One of Mark Twain’s novels, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, has been adapted as Disney films three times. Today, we take a look at the first of these adaptations, the 1979 film, Unidentified Flying Oddball aka The Spaceman and King Arthur aka A Spaceman in King Arthur’s Court.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the title suggests, this adaptation puts a bit of a “space race” twist on the premise of the story. This is evident at the beginning of the film where we see a meeting being held at NASA. Apparently, a rocket has been built to be sent into space, but the people funding the project don’t want any humans to travel on it, for fear something bad might happen. This is where our main character, Tom Trimble, played by Dennis Dugan, comes in.
He is somewhat of a mechanical/technological genius (who is also a bit of an idiot, oxymoronically) and is hired to build an android to be put on the rocket. This results in the creation of Hermes, an android played also by Dennis Dugan.
When the time of the rocket launch commences, Hermes (already aboard the spacecraft) develops some existential feelings of fear that he won’t come back. Tom goes into the rocket to comfort Hermes and as you can expect, something bad happens. A lightning bolt from a storm strikes the rocket causing it to blast off into outer space!
As the rocket goes faster and faster, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (or something meant to imitate it) comes into play and the rocket starts to travel backwards in time. It finally crash lands in the legendary city of Camelot during the Medieval Era.
There, Tom disembarks, fully dressed in a spacesuit he found on board, and comes into contact with one of the peasant girls there. Alisande, played by Sheila White, isn’t particularly frightened of Tom after seeing him for a bit, but she also isn’t particularly bright either. She walks around with a goose that she thinks is her father.
It’s not long before Tom is found and caught by Sir Mordred, played by Jim Dale (in probably his only Disney film appearance where he gets to keep his British accent). Sir Mordred deems Tom to be a horrid creature and takes him back to the castle to show to King Arthur, played by Kenneth More.
When they arrive at the King’s palace, everyone there is shocked to see that underneath the space suit appears to be a human (Tom). Tom then tries to explain how he ended up here by trying to explain to the King all the advancements that have happened in between their lifespans. But, Tom just manages to bore, astound, and perplex King Arthur and the members of his Court including the elderly knight, Sir Gawain, played by John Le Mesurier, and the wizard, Merlin, played by Ron Moody.
And as you might suspect, they decide to burn Tom at the stake the next day on charges of heresy or witchcraft (or some such reason). Thankfully though, the NASA spacesuit (which Tom is still wearing) was made to withstand tremendous amounts of heat and it protects Tom from being burned. This amazes the King, but infuriates Sir Mordred who tries to kill Tom in an enjoyable fight scene. Tom wins by magnetizing Sir Mordred’s sword causing Sir Mordred unable to pull the sword apart from anything metallic.
But, it doesn’t end here as Sir Mordred challenges Tom to a jousting match to the death. Tom plays this smart though by putting the android Hermes in his place instead. This results in Hermes getting decapitated and everyone wondering how Tom has such weird innards.
Tom then comes out with documents to show the King how Sir Mordred and Merlin have been planning on overthrowing his kingdom. Sir Mordred and Merlin manage to escape before being caught, Tom gains the King’s trust and friendship, and Hermes is repaired.
Tom later shows the King one of the devices made by NASA, a laser gun that can disintegrate anything it’s aimed at. Merlin gets wind of this and sneaks back into the castle, kidnaps Alisande, lures Tom out of reach from his gun, and then steals the gun. When Tom finds out that Alisande (whom he has fallen in love with and vice-versa) has been kidnapped and that the gun has been stolen, he sets off to Sir Mordred’s camp to rescue both of them! He does this in proper medieval style too by donning one of King Arthur’s suits of armor and riding a knightly stallion!
Tom manages to break into the camp, but when the enemies use the laser gun on Tom, the laser just bounces off the armor causing damage to the camp itself. Tom manages to retrieve both the gun and Alisande and heads back to King Arthur’s castle. The climax of the film happens here with Sir Mordred, Merlin, and their men attacking the castle in a final battle scene.
Fortunately, the good guys win and Sir Mordred, Merlin, and their men are defeated. King Arthur shows his gratitude to Tom by giving him a permanent seat at his Round Table. But, Tom is about ready to head back home, to his country, to his time. He sadly says goodbye to Alisande knowing that he can’t take her back with him because he doesn’t know what will happen to her when the rocket starts traveling into the future.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how Tom plans to get his rocket started again. Well, he has the rocket titled upwards and has a whole bunch of dynamite under it. The dynamite is lit propelling the rocket into outer space and traveling forward in time. While in orbit, Tom notices that there’s a stowaway: Alisande’s goose. Seeing that nothing has happened to the goose, Tom concludes that nothing could happen to Alisande either. So, he turns his rocket around to go back for Alisande!
And that was Unidentified Flying Oddball and…it’s definitely an oddball…not a very good one, at that! The dialogue deliveries of the main actors, Dennis Dugan and Sheila White, are just horrible! Yes, they’re supposed to be playing not particularly bright characters, but the way they act makes them seem dumber than what the characters are supposed to be! Thankfully though, the acting is saved by great performances from the character actors, Ron Moody, Jim Dale, Kenneth More, and John Le Mesurier.
The special effects are disappointing for the time period and while the overall story/premise of the film is an interesting one, the finished product isn’t really good. This movie had so much potential to be an interesting “space age” adaptation of a Mark Twain novel, but sadly doesn’t live up to its potential! While it’s not the worst Disney film ever, it ain’t nothing to write home about either!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
The next review will be posted on August 29th.