thatcow

Good-natured but thin

Bullwhip Griffin is a fine example of what a traditional Disney movie is all about. And I find myself wondering how many people still care about the Disney tradition.

Our story starts at the reading of a will. The servants get increasing princely sums, with the remainder going to the two children - an adult daughter, and young son. Then the executor announces that there isn't actually any money left to handout and the stately family manor's foreclosure has only been delayed by the goodwill of the bank.

Young son Jack has already been obsessed with the California gold rush, having been pumped up by the equivalent of tabloid tales. With the new circumstances, he runs off, seeking his own fortune, but also meaning to lessen the burden on his now bankrupt sister. This rash decision is not well received at the household, and the butler, Griffin, rushes off to stop Jack, who has gone down to the docks to stowaway aboard a ship headed to San Francisco. Griffin is so clearly an honorable gentleman, he is able to talk himself on board to retrieve the boy. However, another, older stowaway knocks out Griffin, thinking he is a member of the crew trying to roust him personally. Thus Griffin and Jack are aboard when the ship sets sail. Upon waking, Griffin finds the captain and explains the situation, but the pair are plainly on board without permission and are pressed into service. Griffin accepts this honorably, and places himself in the kitchen through his superior domestic skills, and uses Jack as a helper. During the trip, the two meet and decide to join forces with a man who has a map to the "mother lode".

Meanwhile, the villain of the film, Judge Higgins (who isn't really a judge), is riding along via a stolen ticket. As they arrive in San Francisco, he steals the map, and for the rest of the film there's a chase on, one way or another, between these folks.

Griffin is clearly the untarnishable hero - a man of such principle, there can be no doubt his solution will happen to work, simply by his own virtue. He shows an astonishing skill in every situation he finds himself in - which number quite a few as the plot twists a surprising number of times.

Jack is the one we're supposed to identify with - mainly as the film is clearly aimed at children. He's well meaning, but rash and in need of Griffin's stabilizing influence. That's about as deep as Jack goes, though.

Higgins is the opposite of Griffin, greedy and unscrupulous. He's a good foil for Griffin, but again, that's about all.

So that Disney tradition I was talking about? The film is built entirely upon adventure and an almost too easy sense of morality. On a more specific level, there's also some annoyingly superfluous, animated, musical interludes, plus some bad, perhaps intentionally bad on occasion, special effects. Disney has improved in the effects and music department, but these are the basic building blocks they still use.

Despite a good plot for this sort of film, I didn't quite get the sense of wonder that would make the film work. Perhaps in 1967 the old west remained a fascinating world. Basically, I find this to be a formula movie that might be well made, but doesn't quite deliver.

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