Policy in this column has long been “if it isn’t released by Disney, it doesn’t count.” I’ve gone for merchandising stuff a few times. Obviously stuff from inside the park. But if its official studio of release doesn’t have Disney in the name, I don’t cover it. Even post-acquisition Pixar or what have you. But let’s talk a minute here about how that all got started, because until 1984, there were no subsidiary companies. The idea that they might acquire other companies was shocking. Disney in one incarnation or another was over sixty years old before Touchstone Pictures released its first film, Splash.
The movie itself is, quite frankly, an adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” As a boy, Allen Bauer (David Kreps) fell off a sight-seeing boat. He met a mermaid (Shayla Mackarvich), was able to breathe underwater, and was considering going off with her when he was rescued and returned to his family. Twenty years later, he is Tom Hanks. His brother, Freddie, is now John Candy. They own a produce company together. Allen is unhappy and is unable to sustain relationships with women. He returns to Cape Cod, falls off a boat again, and is seen by the same mermaid, now Daryl Hannah. She then comes to New York to find him.
Honestly, it’s not a movie I like that much.For one thing, I can’t stand Freddie. He’s the sort of ’80s comedy sex-obsessed creep that can ruin a movie I otherwise like, and I don’t like this movie all that much going in. John Candy seems to have played a lot of those roles. I don’t think it’s funny that he’s trying to see up women’s dresses; I think it’s creepy and gross. I think someone should’ve told him that in 1964 instead of just accepting that it’s how he was. Yes, I’m aware that wasn’t going to happen, but surely even in the ’60s, there were some people who didn’t want their child growing up to be an obvious sex offender.
What’s more, I think that the movie glosses over its most interesting aspect—Allen’s connection with the ocean. Remember, this is a child who learns he can breathe underwater and manages to grow up terrified of water. Why? What happened there? Is it the presence of mermaids that allows him to do it? Is it innate in him? What’s the deal there? The movie gives us no answers, does not even seem to realize it’s asking the questions.
Still, the important thing about the movie is that it’s Touchstone. The first Touchstone. The studio is apparently considered defunct now, but it was a response to the failure of Disney’s PG-rated efforts. In the ’80s, Disney had suffered through the failure of such disparate films as Tron and Never Cry Wolf. It was decided that Disney was suffering from association with failures and that more adult content was suffering from being associated with the Disney name. So Touchstone, and to a lesser extent Hollywood Pictures, was the obvious solution.
In fact both studios released some solid stuff over the years. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, of course, but six Touchstone movies have received Oscar nominations for Best Picture. For some reason, no one wants to let me know how many Disney movies have, but if I haven’t missed any in the Disney database, only two Disney movies have—Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast. (I told you we count Pixar separately around here.) And, okay, I hated The Help. But Lincoln?
And even if you aren’t looking at prestige pictures, let’s continue Unofficial Val Kilmer Week here at The Solute by mentioning that Tombstone was a Hollywood Pictures release, which is what it was doing in the display I’ve mentioned a time or two about the history of Disney Westerns. It’s hard to imagine the film as an official Disney release, but it is part of the broader category. I used to have the poster on my wall for years, and I distinctly remember that logo.
What appears to have ended up killing Touchstone was the success of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was able to be a success with the Disney name. And arguably it couldn’t have been released without it, what with its tie-in to the theme parks and all. But it proved that you could have a successful film with the Disney name on it despite not being for kids. (Never mind how many parents don’t seem to realize that; “it’s not for kids” knows no studio limits.) Basically, Touchstone just wasn’t needed anymore.
The movie itself wasn’t ever really the point. What we were basically looking at was a test of concept. Sure, it was successful—the tenth-highest grossing film of the year. But it didn’t need to do that well to prove its point. And it is also one of the places where I disagree with Roger—though for different reasons. He didn’t like it because he thought John Candy should’ve been the lover. So yeah. Even without his support, though, a lot of people sure did like the movie. Splash opened a door. It just wasn’t the best thing on the other side.