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The Misadventures of Merlin Jones DVD Review

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones

Theatrical Release: March 25, 1964 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Robert Stevenson

Cast: Tommy Kirk (Merlin Jones), Annette Funicello (Jennifer), Leon Ames (Judge Holmsby), Stuart Erwin (Police Captain Loomis), Alan Hewitt (Professor Shattuck), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Gossett), Dal McKennon (Detective Hutchins), Norman Grabowski (Norman)


The Misadventures of Merlin Jones opens with an Annette Funicello song and accompanying paper cutouts credits sequence. You'd suspect we're in the 1960s and you'd be right, as Misadventures opened in theaters forty years ago. Disney veteran Tommy Kirk is Merlin Jones, an oddball college inventor. His various experiments have gotten him in trouble with the law and Merlin has his driving license suspended.

After a mishap in the science lab, the precocious Merlin is suddenly able to hear people's thoughts. At first, it's simply amusing and beneficial for Merlin. But then he hears Judge Holmsby (Leon Ames) contemplating the crimes he's committed and those he plans to commit. When everyone thinks Merlin is either off his rocker or just out to get the man who has suspended his license, he takes it upon himself (with some encouragement from girlfriend Jennifer, played by Annette Funicello) to solve the crimes and try to put the suspect judge away.

The second half of the film disregards a need for plot and just proceeds with more campus comedy. After being hypnotized by his science professor, Merlin explores the potential for hypnosis. Even in this episodic second half, without particularly strong narrative, the film doesn't stop being amusing.

Naturally, this being a live action '60s Disney comedy, a chimpanzee comes into play. In fact, it turns up repeatedly as part of an escape and later as a chimp-napping snafu.

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones may feel familiar, but that's not really a bad thing. Most of the principles were involved in several live action Disney productions while Walt was alive: veteran Disney director Robert Stevenson (Old Yeller, Mary Poppins), story man Bill Walsh, songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman, and of course, stars Kirk, Funicello, and Aames. It may not be the type of movie to fare well with critics, but it was inexpensive and a hit with fans. Such a hit, in fact, that the following year, a sequel called The Monkey's Uncle hit theaters, reuniting the cast and crew.

Misadventures is generally entertaining and harmless squeaky clean fun. It's a straightforward comedy, driven by concept more than plot, and it would have to be, as it's really one film with a sharp division into two halves. Fortunately, the film adequately delivers mild laughs and remains diverting, if not entirely side-splitting.

Buy The Misadventures of Merlin Jones from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 3, 2004
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones is presented in 1.33:1. It's not clear what the film's original aspect ratio is, so this may or may not be reformatted to fit the dimensions of 4 x 3 screens. It's possible the film was filmed with TV in mind, as there didn't appear to be any framing problems.

Aspect ratio issue aside, the DVD exhibited pretty good video quality. The picture is sharp and vibrant, and flaws are few, far-between, and never significant. There is some very minor color shimmering, but overall the transfer is above satisfactory.

Misadventures features a Mono track, so all sound comes from the front. There appeared to be a low, but persistent buzzing through some of the audio track. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the occasional use of music (such as the title number written by the always-reliable Sherman Brothers) is catchy and well-rendered.

Main Menu Disney Inventors: A Video Gallery

EXTRAS

There are just two bonus features included, but the little bit of effort that went into them help distinguish this Misadventures DVD from the dozens of feature-less catalogue discs.

First up is "Disney Inventors: A Video Gallery," a surprisingly cool collection of narrated clips on ten inventors from Disney films and shorts. They are:

- Goofy, who encouraged citizens to become inventors in the 1943 short "Victor Vehicles."
- Donald Duck, who builds an airplane from joke in "The Plastics Inventor" (1944).
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is synopsized in just 90 seconds in the Captain Nemo profile. (Unfortunately, the clips of the film are stretched to about 1.78:1.)
- Fred MacMurray's Ned Brainard, also known as the Absent Minded Professor.
- Wayne Szalinski, played by Rick Moranis, in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
- Belle's father Maurice from Beauty and the Beast.
- Professor Brainard again, though this time portrayed by Robin Williams in the subpar '90s remake Flubber.
- Flik, the charming protagonist from A Bug's Life.
- Brenda Bradford from Inspector Gadget, although the profile seems more concerned with the non-inventor title character of the 1999 live action film and its 2003 direct-to-video sequel.
- Professor Jumba, the creator of Stitch from Lilo & Stitch.

Wayne Szalinski in "Disney Inventors" Merlin Jones Image Collection

Each profile runs only about a minute (including the follow-up black screen informing you of the title's home video availability) and there's no way to "Play All." Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this little bonus. In fact, I always tend to appreciate features which look at a whole bunch of Disney films together.

The second bonus feature is the Merlin Jones Image Collection, which is a gallery of 15 stills of the film's posters and lobby cards.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Misadventures of Merlin Jones takes a very basic setup and spins a movie out of it, or perhaps more accurately, two half-movies. It is a breezy, but likable comedy film that makes good use of successful elements from other live action Disney productions of the time. Disney's DVD of the forty-year-old film exhibits a surprisingly pleasant video transfer and two unexpected little bonus features. It's not a knockout disc or anything, but I think you'll be pleased.

More details on the DVD

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Old Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page

Other Films Directed by Robert Stevenson:
The Love Bug (1969) | Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Other '60s Disney Films:
Pollyanna (1960) | The Parent Trap (1961) | Those Calloways (1965)
Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | Monkeys, Go Home! (1967) | Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)

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