Endearing & Underrated: The Rocketeer

It’s my pleasure to welcome Josh Spiegel from one of my favorite podcasts, Mousterpiece Cinema, to This Happy Place. Since November, I’ve been an avid listener to his podcast where he offers his opinion (and film knowledge) on various Disney films. Since then, Mousterpiece Cinema has grown to include two alternating co-hosts. As a person who loves to watch movies and doesn’t necessarily know a lot about them, it’s refreshing to hear such a smart podcast that is easy to follow and funny, too. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t!

Nostalgia is something I’ve never really responded to. Many of my peers, people who were born in the early- to mid-1980s, have more residual love for movies and TV shows that defined their childhoods than I have for most movies and TV shows I see in the present. I’m not sure how to explain this quirk—I know I’m in the minority. But the love some people have for movies like The Goonies or The Breakfast Club is something I’ve never felt. My nostalgia is reserved for a few films, either those that everyone loves (such as Back to the Future, because who doesn’t love that?) or those that never got a fair shake, like Walt Disney Pictures’ most underrated film, The Rocketeer.

The Rocketeer is a poster boy for the “Great idea, wrong time” cliché. These days, the idea of a not-entirely-familiar comic-book hero becoming the lead of a massively popular film franchise isn’t so surprising. Just think of how Iron Man has become the anchor of the Marvel movie universe despite previously not being as well-known as other superheroes. And such a hero having his origin based in the World War II era isn’t so unique, considering the recent success of Captain America: The First Avenger. But The Rocketeer had the misfortune of opening in the middle of a packed summer with films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves hovering over it like blockbuster-shaped zeppelins ready to strike. So a planned series failed, and all we have is The Rocketeer.

Sure, I’m sad we haven’t revisited the world of Cliff Secord, a pilot who stumbles upon a small rocket pack that enables him to fly and fend off Nazis and mobsters who want said pack. But we do have The Rocketeer to gush over, and what a film it is. Rooted heavily in an idealized vision of Los Angeles (similar to what you can find in the Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard sections of Disney’s Hollywood Studios), The Rocketeer manages to deftly honor its period without feeling overly slavish to details. The actors, including a young and luminous Jennifer Connelly, are so well-cast and earnest, sincerely moving through the rousing story, with nary a winking gesture to the audience.

the rocketeer

One of the reasons The Rocketeer still has a special place in my heart after over 20 years is that I saw it at exactly the right time, the summer before I turned 7. Though the film has scary moments and some violence, I was enthralled by the same kind of adventure storytelling on display in the Indiana Jones trilogy. Some critics weren’t as in love, precisely because the similarities were too hard to ignore. When I covered The Rocketeer on my Disney movie podcast, Mousterpiece Cinema, I was concerned I’d end up questioning what was wrong with my 7-year old self. But from the opening credits, with James Horner’s stirring score on the speakers, I felt like a kid again. Watching Cliff and his mechanic, Peevy, banter, watching Cliff yearn for his best girl, Jenny, and watching Cliff duel the Errol Flynn-esque Neville Sinclair…the memories were rushing back. It’s so gratifying to revisit a film from your youth and find out you weren’t nuts for loving it.

Thankfully, The Rocketeer is now on Blu-ray; despite having no special features, it looks marvelous and is worth the 20 bucks. The film has a dedicated group of fans, but it’s never gotten its due in the court of public opinion. So, for those of you who didn’t see the film when it was released, you can check it out and get swept away, with or without any nostalgia, by a movie that legitimately fits the phrase “Boy, they sure don’t make movies like that anymore.”


2 thoughts on “Endearing & Underrated: The Rocketeer

  1. Excellent points, Josh. Can you recall any other summer that had 3 blockbusters as spectacular as T2, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, AND The Rocketeer? And I think one of the greatest things about The Rocketeer, in this case, is that it has basically flown under the radar (haha) and Disney never felt the need to exploit it with cheap sequels or lousy tie-ins (although the NES game based on the film was frustratingly hard, I still kinda loved it).

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