The opening credits of Flubber spell out the cast and crew’s names as if they were mathematical formulae, which makes sense given that the hero (Robin Williams) is a physics professor. But they also mirror the calculation that went into this Disney retread. Here’s how the movie would look on the blackboard:
The Absent-Minded Professor
The 1961 source. Here it’s fuddly Fred MacMurray as Professor Brainard, whose invention of flying rubber — a.k.a. Flubber — results in bouncing basketball players and airborne jalopies. Flubber alters the molecular structure by tossing out the Pentagon subplot and making Brainard’s fiancee (Marcia Gay Harden) the college president instead of a secretary.
Flubber producer-writer John Hughes won’t stop until he has added comic thugs (here Clancy Brown and Ted Levine) who fall downstairs a lot to every boomer artifact. Hughes didn’t act alone, so Flubber‘s not burn-the-negative bad, like his Dennis the Menace.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
The cozy suburban setting, a childlike hero, a female lead who’s more mom than lover: Clearly the miracle additive Spielberg-O is present.
Williams’ nutty professor cooks up a green goo with a mind of its own that can even mimic his facial features. If that sounds like the water pods in the James Cameron epic, it’s because F/X house ILM was behind both.
Some Came Running
Flubber‘s secret ingredient. Brainard’s flying robot Weebo (voiced by Little Mermaid lead Jodi Benson) has an unrequitable crush on her boss; as she’s deciding to face reality, a scene from this great 1959 melodrama — in which a lovestruck Shirley MacLaine gives up Frank Sinatra to snooty Martha Hyer — plays on her built-in TV screen. The bond between Brainard and Weebo is more touching than any of Flubber‘s human interactions — but maybe that’s to be expected when you stick to the formula. C+