For most people time is an arrow pointed in one direction. The though of traveling in time as easily as moving from one room to another has fascinated people for as long as people have told stories. Back in 1895 renowned science fiction and fantasy author wrote the definitive story of time travel aptly called ‘The Time Machine’. Most of the variations of this theme have been made more with the adult audience in mind. Now the innovative people over at Disney has come up with a fresh approach geared towards the ‘tween viewers’ "Minutemen’. Instead of having some learned scientist discover the age old secret of time travel here it is a group of high school students. As usual Disney provides a movie with characters readily identifiable to their target demographic built on a foundation of good, wholesome family entertainment. Disney has been doing this for so long they rarely miss in a film like this. You just have to understand and appreciate that this is a kids flick and try not to judge it with the same criteria as your would more adult faire. The main thing here is the film succeeds in what it set out to do providing fun, excitement, adventure and just the right amount of ‘G’ rated romance.
The film was written by John Killoran and David Diamond. This is a freshman effort for Killoran but Diamond has a few interesting scripts under his belt. He wrote ‘The Family Man’ which started Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni where Cage awakes up in an alternate life where everything is completely different. He also penned ‘Evolution’ with ‘David Duchovny’ which was a story of strange. Rapidly changing organisms land on earth. Both of these films were not great but certainly a whole lot of fun to watch. They also were basically science fiction told in a more comical, family oriented way. This made Diamond a perfect choice to help write this movie. This is right up is alley and both he and Killoran do well with the basic story line. The plot centers around three teenage boys who for one reason of another find themselves as social outcasts in their high school. Charlie Tuttle (Luke Benward) has always been the smartest kid in his class. He is a teenaged genius with a mind that can grasp the most convoluted scientific principles but how to get along with his classmates is somewhat beyond him. Zeke Thompson (Nicholas Braun) is a mechanical whiz kid who would rather tinker around with a machine than deal with people. To him machines make sense, they are built according to plans and work when they are put together correctly. People, on the other hand, never seem to make sense. Leading this little pack of misfits is Virgil Fox (Jason Dolley). He became a social outcast because he tried to prevent Charlie getting picked on. One day Charlie interrupts football practice on one of his inventions. The team goes after him and Charlie tries to stop them suffering the same fate as the young geek inventor. Once they find a way to travel back in time they want to go and make some changes in the past in hopes to make a better present. Naturally, this never works out. These kids should have watched a few old Sci-Fi flicks where others have tried this. In the film there are several references to the classic ‘Back to the Future’ but they were sure they could do better.
Directing the movie is Lev L. Spiro. Most of his experience has been with television, albeit in an eclectic range of genres. He has worked on such series as the more adult ‘Weeds’ and a couple of the installments of the ‘Emmanuelle’ series. He has also had time behind the camera with shows like ‘The Gilmore Girls’, ‘Everwood’, ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Everybody Hates Chris’. This is an incredible range of projects and his expertise is clearly shown here. He has a natural way of letting the situation drive the humor instead of trying to push it. He manages to work in this fantasy without sacrificing the humanity of the characters. Spiro lets his young cast take on the job of presenting the full range of emotions their characters are experiencing. Spiro is also used to fast paced dialogue and here the rate may be slower but it comes across as witty and well presented. He instinctively knows how to present a film like this to his audience without speaking down to them; he respects the ‘tweens watching as young people who want to be entertained with something interesting. All of these factors also translate to something that the adults will enjoy sitting there next to their kids. This is not just a movie the grown ups can tolerate it is one that will truly entertain all ages.
The film opens in the Summerton high school. Virgil gets off the school bus with his best friend Derek Beaugard (Steven R. McQueen) anxious for the new school year; their freshman year. They are joined by a girl they have known most of their lives, Stephanie Jameson (Chelsea Staub). Derek is going to try out for football while Stephanie wants to go out for cheerleading. Both are afraid that Virgil, known for his lame practical jokes, will so something to embarrass them. Later Derek is having a rough time throwing the ball, Stephanie is doing well with the cheerleaders and Virgil is off to the side making friends with the other guys. Just then Charlie zooms in on a home made rocket car that is out of control. Derek throws a football at Charlie knocking him off the car. The team starts in picking on Charlie, Virgil come to his aid and they both wind up in cheerleader’s dresses, with lipstick, hanging from the statue of the school mascot. Cut to three years later Charlie and Virgil are now friends. They are both seniors now and have to eat lunch at the ‘looser’ table. Derek has been dating Stephanie for awhile now but Virgil has a big time crush on her, still. On there way into class they run into Zeke, atop a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket. In the world of Disney this is the universal sign for a tough kid. Virgil looks back at his time in high school and comes to the realization his downward spiral was all due to that fateful incident on the football field. Jeanette (Kara Crane) is a flighty girl infatuated with birds who has a crush on Charlie. Virgil and Charlie invent a club, ‘The Back to the Future fan Club’ in order to get access to room 77 on campus. The boys have been working on the biggest project that Charlie has ever come up with, a time machine. They let Jeanette join mostly because they need someone at the controls. Together with Zeke they become the minutemen. Jeanette has them dress in all white snowsuits to disguise themselves and protect them from the extreme cold of time travel. They begin to go back in time to help prevent certain things from happening. One example is when Virgil wants to prevent Stephanie from breaking her leg. Of course things always seem to go wrong on their trips.
Like many Disney productions this one draws on their ever growing stable of young talent. They use the old studio system of rotating their young stars to maximize their exposure to different sorts of roles. Jason Dolley is the goofy sidekick on their television show ‘Cory in the House’ but here gets to take center stage as Virgil. The entire cast does well and exhibits a high energy that carries the film. This is one of the better non musical original films that Disney has come up with. It is a joy to watch and will keep the whole family interested.