because their Dad is filthy rich. When Pa Deedle (Eric Braeden) finally grows tired of his layabout sons, he sends them off to Wyoming for a character-building camp experience. A few misadventures and cases of mistaken identity later, the young Deedles are rangers-in-training at Yellowstone National Park, charged with ridding the park of a prairie dog infestation threatening to undermine -- literally -- the Billionth Birthday Celebration for Old Faithful.

Predictably, a bunch of tenuously connected action-slapstick sequences ensue. Even more predictably, those action-slapstick sequences include a dose of content entirely inappropriate for its target audience. At best, we're talking about taking the toilet humor in the creative direction of incontinent pigeons bombarding the Deedles' stuffy-but-ultimately-sympathetic antagonist, Chief Ranger Pine (professional stuffy-but-ultimately-sympathetic antagonist John Ashton). At worst, we're talking about the omnipresent large-object-smacking-the-crotch shot. I'm sure Meet the Deedles is going to be terribly entertaining for all the pre-teenagers in the audience. It's just colossally depressing that the same Disney which used to bring kids goofy fun like The Love Bug and The Boatniks now can't seem to manage anything but pandering.

An important programming note at this point: in no way to I consider myself "above" low humor. The pigeon-bombing parody of The Birds in Mel Brooks' High Anxiety still makes me guffaw 20 years later. The problem with films like Meet the Deedles is that they trot out scatological gags with a weary inevitability, as though it isn't really a film for kids unless someone lets one rip. All of which makes it even more puzzling when the script tosses in references to "suicide doctor" Jack Kervorkian, which will of course be familiar to every headline-hungry middle-schooler. If it's someone's idea of tossing a bone to the parents forced to sit through this mess with their kids, perhaps a better one would have been making the slang-spewing Deedles more than a one-note riff on Bill and Ted. Or giving Dennis Hopper, as the vengeance-seeking former ranger running the prairie dog scheme, a sense of irony about his own performance. Or providing a way to explain to the young girls why a competent female ranger (A.J. Langer) swoons over an 18-year-old moron who woos her with sweet nothings about how he "totally craves (her) wave."

Meet the Deedles didn't have to be smart. There's a place for dumb-but-innocuous entertainment in our multiplexes. The key word there would be "innocuous." If Disney execs are interested in salvaging what remains of the studio's reputation - and its dignity - they will stop for just one moment to think about what Uncle Walt might say. That is, what he might say after he picked his jaw up off the floor and stopped slapping the responsible parties insensible.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 Deedles on empty: 1.


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