Escape To Grizzly Mountain

Director: Anthony Dalesandro            
Dan Haggerty, Miles O'Keeffe, Jan-Michael Vincent

Sure, go ahead and make fun of movie producer Menahem Golan. Freely mock him for teaming up with his cousin Yoram Globus and making a mess of incredibly schlocky movies in the '80s, including Hot Chili, America 3000, and The Apple. But remember this: Menahem Golan is human, just like us, and each time we badmouth him a little piece of his heart dies. Especially since practically all people focus on the schlocky side of his personality and ignore his sensitive side. You might not know it, but there's a part of Golan that aims to make a difference in the film world. Yes, one can see a vision of good taste and high art by some of the movies he's produced, such as Mack The Knife, Hanna's War, Dancers, King Lear, Tough Guys Don't Dance... uh, forget about all those movies. (I still hold hope that the reason his version of Crime And Punishment has been shelved for five years because he is waiting for the audience to become mature enough to appreciate it.)

Okay then... the way then to see Golan has a sensitive and responsible side to his personality is with the family movies he's produced. Before getting into them, here's a little-known fact: did you know that before All together now: AWWWWWWWWWW......becoming a film producer, Menahem Golan ran a children's movie theater in Israel? (Considering the way he keeps portraying Arabs in his movies, I'd bet he specially "reserved" the seats in the balcony.) In interviews, Golan has expressed his fondness back then of screening captivating family movies like The Wizard Of Oz. So it shouldn't be a surprise that in his producing career, Golan has made a number of his own family movies. Proof of his eye for making classic family entertainment can be seen in family movies he's produced like Going Bananas, Invaders From Mars, the Cannon Movie Tales series that made feature-length movies of classic family tales (all of which seemed to recycle the same castle set)... uh, okay, they are all bad examples as well. Though it's only fair to admit Golan has indeed had a few artistic successes in his career, I think it can be agreed upon that his batting average when it comes to making more thoughtful movies is about the same as when it comes to making movies of a more exploitive nature. His new and recently founded company - New Cannon - promises more of the same, and you can check out its poorly-designed web site here.

Until recently, for the past few years Golan hasn't made that many movies, so it was almost a kind of big event when he managed to scrape enough together to make one more. Escape To Grizzly Mountain is one of his more recent efforts, and I admit that I kind of had high hopes for it. Not that I thought it would be good, mind you, but that it would be another disastrous effort that could hold it's head down in shame next to most of the other thoughtful movies he's produced, and would be of interest to those knowledgeable of the man and his movies. And studying the video box at the rental store, it had additional ingredients that seemed to gleefully spell its doom - that is, the cast. Reading the cast list, the star of the whole enterprise was former alcohol/drug addict Dan Haggerty, one of the listed co-stars was current alcohol/drug addict Jan-Michael Vincent, and to top it off, Miles O'Keeffe (Tarzan The Ape Man, the Ator series, and many other schlocky B movies) also was listed. And as you might have guessed, this particular effort of Golan's is another family movie. A recipe for disaster, so plunked down the rental fee, and took it home to watch, rubbing my hands with glee in anticipation of watching a great disaster in front of my eyes. But imagine my disappointment to find out that it was - well, not awfully great, or even greatly awful - but that it was routinely mediocre. To tell the truth, I almost wish it had been mind-boggling awful like Going Bananas -  it would at least given me the opportunity to pull out my knife and gleefully hack it to pieces.

Still, there are some choice moments here and there, and you can bet that I'll skewer and hold them up for you to see as I dissect this movie. One such moment Don't worry - that *is* coffee in his mughappens right at the beginning, where an onscreen disclaimer (obviously added at the last minute) states, "This motion picture is not related in any way with the Grizzly Adams TV series or movies, or the Grizzly Adams character portrayed therein." Nice of them to admit that, though it would probably have been more beneficial to those expecting a Grizzly Adams movie had this message been written on the video box itself. Still, when the movie opens in Oregon 1841, everything seems the same - Haggerty may be playing a character named Jeremiah, but once again he's a quasi-hermit living deep in God's country, friendly with the local Indian tribe and with all the animals in the forest. "Beautiful when they're free," he sighs a la Adams when he frees a baby deer from Jan-Michael Vincent's (surprisingly unsharp) bear trap, and further states his philosophies when a grumpy Vincent (looking like he was just dragged out of the gutter he currently lies in seconds before shooting started) comes by with his gun. "All nature's creatures are worth something," Jeremiah explains, though we do find out later that the worth he considers prairie dogs is as part of a stew. And like Adams, Jeremiah is especially friendly with a big cuddly grizzly bear, in this case one named Jack (not played by the cuddly Danny DeVito, by the way.)

