Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Kid

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: The Kid. (Also advertised as Disney’s The Kid.)

Year: 2000

Budget:  $65 million

Box office: $110.3 million

Plot: Russ Duritz works as a successful but abrasive image consultant in Los Angeles and has a strained relationship with his father. One of his clients is a stadium manager who is reneging on a previous promise to fund a baseball camp for disadvantaged children. When Russ makes a pie-throwing video to fabricate an explanation, his coworker Amy urges him to reconsider.

When Russ returns home to find a toy plane on his porch, he assumes it is a gift from his father. However, inside he finds a strange boy, and chases him through the streets. After seeing the boy enter Skyway Diner, Russ runs in and finds no sign of him. Believing the experience to be a hallucination, Russ frantically sees a psychiatrist for medication the next day, but finds the same boy on his couch eating popcorn and watching Ed, Edd n Eddy when he returns home. The boy says his name is Rusty, that he was just searching for his toy plane, but came across the popcorn. Starting to see a resemblance, Russ begins comparing memories and birthmarks with Rusty, and figures out that the boy is actually himself as a kid. After a series of probing questions about Russ’ life, Rusty tells him, “I grow up to be a loser.” Rusty has always dreamt about owning a dog naming Chester and flying planes as a pilot, but Russ gave up on those dreams when he got older.

Amy finds out about the boy the next day and starts to think that Russ and Rusty are father and son. After she accuses Russ of being a dead-beat dad, Rusty assures her he is not Russ’ son. Rusty implores Russ to tell Amy the truth about their identities, but Russ thinks she’d never believe them. Amy discovers the truth on her own while watching the two argue; Russ and Rusty are nearly identical in style, and intensity. When Amy finds out that Russ lied about airing the stadium manager’s tape, she gets mad at him and leaves disappointed.

Rusty has been asking about what happens next, how he became Russ. Russ tells him about his achievements that he had excellent grades and won a scholarship to UCLA, working to get a master’s degree for six years and changed himself to who he is. Rusty understands about Russ’s job as an image consultant, that he changes people and pretends to be somebody they are not. Russ cancels his appointments the following day, and spends the time walking with Rusty, and driving around the city trying to figure out why Rusty is there, and what from the past needs to be fixed to get Rusty back home. As they drive through a tunnel, Russ recalls a fight he lost with some neighborhood bullies who were abusing a three-legged dog named Tripod. They emerge from the tunnel to find themselves reliving Rusty’s eighth birthday in 1968.

Russ helps Rusty win the fight and save Tripod, but suddenly remembers that, because of the fight, his sick mother also came to school for him that day. When they get home, Rusty’s father takes his fear out on his son. He berates Rusty for getting into trouble and causing his mother more stress. Rusty cries while attempting to tell his father that he found a screw he lost, but his father tells him to grow up while rubbing Rusty’s tears away painfully, causing a lifelong facial tic and making the older Russ realize why he is the way he is today. Russ tells Rusty that his mother will die before his next birthday, then comforts him. Tearfully, Russ tells Rusty that his father’s outburst was because he was frightened of the prospect of having to raise Rusty alone, and also assures Rusty that he was not responsible for his mother’s death.

The two go to Skyway Diner, and celebrate their birthday. When a dog named Chester greets Rusty, they find out that his owner is an older version of Russ who owns planes, their dream dog Chester and has a family with a woman who is clearly an older version of Amy. Realizing that Rusty’s appearance was meant to change his ways rather than the other way around, Russ returns to his time, arranges plans to see his father, buys his assistant tickets to Hawaii, and, with a puppy, returns to Amy, who invites him into her home.

Cast: Dana Ivey returns as Dr. Suzanne Alexander and Emily Mortimer returns as Amy.

Bruce Willis as Russell Morley “Russ” Duritz. He is best known for his role of John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. Willis’s other credits include Hudson Hawk, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, Last Man Standing, The Fifth Element, Mercury Rising, The Sixth Sense, Tears of the Sun, Hostage, Over the Hedge, What Just Happened, Moonrise Kingdom, and Motherless Brooklyn. Spencer Breslin as young Rusty Duritz. He is best known for his roles in the feature films  The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Return to Neverland, Zoom, The Cat in the Hat, Raising Helen, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, The Shaggy Dog, Harold, The Happening, and Perfect Sisters.

Lily Tomlin as Janet. Her breakout role was on the variety show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In from 1969 until 1973. She currently stars as Frankie Bergstein on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Tomlin was cast by Robert Altman in her first film: as Linnea Reese in Nashville. Her other notable films include 9 to 5, All of Me, Big Business, Flirting with Disaster, Tea with Mussolini, I Heart Huckabees, and Grandma. Her role in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe won Tomlin the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play. She is also known as the voice of Ms. Frizzle on the children’s series The Magic School Bus. She won her first Emmy Award in 1974 for writing and producing her own television special, Lily. Tomlin won a Grammy Award for her 1972 comedy album This Is a Recording. Chi McBride as Kenny. He starred as high school principal Steven Harper on the series Boston Public, Emerson Cod on Pushing Daisies, Detective Laverne Winston on  Human Target, and more recently Detective Don Owen in  Golden Boy. He notably played in a main role as Captain Lou Grover of the Five-0 taskforce in Hawaii Five-0. He has also appeared in films such as Gone in 60 Seconds, The Terminal, I, Robot, Roll Bounce, and Draft Day.

Juanita Moore as Kenny’s Grandmother. Her most famous role was as Annie Johnson in the movie Imitation of Life, earning her an Oscar nomination. She had guest-starring roles on Dragnet, Adam-12, Marcus Welby, M.D., ER and Judging Amy. Jean Smart as Deidre Lefever. She is known for her role as Charlene Frazier Stillfield on Designing Women. Smart was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for the 2000 Broadway revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner, and would go on to receive two Primetime Emmy Awards for her role as Lana Gardner on the NBC sitcom Frasier. She won a third Primetime Emmy Award for her starring role as Regina Newley on Samantha Who? She also portrayed Martha Logan on the action drama series 24. For her performance as Floyd Gerhardt on Fargo, she earned a Critics’ Choice Television Award and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. She starred as Melanie Bird in Legion, and in 2019, she starred as Laurie Blake (née Juspeczyk) in Watchmen. Smart’s film credits include Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The Brady Bunch Movie, Guinevere, Sweet Home Alabama, Garden State, I Heart Huckabees, Youth in Revolt, The Accountant, and A Simple Favor.

Larry King, Jeri Ryan, Matthew Perry, and Melissa McCarthy make appearances

Critical Reception:

  • Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the movie 3 stars out of 4, observing that “Disney’s The Kid is warm-hearted and effective, a sweet little parable that involves a man and a boy who help each other become a better boy, and a better man. It’s a sweet film, unexpectedly involving, and shows again that Willis, so easily identified with action movies, is gifted in the areas of comedy and pathos: This is a cornball plot, and he lends it credibility just by being in it.”
  • Film critic A. O. Scott writing for The New York Times observed: “Mr. Willis stands by while a child swipes a movie out of his open palm … Spencer Breslin, Russ’s tubby, cute-but-annoying almost-8-year-old self.”

Legacy: For his role in the movie, at the 22nd Young Artist Awards presented by the Young Artist Association Spencer Breslin won the 2000 Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film by a Young Actor Age Ten or Under. He was also nominated for the 2001 Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor awarded by Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, and the 2000 YoungStar Award for Best Young Actor in a Comedy Film, presented by The Hollywood Reporter.

My take: I liked this better than I thought I would.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: jumping ahead for a Christmas movie The Nutcracker and the Four Realms