Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Blank Check

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. 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: Blank Check

Year: 1994

Budget:  $13 million

Box office: $30.6 million

Plot: Preston Waters is an eleven-year-old boy who laments his relative lack of money compared to his entrepreneurial brothers and his office worker father. His situation regularly leads him to humiliating situations including having his brothers commandeer his bedroom as an office for their home business, and being forced to attend a bully’s birthday with almost no money to pay for the amusement park.

One day he’s involved in a bike accident with escaped convict Carl Quigley who had just left a Zero Halliburton briefcase with $1,000,000 stolen cash inside in the care of bank manager Edward Biderman to be laundered and retrieved by an associate the next day. Afraid of drawing attention from the police, Quigley hastily hands Preston a signed blank check and flees the scene.

Preston uses his computer to fill out the check himself for $1,000,000 and attempts to cash it the next day. He is taken to Biderman, who believes Preston is the associate named “Juice” that Quigley told him he was sending. Biderman fills Preston’s backpack with $1,000,000 in clean money and Preston leaves the bank just as the real Juice arrives to take delivery of Quigley’s money.

An angered Quigley sets out to find Preston with the help of Biderman and Juice hoping to reclaim his stolen money. Meanwhile, Preston goes on a spending spree purchasing a large house, a limousine service with a chauffeur named Henry, and then fills the house with toys, gadgets, and electronics all in the name of a mysterious employer he created named “Macintosh”.

Shay, a teller from the bank, seeks out Preston and his employer Mr. Macintosh, after the realtor who sold the house to Macintosh deposits $300,000 cash with her bank. Shay, an undercover FBI agent investigating Biderman for money laundering, is suspicious of the sudden flow of cash that has come through Biderman’s bank and follows the trail to Preston/Macintosh. Denied a meeting with Macintosh, Preston claims that he handles some of Macintosh’s financial affairs and the two end up going on a business date.

Later, Preston throws an expensive birthday party for himself and Macintosh for which the party planner takes at least $40,000 in cash from Preston, claiming it covers the fees for the event. Preston invites Shay and Henry to the party, with many others showing up.

At the party, Preston learns that he only has $332 left and that he can’t pay the planner what he owes for the party. The planner shuts the party down, leaving Preston alone in the empty house. Quigley, Biderman and Juice arrive and demand Preston return the money, only to find out Preston has spent all of it in six days. After pursuing Preston throughout the property, the FBI shows up with Shay in time to save Preston. Quigley announces that he is Macintosh, thinking that assuming the false identity would grant him the new life he was seeking after escaping prison. However, the FBI arrest Quigley for numerous crimes they intended to charge to Macintosh, along with Biderman and Juice as accomplices. Preston says goodbye to Shay and Henry before returning to his family to celebrate his birthday, now understanding that money can’t buy happiness and that his family is what matters most.

Background: Blank Check was filmed in Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. The castle house that Preston buys was filmed at the Pemberton Castle (Fisher Gideon House) at 1415 Wooldridge Drive in Austin, a Texas Historical Landmark, which is now owned by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The theme park in the beginning of the movie was Six Flags Fiesta Texas; several of the park’s attractions, including The Rattler and Power Surge, were filmed in this movie. The bank featured in the movie is in the historic Alamo National Bank Building. The bank lobby was featured and it has a 23 story office tower above it. The building opened in 1929, and today houses the Drury Plaza Hotel.

Cast: Miguel Ferrer returns as Carl Quigley, and Michael Lerner returns as Edward Biderman.

Brian Bonsall as Preston Waters. He is perhaps best known for his roles as Andrew Keaton, on  Family Ties  and Alexander Rozhenko, on Star Trek: The Next Generation.Karen Duffy as Shay Stanley. She was a VJ for MTV in the early 1990s, under the name “Duff.”  Film roles include Malcolm X, Last Action Hero, Reality Bites, and Dumb & Dumber. She voiced Linda Otter in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Tone Loc (Anthony Terrell Smith) as Juice. He is known for his hit songs “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina.” As a voice actor, he has voiced characters in several television cartoon series such as King of the Hill and C-Bear and Jamal, and was featured in the animated film Bébé’s Kids, playing the wise-cracking baby Pee Wee. He voiced the character Lou the Goanna in FernGully: The Last Rainforest. He has also provided his signature voice for episodes of Uncle Grandpa, and Chowder, both airing on Cartoon Network. He appeared in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. James Rebhorn as Fred Waters. At the time of his death, he had recurring roles in the series White Collar and Homeland. He also appeared in films such as Scent of a Woman, Carlito’s Way, Independence Day, My Cousin Vinny, Meet the Parents, Silkwood, Regarding Henry, Basic Instinct, Lorenzo’s Oil, Guarding Tess and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Jayne Atkinson as Sandra Waters. She is perhaps best known for the role of Karen Hayes on 24, as well as her Tony Award–nominated roles in The Rainmaker and Enchanted April. She has also appeared on Criminal Minds as BAU Section Chief Erin Strauss, Madam Secretary as United States Vice President Teresa Hurst, and in House of Cards as U.S. Secretary of State Catherine Durant. Debbie Allen as Yvonne. Allen is best known for her work in the musical-drama television series Fame, where she portrayed dance teacher Lydia Grant, and served as the series’ principal choreographer. For this role in 1983 she received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy and two Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography and was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She returned to acting playing the leading role in In the House, and in 2011 began playing Dr. Catherine Avery in Grey’s Anatomy also serving as an executive producer/director. She has directed more than 50 television and film productions.

Rick Ducommun as Henry. He appeared in The ‘Burbs, Little Monsters, Groundhog Day, No Small Affair, A Fine Mess, Spaceballs, Die Hard, The Experts, The Hunt for Red October, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Last Boy Scout, Class Act, Encino Man, Last Action Hero, Jury Duty, Scary Movie and MVP: Most Valuable Primate.

Critical Reception:

  • Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times stating that what was “missing from this film is any trace of the joy in simple pleasures. Preston isn’t a very imaginative child; he’s a goodies gatherer.” 
  • Janet Maslin of The New York Times said that it “looks like the best bet for family audiences in a season short on kiddie oriented entertainment. And it’s a movie that no parents in their right minds should let children see.”
  • The Chicago Tribune stated that “[w]ith its contrived plot, its MTV inspired montages and its blatant shilling for products, it is film as hard sell, and it comes with a decidedly suspect warranty. Its mercantile instincts are so primary it looks like an infomercial.”

Legacy: In recent years, the appropriateness of a scene depicting a kiss between Preston and Shay near the end of the film has been called into question, particularly with Shay’s job as an agent with the FBI. Brian Bonsall was eleven years old at the time of filming, while Karen Duffy was 31. Concerns were first raised in an episode in September 2009 of Nostalgia Critic. In January 2017, Blank Check was made available on Netflix in the United States, which led many critics to review the film anew. Observer’s Dana Schwartz claimed the kissing scene left her feeling “totally grossed out” and Kylie Queen from WJBQ described the act as “borderline pedophilia”.

My take: It’s hard to like a film where everyone, including the main character, is an asshole. It also it rather shameless when it comes to product placement. It’s a plot that requires everyone involved to be a moron.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: Tall Tale