April 28, 2011

Where is "The Rocketeer"?

In 1991 Walt Disney Pictures released what they had hoped would be a summer blockbuster live-action film - “The Rocketeer.” And in the tradition of “Swiss Family Robinson”, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Treasure Island,” “The Rocketeer” was a family-friendly, effects-filled, period adventure story.

Unfortunately for the studio and the fans alike, “The Rocketeer” didn’t live up to its potential as a moneymaker or a franchise launcher. There are legions of us that are fans of this film and hold it in much higher regard than the studio that produced it. But unlike “Tron” the adventures of Cliff Secord have yet to be revisited with a sequel, Blu-ray release, or even a Special Edition DVD.

And speaking of which, hey Disney, we are closing in on the 20th anniversary of “The Rocketeer,” this may have been a good time to roll out that DVD upgrade, don’t you think? (You can read my previous post on a DVD Special Edition HERE.) Except for 1999’s less than glorious DVD release our intrepid hero has remained locked in the vault, perhaps punishment for its initial lackluster performance?

In the summer of ’91 Disney did their best to make the most of their promotional opportunity. There were all sorts of marketing devices including a Pizza Hut tie-in, Nintendo and PC games, 3D Comics, magazines, lunch boxes and trading cards.

At Walt Disney World’s Disney/MGM Studios they rolled out all sorts of goodies including props from the movie and setting up a frozen drink stand named for Alan Arkin’s character Peevy: Peevy's Polar Pipeline.

But the film failed to capture the imagination of that summers’ movie going audience, and for more that one reason...

“A rocket?” “Yeah. Like in the comic books."
One of the factors contributing to The Rocketeer’s soft performance at the box office was the hero’s lack of more mainstream exposure.

Created in 1981 by artist Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer first appeared as a backup story for two issues of Starslayer at Pacific Comics. Compared to other comic properties like "Superman" (1978), "Batman" (1989) and even Disney’s own "Dick Tracy" (1990), "The Rocketeer" wasn’t exactly part of the public conscience.

“Its all part of the show.”
1991 saw the release of some big-budget action films that possessed a darker vibe and more bloody, bone cracking violence than the cheerful, wholesome, light weight Rocketeer. Thanks to movies like “Die Hard” (1988) and “Batman” we were ready for our heroes to be a little darker, a little more violent, and a little less wholesome.

When the “The Rocketeer” was released it had plenty of competition. This was the summer of F/X2, Stone Cold, Backdraft, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Point Break, Double Impact, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, and the box office champ Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

As much as I love “The Rocketeer,” it looks like it was produced a decade earlier when compared side by side with T2. Watch them both, and marvel at how cutting edge the effects and action are in T2 and then wonder at the simple (sometimes poorly executed) effects in “The Rocketeer,” and Disney had help from ILM!

“The Rock-a-who?”
Produced for about $40 million, “The Rocketeer” made just over $46 million in the US, prompting Disney to declare it a box office bomb. Of course it didn’t help that the movie was only released at 1,616 theaters compared to T2’s 2,274 and Robin Hood’s 3,175.

This perceived failure was cause enough for Disney to abandon any plans of creating sequels or further expanding the Rocketeer brand. Both Bill Campbell (Cliff Secord) and Jennifer Connelly (Jenny Blake) were contracted for sequels. Campbell signed for two more pictures and Connelly for one.

So where is “The Rocketeer”? Well, he’s in a lot of places, like Walt Disney World, eBay, IDW comics and ALL OVER the interweb.

Type ‘the rocketeer’ into Google and you’ll get About 415,000 results. Ebay? 418 results. At WDW you can find The Rocketeer at Hollywood Studios and in Planet Hollywood. And IDW comics published The Complete Rocketeer by Dave Stevens, collecting the classic series in its entirety in 2010 and are working on a NEW The Rocketeer mini-series.

Okay Dis, what’s the deal? Is there any chance that you’ll get back onboard the Rocketeer bandwagon? Even my non-Imagineer brain can come up with about a half dozen live shows, rides and motion picture/television projects for you to tackle.

But gosh darn it and gee whiz, please start with dusting off this classic and polishing it up for the home entertainment market!

[UPDATE] After I finished writing the above, I read online that Disney is going to host a 20th Anniversary screening of the film at the El Capitan theater in L.A., this will be followed by a Q&A session with cast and crew members. Does that mean they’re patching things up with Joe Johnston and maybe, seriously, going to give a little TLC to our favorite flyboy? Read about it at Hero Complex.


  1. GREAT TRIBUTE!!! "Oh, it's all part of the show." LOL!!

    I SERIOUSLY wish Disney needs to get off it's mouse-ass and put out a proper anniversary edition NOW! What better time (20 years) and tie-in ("Captain America"'s director) could there be?!!

  2. Thanks!
    The more I think about it the more I really do think that we'll see the Blu-ray release when Cap comes out on DVD in the fall.