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COUNTERPUNCH

A Word to Disney: Pass Up Rights to 'Mr. Magoo'

October 16, 1995|ROB WISHART | Rob Wishart is an assistant editor of the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post News Service

I am legally blind and have been called "Mr. Magoo" by taunting jerks with great frequency since childhood. So, I was hoping the near-sighted cartoon character had died with his voice, the late actor Jim Backus.

But, the studio viewed as synonymous with family values announced recently (Morning Report, Calendar, Sept. 29) that it has purchased the film rights to "Mr. Magoo" and has hired a producer and writer to make a live-action film (humans instead of animated characters). So, millions of young viewers can laugh at some slob walking into walls and mistaking mail boxes and fireplugs for people--and then go yell "Mr. Magoo! Mr. Magoo!" at classmates, neighbors and strangers with poor eyesight.

This will augment such popular icebreakers as: "Hey, four eyes!," "You reading that book or smelling it?," "Where's your dog?," "Where's your white cane?," "You blind or something?," "Why don't you get some new glasses?," "Could you get any closer to the TV?," "You're getting nose prints on that computer screen" and "Hey, everybody, that guy's blind as a bat."

Even if this film includes a pitch for understanding of the disabled, the kids who see it will only remember the poor clown walking into an empty elevator shaft, saying, "Good morning, ma'am," to a potted plant, getting on a garbage truck instead of the bus and trying to watch the evening news on a microwave oven.

It was mean-spirited laughter at the expense of the less fortunate then, and it will have the same tasteless, intolerant impact now.

At least Jose Ferrer in "Cyrano de Bergerac" and Steve Martin in "Roxanne" had rapier wit and rapiers (well, a tennis racket in Martin's case) to take on those who laughed at their extremely large noses. Magoo, however, was like the Alzheimer's patient who has no idea his abilities have degenerated to a dangerous level. Therein, lay the alleged mirth.

If Magoo is a hit, will we then get to laugh at a wacky paraplegic who keeps landing face-down in the gutter because he can't seem to keep both wheels on his chair, or some goof who can't hear very well getting into embarrassingly funny situations because of hilarious misunderstandings?

"I love you."

"Gesundheit."

"You win a million dollars!"

"Yes, it is chilly in here."

It is hard enough to get through life dealing with a disability without Walt Disney Pictures leading the nation in laughing at you.

Disney should just eat the cost of the rights to "Mr. Magoo" and leave him to a previous, less tolerant generation along with Jose Jimenez, Tonto and Amos n' Andy.

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