Posted on Saturday, July 30th, 2011 by Germain Lussier
As a young lad, Flight of the Navigator was one of my favorite movies. Its adventurous tale of time travel, world travel and space travel all through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy was undeniably entertaining and as the years wore on, my fondness for the film only grew. To be honest, I don’t remember the first time I saw the movie. Chances are it happened on VHS or on The Wonderful World of Disney as the film was a box office bomb, opening at #9 and grossing only $18.5 million total. Watching the tale of Davey and Max, an odd couple in the middle of a massive mystery, a quarter century after its release only cemented the fact that director Randal Kleiser made a classic movie back in 1986. One that still hold up on this, its silver anniversary.
A few things immediately stand out when you pop in a copy of Flight of the Navigator in 2011. The biggest one is that Davey (played by Joey Cramer) doesn’t actually get into the ship until halfway through the movie. From a screenwriting perspective, that means Michael Burton and Matt MacManus did a hell of a job setting up an intriguing conceit that could keep kids entertained for 45 minutes before the real fun kicked in.
Second, there are so many things about the movie that couldn’t happen now. Kids use the word “retarded,” adults point guns at kids, and kids are forcefully kept from their families. America was a little less sensitive about every little thing back in 1986 so these incidents didn’t really matter. They were just part of the story. An after-thought. But now, looking back, it’s upsetting to think that this movie, if it were remade, would be even tamer than it already is.
Still, the movie has actually dated pretty well in its 25 years. Sure the computers are archaic and the cell phones are big. Plus the last third of the movie could have been instantly resolved if the alien ship with “superior” intelligence and technology had Google Maps or any kind of rudimentary GPS. Other than that, though, the story of a boy misplaced in time and the physics of how it happened, as well as the emotions surrounding it, all ring true.
Even today you’re still fascinated by the mystery of what happened to Davey. Still feel his pain as to the strange new world he comes back to. And still feel nice for the brotherly bond he still shares with Jeff. These things – the core of the movie – all still work. A younger person today probably wouldn’t bask glorious nostalgia of the Pee Wee voice, McDonald’s jokes and MTV references. But the early CG effects still look pretty damn good and it’s hard not to relate to a boy scared to talk to a girl.
Looking at Flight of the Navigator through modern eyes, it’s almost impossible to not think of a sequel. It would have been so easy. What happens in eight years time when Davey’s other self meets a younger self that ended up going to Phalon on the ship? The idea seems like a slam dunk. But – in 1986, Disney wasn’t too concerned with sequalizing films that only became part of the public conscious when they hit the home market. They were too worried about rejuvenating the animation division. A decision that worked out pretty well for them. Still, it’s fun to dream.
And it’s incredible to think even though the film didn’t immediately connect with audiences, 25 years years later, Flight of the Navigator has aged gracefully. The little boy in me still bursts with excitement when I see all the new G.I. Joes and Transformers that NASA has bought for Davey. My hearts still races when the ship morphs into a bullet and I still get choked up when Davey realizes he has to leave the older version of his family. All the things Disney hoped would work in the film, did, and still do. Flight of the Navigator was, and remains, a great movie.