(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

Back in 1986, ABC used to air a Disney movie every Sunday night as part of the, you guessed it, The Disney Sunday Movie programming block. It was hosted by none other than Michael Eisner, the recently hired CEO of The Walt Disney Company (who was still riding high and decades away from his bitter downfall). This wonderfully weird show gave us some of the most bizarre films Disney ever produced. And thanks to Disney+, you can watch them right now.

This week, we’re looking at the horrifying and bonkers film Fuzzbucket.

The Pitch

It’s May of 1986. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. had become one of the the biggest movies ever just four years prior.  NBC is just three months away from unleashing ALF on humanity. Clearly influenced by the former, but probably heavily inspired by beating the latter, Disney produced its own made-for-TV movie about a kid and his weird creature friend who doesn’t look like it comes from this world. The result: Fuzzbucket.

Apparently a failed TV pilot before it became a TV movie, Fuzzbucket is the story of Michael Gerber (Chris Hebert), a young boy with an overactive imagination and an invisible friend called – you guessed it – Fuzzbucket (Phil Fondacaro). His parents (Joe Regalbuto and Wendy Phillips) are constantly fighting, his sister (Robyn Lively) keeps belittling him, he’s about to start Junior High, and no one believes that Fuzzbucket is real. One day, Michael cooks up a strange green drink for his friend and it turns Fuzzbucket visible again. Now Michael has to help get Fuzzbucket back home before he turns invisible again, only this time it might be forever.

The Movie

Right out of the bat, the incredible number of unanswered questions raised by Fuzzbucket add to the idea that this was meant to be a pilot for a TV show. For once, we never find out why the titular Fuzzbucket is invisible, or why he would turn invisible if he doesn’t return to his home, which is just in the outskirts of town in the swamps of Dead Man’s Marsh. And even if we actually get to see Fuzzbucket, no one outside of Michael can see him, so as far as everyone else in the movie is concerned, this kid is still just talking to an imaginary friend.

Fuzzbucket also makes the baffling decision to not show the titular creature until more than halfway through its 46-minute runtime (perhaps building towards a cliffhanger in a two-part pilot). Most of the film then deals with the sad, tragic life of Michael and how he keeps trying to convince naysayers that his friend is invisible, not imaginary.

Once Michael serves a weird green drink to his friend, the movie enters an entirely different plane of existence. Writer-director Mick Garris shows his fondness for the grotesque as he decides not to reveal Fuzzbucket just appearing before Michael’s eyes, but instead show it slowly come to form – from skeleton, to blood and muscles, to his horrifying rat-tail and possum-like snout and hairy beer belly. E.T. isn’t exactly Baby Yoda when it comes to good looks, but there’s at least something appealing about his design. It is baffling that someone took a look at a possum and thought “Just make it look slightly more humanoid and kids will love it!”

And that’s where the best and weirdest aspect of Fuzzbucket comes from: the weird balance between a bizarre and nightmare-inducing creature with the warm, fuzzy feeling that Fuzzbucket’s friendship with Michael is supposed to evoke. Fuzzbucket doesn’t end up teaching Michael anything at all. He still doesn’t have any friends and everyone still thinks he’s imagining things. But Fuzzbucket does fix some of the other characters’ problems while leaving major threads unresolved, which is both baffling and fascinating. This might just be a case of this being a pilot for a TV show transformed into a film. It should be said that Phil Fondacaro does a great job as Fuzzbucket, trying to make the creature’s weird speech sound cute, even if he still looks like a possum hugging a kid. 

Also weird: we discover Fuzzbucket has a family he must go home to, just like in E.T., with the difference being that we actually see the other fuzzbuckets. Yes, Michael keeps calling his friend Fuzzbucket, but Fuzzbucket calls his family fuzzbucket, so do they even have identities? Or are they more of a hive mind? If fuzzbucket is the name of the species, what’s its name? And why can’t any of the other fuzzbucket speak? What is up with the rules of becoming invisible?

We never find out, sadly, which only helps add to the mystery and the mythology of this weird little film. 

The Legacy

Fuzzbucket sadly didn’t become a TV show, but it is easy to see how the concept would work in an episodic format once the family all came to know the fuzzbuckets and Michael finally got to present his invisible friend to his schoolmates. Even if Fuzzbucket didn’t go forward, the concept of a kid becoming friends with a weird hairy creature would live on thanks to ALF. 

Writer-director Mark Garris would go on to direct the TV adaptations of both The Shining and The Stand, but he may be more known for writing the script for Disney’s Hocus Pocus.

The weirdest name listed in the credits for Fuzzbucket is executive producer John Landis, who somehow had the time to produce and release this film in the middle of his trial for the deaths of Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese child actors on the set of the Twilight Zone movie. Of course, Landis would go on to direct Coming to America in 1988.

With every ‘80s property getting a reboot in 2019, how long until we finally get the Fuzzbucket revival we so desperately need? Disney already made rats cook with Ratatouille, so why not try giant hairy possums?

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