After this expected setup, it's then the expected part of the movie where the central child(ren) figure(s) will then be introduced to the audience. Though in a curious twist, the child in this case is not a pioneer child, but is actually from modern times. Jimmy (Miko Hughes) is a child who lives in the same valley more than 150 years later. Lonely, with a virtually non-existent home life, he knows that all his social rejection and awkwardness would be instantly solved if he could just have a dog of his own, but of course he's not allowed to have one - he's told that the family (what's left of it, anyway) can't afford a dog, possibly due to the fact that all the household income goes into paying rent for that pretty sweet apartment Jimmy lives in. Anyway, desperate to be accepted by his backwards-cap skateboard idiot peers, Jimmy one day agrees to join them in their plan to sneak into the just-arrived-in-town circus. (In an age of Grand Theft Auto 3, do kids bother sneaking into the circus anymore?) While wandering around the Big Top, Jimmy finds a cage that houses the circus' newest member - a cute baby bear that was recently orphaned. Horrified by how circus owner "Aunt Molly" (Cynthia Palmer) abuses the bear ("I know how to break little bears!"), Jimmy quickly is determined to spring the bear and take it to a safe place. But where? Well, the circus' token kindly Native American animal feeder (Nik Winterhawk) tells of a cave in a nearby mountain where those with a "pure heart" can go in to travel to another time. Not thinking that possibly he and the bear could end up in a time filled with Morlocks, Jimmy springs the bear, heads to the cave and...

I really don't think I have to go on giving a detailed plot description of Escape To Grizzly Mountain. By now, I am sure you have seen how painfully predictable the whole enterprise has been to this point. "...and we call this a 'product plug'!"In movies like these there is always to be found the following: a child protagonist missing one or both of his parents (the latter in this case); a bully who gets around on a skateboard or roller skates; an evil cartoonish villain who is more talk than action, and has equally cartoonish henchmen; the assimilated yet still all-knowing Native American; and an innocent and abused creature that must be freed. Even though the movie tries to put a twist with the time-traveling element, you can easily predict how the rest of the movie will play out. Even before Jimmy travels back in time, you can guess that he'll bump into members of an especially friendly Native American tribe... that he'll be initially freaked out by the appearance of Jack The Bear... that there will be various "hilarious" misunderstandings when he tells Jeremiah stuff about the future... that circumstances will have Jeremiah traveling with Jimmy back to modern times... that Jimmy will show the best of modern civilization to Jeremiah (such as shopping malls and fast food)... that there will be a wild pursuit sequence with one of the vehicles being "wacky" (in this case, a golf cart)... and the equally inevitable scene that happens to all people in the past who travel to our time - in other words, getting thrown in jail. (At least the screenplay has the mercy to exclude the part where the authorities interview the time traveler and think he's crazy.)

Okay, maybe the people who made this movie weren't trying to make anything groundbreaking, and that they were just trying to give the audience what it expected and wanted. I can buy that in this particular case; even now there does seem to be something of a market for movies like this. But even then, did they really have to cop out and give all of this to the audience in the laziest way possible? Couldn't they have tried to sneak in some original thoughts whenever possible, so that the finished movie would have something for the audience to hang onto instead of it being immediately disposed of? Yes, you can have the villain be the owner of the circus, but why make her such a one-dimensional buffoon? Why not make her not totally evil, but instead as someone who, because of a limited viewpoint, honestly thinks that what they are doing is not wrong and they have every right to do so? Well, you won't find any characters with some complexity to them, because, to put it quite bluntly, the characters in Escape To Grizzly Mountain aren't allowed to have any distinct personalities. Take Jeremiah, when he travels to modern times. Sure, he is surprised that his beloved valley is now packed with houses, and he has to be told about airplanes, cars, and other modern inventions. But he never expresses what he actually thinks about everything he sees and encounters in this new world. Just what a man from the 19th century think of things in our world? This would be something that anyone would find of some interest - everyone, except apparently the people that made this movie.

As brainless and unimaginative as this movie gets, I'll admit that all the same it manages to generate a little charm, and it isn't actively painful to watch. While Haggerty O'Keeffe was used to having no messages from his agent - but not his female costarmay have a part that gives him very little to work with, he manages to give it some genuine warmth, and makes Jeremiah a very likable character all the same. You really do believe this is a man who genuinely loves living in the wilderness and the animals found in it, and he keeps you focused when he tells about finding this special valley and knowing he would spend the rest of his life there. The wilderness scenes are golden to the eye, and have been photographed in a nostalgic way that seems to emulate the wilderness movies of the 1970s. The bear (played by two cubs) is impossibly cute, and the constant close-up shots of it squeaking and rolling around never get tiring. Plus, I can't recall anything offensive (except maybe to the intelligence) to be found; no swearing, no sexual material, and no real violence (people shove each other instead of making fists.) So at the very least, the movie is safe for everyone to watch. As for if anyone would enjoy watching it, well, kids under 10 will probably find it agreeable enough. I don't know about you, but as for me, I'll stick with something with more substance, thank you.

UPDATE: Rori Stevens reminded me of a detail about the movie that slipped my mind:

"The subject of your latest review is actually a sequel to a 1997 film, simply called Grizzly Mountain. I remember hearing about it when it came out and played a few theatres in big cities. It uses the same time-travel device with some kids and Dan Haggerty plays the same character as well. Here's its IMDB listing:"

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Against A Crooked Sky, The Force On Thunder Mountain, White Wolves