The promise of Disney+ was the end of the Vault. “It will have everything,” they told us. Now, some of us were skeptics. “It’s not just Song of the South,” we said, “which they likely won’t have. The real question is, what about The Wonderful World of Disney? What about ‘Family Planning‘? What about all those mid-century movies?” We weren’t wrong, of course. Worse, though, some things that had been on the service on day one have been removed. Which we were explicitly told would not happen. The Barefoot Executive, while one of Disney’s worst movies, still should not have been wiped from the service.
Steven Post (Kurt Russell) works in the mail room of fictional TV network UBC. His girlfriend, Jennifer Scott (Heather North), has taken over a chimp owned by former neighbours, like you do. The chimp, Raffles, turns out to be able to unerringly predict the tastes of the viewing audience. Steven sneaks Raffles into the network offices and show him programming that hasn’t aired yet; Raffles likes a movie the executives aren’t planning to air. Steven gets it aired anyway, and it’s a huge hit. By taking credit for what Raffles predicts, Steven becomes a vice president—to the anger and dismay of the network’s other executives.
Eventually, people figure out that Raffles is the one with the ability, and hilarity of a sort ensues. E. J. Crampton (Harry Morgan) and Francis X. Wilbanks (Joe Flynn) in particular are determined to undermine young Steve. They are the ones who find out about Raffles, and they offer him a million dollars for the chimp, who they plan to release into the wild. Steve agrees to it, to the fury of Jennifer—who, let’s remember, is considered the chimp’s owner at this point. Still, it’s too late, and Raffles is on his way to the Amazon.
What? Yes. At least that’s what Wikipedia says. (And the Disney Wiki I sometimes use, which has the exact same plot description, word for word; which is lifted from which I cannot say. Maybe they were edited by the same person, though I’m inclined to doubt it.) Now, Jennifer’s not wrong that releasing a chimp directly into the wild is a Bad Idea if it’s been living with humans. But even if you’re going to do that, maybe try to release it in the right habitat in the right hemisphere? And they’re just going to parachute him down, which is a terrible idea regardless.
It is surprisingly impossible to find a list of all of Disney’s chimp movies. Worse, attempting to search for one provides lots of lists about monkeys. Which Merlin Jones repeatedly went out of his way to educate us on the differences between them and chimpanzees. Then again, Dean Jones made a Disney movie with chimps called Monkeys Go Home. Still, this seems late in the genre—five years after the terrible, sexist, and racist Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN, wherein there’s a space chimp. Four after the Dean Jones one. As for the Merlin Jones ones, they were even before that. Possibly the first was Toby Tyler. If any of you can remember any others, let me know.
Still, because it’s that late, I think it’s reasonable to expect the movie to know better about some things. For example that chimps are not cute housemates as they get older. Most movie chimps are adolescents; adults are big, strong, and scary. Because they’re wild animals and aren’t interested in human expectations. No, it’s not a good idea to release the chimp into the wild—especially not, and I cannot emphasize this enough, near the Amazon—and there are animal sanctuaries just for this purpose, but that doesn’t mean you’d want a full-grown chimpanzee around your apartment.
Enough about the chimp—what about Steve? He’s a jerk. He’s amazingly self-centered. Sure, he’s young and thrust into a position of great power, but it happens at least in part because . . . he’s a self-centered jerk. Arguably, he’s mistreating Jennifer, or at least taking her for granted, from the beginning. She is both an important part of the story and also completely unnecessary to the story, because she’s yet another girlfriend character in a Kurt Russell movie who hasn’t had any thought put into her at all. She’s “just kind of hooked,” though.
Steve actually goes so far as to steal Raffles, whom he hated before he figured out the chimp’s gift, and lie to Jennifer about it. She still stays with him, because he tells her he did it for her. Kurt Russell is a good enough actor to deliver this line believably, I guess, but he sure doesn’t here, and maybe it’s because he doesn’t believe it himself. Or because we’re not meant to believe it, because Steve—even if he believes it himself—didn’t think of Jennifer at all when he made the choices he did.
All in all, a pretty lousy movie. Not as bad as Scandalous John, but still not great. Is that a good reason to wipe it from Disney+? No. No, it is not. (You will note it doesn’t bother me that Scandalous John isn’t there, at least not particularly.) We were promised that nothing would be removed from the service. We were promised that all the movies would be there, and quite obviously they are not. Worse, I think they’ve changed collections around so that it’s harder to tell what’s missing.
Maybe the folks at Disney think no one will notice when things like this are gone from the service, and that’s not true. What’s more, I’m afraid that the lack of notice when the bad movies from this era have been removed will lead to the removal of the good movies. The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes is still there, but for how much longer? Four Kurt Russell movies are listed as being on Disney+—for some reason, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 does not appear when you search his name. Six Disney films of his are missing—seven, if you count Tombstone. I have no way of knowing how many were there on Day One, because Disney doesn’t mention taking things off.
The movie also features John Ritter in his first film role. He plays the suck-up nephew of Joe Flynn’s whiny executive. It is a thankless role, and Ritter does what he can with it. He’s also the rival for Jennifer’s affections, which you know is going to end poorly. You wouldn’t expect him to make the career he did from this role. I don’t think Jennifer’s well suited for him, but mostly I want her to be on her own without either Roger or Steve.
I wrote most of this without having rewatched it, because it made me so angry that it had been removed from the service. I refused to spend money on it, and it took a while to gain access to a copy. Disney promised us something, and they did not keep their promise. Now, maybe not a lot of people are watching The Barefoot Executive. I’m certainly not suggesting that they should. But they should be able to.