Directed by William Dear
Written by Dorothy Kingsley & George Wells and Holly Goldberg Sloan
I can’t really say that I am surprised Disney tried their hand at the baseball movie gig since it seemed like a hot commodity in the early to mid nineties, especially among the younger crowd with the likes of The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, and Little Big League preceding Disney’s remake of the 1951 classic Angles in the Outfield, which was reviewed as part of this marathon. I’m also not surprised that would be the film Disney would decide to remake, as it is the most family friendly of the earlier fare, which seems a little odd there weren’t more such options prior to the 90s. There was of course also Safe at Home! and The Kid from Left Field, but the former would likely require two MLB superstars and the later was already remade as a TV Movie starring Gary Coleman in 1979. Even odder still, perhaps, is that Disney managed to sign the screenwriters of the original film to write the same for the 1994 version. Surprising that Kingsley and Wells were both still alive and working in order to refresh their 40 year old story.
As a result, some of the core aspects of the original story remain intact, but the two movies really do not resemble each other very much at all. Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his mother at a young age, and now his father (Dermot Mulroney) has discarded him to be a ward of the state of California, despite a promise they’d be a family again if the Angels won the pennant. After praying for such a miracle, Roger begins to see angels, led by Al (Christopher Lloyd) helping the baseball team Angels make miraculous plays and win games. The team’s manager, a hotheaded George Knox (Danny Glover) begins to warm to Roger, seeing him as a good luck charm for the team and allowing him to stay in the good graces of the teams owner Hank (Ben Johnson). But when the season begins to come down to the last few, the team must find it within themselves to believe.
I think the first thing that immediately stands out about this film looking back is the cast. It is pretty remarkable considering Joseph Gordon-Levitt is now a star, and the film features future Best Actor Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Adrien Brody in impossibly small roles. Add to these another Oscar winner Brenda Fricker, who is truly an under appreciated actress, whose turn here is just as compassionate and heart felt as everything else I’ve ever seen her in. Then Ben Johnson, whose fame came from an earlier era, but still compliments the contemporary stars Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) Tony Danza (Who’s the Boss?) just as well. And finally, wonderful character actor Taylor Negron pops up as well. Unfortunately, despite the great cast the story can’t seem but lag behind the talent put forth to deliver it.
Coming off of Little Big League, it is a little more than disappointing to see how poor the baseball action is here, which is perhaps the worst among the films thus far, despite the angelic help. Even the dramatic championship game finale was a bit of let down from a cinematic standpoint, lacking any real drama or earned stakes. What keeps the film afloat, even after a rocky start, is the central message of the film, which is delivered so poignantly by Fricker’s Maggie at a press conference. After this scene, things get better, but the mostly wasted cast and paint by numbers Disney story really drag the film down, keeping it from contending with the other greats from this marathon.
The religious aspect of the film is an interesting inclusion, but it never really gains a foothold, especially when compared to the moral tale told by the original 1951 film. There is a character arc there, which is followed throughout the film. Here, the arc is that of the team. Sure, we have the pennant for root for for Roger, but his father is portrayed in such a manner as there is no reason to believe he will be a man of his word and start the family again if the Angels really do win the pennant. So in reevaluation, there is nothing special about Angels in the Outfield, though it is certainly not without its charm and moments. Nostalgia will likely remember the film better in my own mind, but it’s also okay for a film such as that to not be better than average, which is exactly what this film is.