We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Planet Druidia is doomed unless the heroic Lone Starr can save it from evil Dark Helmet. Sci-fi farce starring Bill Pullman, Rick Moranis and John Candy, written, directed and produced by Mel Brooks
Like many parents, Mel Brooks was outraged by the amount of money he had to spend on Star Wars merchandising. But while the rest of the world's adults simply tutted as they reached for their wallets, Brooks decided not to get mad but to get even.
Spaceballs is Brooks's send-up of those films set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In the canon of his movie spoofs, however, it ranks well below Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein but is far superior to Robin Hood: Men In Tights and Dracula: Dead And Loving It.
Bill Pullman, in his second feature film role, plays Lone Starr, a roguish space pilot who's hired to rescue the beautiful Princess Vespa (Zuniga) of the planet Druidia after she's kidnapped by Skroob (Brooks), president of planet Spaceball. Starr's adventure involves some strange allies, including a huge man-dog called Barf (Candy) and a female robot named Dot Matrix (performed by Yarnell and voiced by Rivers). But as Starr and friends try and save the day, Dark Helmet (Moranis), a tyrant who would take over the world if he could see through his visor, heads to Druidia to collect an unusual ransom - the planet's air supply.
If Spaceballs has a weakness, it's that Brooks doesn't seem as attached to space operas as he is to westerns or Universal horror films. Being in his fifties at the time of shooting (10 years after the release of Star Wars itself), you could say that that's exactly how it should be. However, it's an odd thing for a writer-director to parody a genre when he doesn't really connect with it - you get the impression the gags about Alien and Planet Of The Apes were thrown in simply to pad out the script. What's more, Brooks' ambivalent feelings towards Star Wars rob Spaceballs of the affection that was so evident in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
But with a sharp mind and some great comic actors to hand, Brooks manages to have plenty of fun at George Lucas' expense. The exploitation of children is especially well parodied, with Brooks doing a sterling job as Yogurt, the ancient master of merchandising, who sees nothing wrong with selling kids flame-throwers. As for his co-stars they take great delight in sending up the foibles of the Star Wars cast with Bill Pullman having a fine stab at Harrison Ford-style stoicism. John Candy, meanwhile, reminds us what a loss he is to the business and Rick Moranis proves that, contrary to popular belief, he can be quite good sometimes.
Of course, with a bigger budget, Brooks would have been able to take pot-shots at Lucas' obsession with special effects. But given the financial limitations and the director's lack of empathy with the subject matter, Spaceballs scores some decent hits on its Death Star-sized target - it's just a shame some of them just impact upon the surface.
It's not vintage Brooks, but Spaceballs is far from gag-free. The jokes about the more calculating aspects of George Lucas's franchise are particularly telling. Remember, the Schwartz will be with you always.
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