Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action edition. Gus

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We have finished the animated films so we’re moving on the live-action films. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Gus

Year: 1976

Box office: $21,873,000

Plot: The film opens in Yugoslavia with the Petrovic family watching their son Stepjan winning a soccer game. Their other son Andy works on his farm, and can’t play soccer at all, after falling into the well by accident. One day, Andy discovers Gus can kick a soccer ball long distances when Andy shouts, “Oyage!”.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the California Atoms are a professional football team owned by Hank Cooper and coached by the inept Coach Venner. They are the worst team in the league and have not won a game in years. Cooper also owes a lot of money to two mobster bookmakers named Charles Gwynn and Cal Wilson. The bookies give him a last chance bet: if the Atoms win the Super Bowl, all gambling debts will be forgiven, but if they do not win, Gwynn and Wilson will take ownership of the team.

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Desperate to draw in fans, Cooper looks for a great half time show. His secretary, Debbie sees a story in her parents’ Yugoslavian newspaper about Gus. Debbie flies to Yugoslavia and hires Gus and Andy. After Gus is a hit in his first halftime show, Cooper and Venner decide to put him in the game as a place kicker. The other team protests, but as the rule book does not require a player to be human, Cooper allow Gus to kick, And since he is able to kick a field goal from anywhere in the field, the Atoms win.

The Atoms go on to win their next few games thanks to Gus, and move to first place in their division. The only catch is that Gus will only kick when Andy holds the ball and shouts the command. Debbie is assigned to watch over Andy and Gus, since she can speak Serbian. A romance begins between them, aided by Gus. Gwynn and Wilson, realizing their deal with Cooper is backfiring, hire two incompetent criminals named Crankcase and Spinner to stop Gus from playing and make the team lose. Through their schemes, Crankcase and Spinner cause the Atoms to lose two games.

Despite the losses, the Atoms make the playoffs. Andy becomes a celebrity, but his parents remain unimpressed, saying he only holds the ball for Gus. Before the playoff game, Spinner convinces Andy that Debbie has been injured in a car accident. When Andy arrives at the hospital, Crankcase locks him up. Without Andy, Gus refuses to kick, and the Atoms fall behind. In the final quarter, Debbie dresses up in Andy’s uniform and convinces Gus to kick a field goal, scoring the winning points. Andy, who managed to escape, arrives after the game is over. He tells Debbie his father is right: Andy is nothing, and anyone can hold the ball for Gus.

With the Atoms headed to the Super Bowl, Spinner and Crankcase steal Gus and replace him with an ordinary mule. Spinner and Crankcase check into a local hotel and lock up Gus with them and Gus breaks the TV and the hotel room door. At the Super Bowl, Andy quickly realizes the mule he has is not Gus, and he and Cooper leave by helicopter to search for Gus. When the two criminals watch the game on TV, Gus goes wild and escapes.

Crankcase and Spinner chase Gus into a local supermarket where they unsuccessfully attempt to recapture the mule. The criminals make a huge mess in the supermarket, and,Spinner and Crankcase are apprehended for mule napping and for causing an extended amount of damages in the supermarket. Gus is spotted from the air by Andy and Cooper. They airlift Gus to the Super Bowl and arrive by half-time.

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With Gus back in the game, the Atoms make a comeback. With 45 seconds left on the clock, the Atoms are down 16–15 with the ball on their own five-yard line. Gus lines up for a field goal attempt, but slips in the mud and misses the football. In the scramble for the ball, Gus knocks it over to Andy, who runs 95 yards for the touchdown.

Cast: We profiled Ed Asner for Up. He plays Hank Cooper. Don Knotts returns as Coach Venner. Tim Conway as Crankcase. We profiled Richard Kiel for Tangled. He makes a cameo as Tall Man. This is the last film of Virginia O’Brien who caneos as a reporter.

Gary Grimes as Andy Petrovic. Gary retired from acting after only making six films including Summer of ’42, Class of ’44, Cahill U.S. Marshal, and The Spikes Gang. Louise Williams as Debbie Kovac. Louise is probably best known for voicing the character of Jayna, one of the Wonder Twins on The Superfriends. At the time she went by the name “Liberty.”

Dick Van Patten as Cal Wilson. He is probably best known as Tom Bradford on Eight Is Enough. Film roles include Charly, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, Soylent Green, Westworld andFreaky Friday. Ronnie Schell as Joe Barnsdale. Schell is probably best known in his 1960s television role as Duke Slater in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. He guest starred on numerous television shows and us still active, most recently appearing in The Last Laugh on Netflix.

Bob Crane as Pepper. He is best known for starring in Hogan’s Heroes. His brief film carrer included roles in Return to Payton Place , The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz, and Superdad. Dick Butkus as Rob Cargil. He played professional football as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) from 1965 to 1973. As an actor, he has appeared in films such as The Longest Yard, Cry, Onion!, Mother, Jugs & Speed, Superdome, Cracking Up, Johnny Dangerously, Hamburger: The Motion Picture, The Stepford Children, Spontaneous Combustion, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Necessary Roughness, and Any Given Sunday. He portrayed himself in the critically acclaimed TV movie Brian’s Song.

Harold Gould as Charles Gwynn. He appeared as Martin Morgenstern on the sitcom Rhoda and Miles Webber on the sitcom The Golden Girls. He appeared in The Sting, Love and Death, and Silent Movie. More recent films include Stuart Little, Patch Adams, and The Master of Disguise. Tom Bosley as Spinner. He is best known for playing Howard Cunningham on Happy Days. He originated the title role of the Broadway musical Fiorello!, earning the 1960 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Early film roles include Love with the Proper Stranger, The World of Henry Orient, Divorce American Style, and Yours, Mine and Ours.

Johnny Unitas as Himself. Legendary NFL quarterback who spent the majority of his career playing for the Baltimore Colts. He was the NFL’s most valuable player in 1959, 1964, and 1967. After retiring he spent many years as a color commentator for CBS. Dick Enberg as Atoms’ Announcer. He had an almost 60 year career as a play-by-announcer for CBS, NBC, and ESPN. He called for individual teams, such as UCLA Bruins basketball, Los Angeles Rams football, and California Angels and San Diego Padres baseball. He also hosted the Tournament of Roses Parade for many years.

Legacy: In Herbie Goes Bananas, a partygoer wearing an Atoms jersey is briefly seen during a masquerade ball scene. You can ride Gus while playing Disney Infinity

My take: Okay, it’s kind of silly, but I did genuine laugh throughout. Belle felt the antics were more in line with college football than the NFL, but it really doesn’t matter.

Next Week: Freaky Friday