Midnight Madness

Up until 1979, the only rating Disney movies had ever received from the MPAA was the family friendly G.  It was 1979’s “The Black Hole” that first earned a PG for the studio.  But a year later, Disney released another PG rated film called “Midnight Madness.”  This one was a comedy and it’s PG rated content made the studio nervous enough to remove the Disney name from the final print.  The film stared the likes of David Naughton (later to appear in “An American Werewolf in London), Steven Furst (Flounder from “Animal House”) and everyone’s favorite movie nerd Eddie Deezen.  It also featured the first movie appearance of Michael J. Fox.  After the success of “Back to the Future,” cable TV movie channels began airing “Midnight Madness” and it earned a bit of a cult following.

The film follows five teams of college students as they compete in an all-night puzzle game created by an uber-geek named Leon.  This guy has frisbee sized glasses, a patchy beard and hair bigger than Elsa Lanchester in “Bride of Frankenstein,” yet he always has two roller skating beauties following him around.  Take note kiddos…the movies are not real.

Each of the teams in Leon’s games are made up of your typical college comedy type stereotypes.  There’s a team of beer obsessed football players, a team of nerds from the debate team (led by Deezen), and a team girls from an outcast sorority (led by future Simpsons voice artist Maggie Roswell).  But the two teams we focus on the most are the goody goodies of Naughton’s yellow team and the cheaters and crooks of Furst’s blue team.

The challenges go like this…each team is given a puzzle which, when they solve it successfully, will lead them to the next location.  Then they must find the next clue and solve it…and so on, and so on.  Furst’s character, Harold, is a rich kid who’s father equips him with a fancy new van for this big contest.  The van is even equipped with a computer to help his team figure out the puzzles.  Now this aspect of the story is kind of funny to consider now.  Truth be told, if someone attempted to stage a game like this today, you’ve got to figure that the contestants would be whipping out their smart phones to Google the solutions to the complicated puzzles.

Some of the puzzles are clever and some of them are stupid, but they lead the teams to a variety of different locations around Los Angeles.  Places like the Griffith Park Observatory, a piano museum, the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery, and a video arcade run by Pee-wee Herman in a cowboy suit.  Yep, it’s actually Paul Reubens in an early role.

So…what about all this made The Mouse so scared?  It’s nasty stuff, I assure you.  Brace yourselves, this may be considered NSFW:

– Early in the film one character asks another if he’s still a virgin.
– A kid uses a telescope to watch a woman undress in front of her window.  Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” would end up being more scantily clad than this chick.  The boy also comments about hoping to see Venus’ “two moons.”
– A lot of beer drinking on the part of the football players.
– I caught one use of the word “damn,” one “hell,” oh…and a character is named “Barf.”

I know, rough stuff.  But the scene that surely pushed things over the line is the diner sequence.  This is where the contestants receive word that they will find their next clue “between two melons.”  It turns out that the “melons” in question are the breasts of a waitress and the message is on a pendant that hangs around her next and into her ample cleavage.  So, ok…that’s not what I’d expect from a G rated film, but still it’s pretty tame.  Consider that in the years since this film was released, Disney’s various film companies have given us the arterial spurts of “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” cannibalism in “Alive,” and even Bruce Willis’ wee-wee in “Color of Night.”  What would Walt say?

But, if you can make it past all that offensive content, I think most people would find “Midnight Madness” to be silly fun.  The premise is a bit far fetched, I admit, but it’s intriguing.  The characters are pretty cartoonish, I was tempted earlier to refer to the the yellow team as “The Scooby Gang,” but I’m OK with cartoonish.  And speaking of cartoonish, one of the highlights of the film for me is Eddie Deezen.  He has such a great history of playing nerd characters and he really has a great grasp of physical comedy and facial expression.  I can’t help but think how great he would’ve been as a silent film comedian, but then we would’ve missed out on his wonderful voice.  I’d watch Eddie Deezen shop for scented candles…he’s that fun to watch.

Ultimately, it’s no “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” but I don’t think Disney realized what they had in this one.  At least we can enjoy it on DVD.

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