11 April 1999 | kelvis
Entertaining but slight Cold War drama
Few surprises from Disney in the tale of two East German families who escape to the West in a homemade hot air balloon. Director Delbert Mann gives sometimes slack pacing to what could have been a taut thriller, and the dialog is at times stilted. Still, the players give fine readings of what they have to work with, excepting possibly Doug McKeon (familiar as On Golden Pond's recalcitrant teen), whose performance smacks more of the San Fernando Valley than Saxony. Mann doesn't skimp on East Bloc clichés like spying neighbors and a scarcity of fresh produce, but it is frighteningly effective when the police start throwing their totalitarian weight around. Of course, the movies are full of mean, authoritarian Germans who, regardless of their ideological leaning, dress neatly and shout orders in heavily accented English; Günter Meisner, who plays the chief communist baddie, gave much the same performance in The Winds of War miniseries as a famous anticommunist, Hitler. Still, even if a lot of this is B-grade stuff, the flight sequences are beautifully filmed, with the usual Disney flair. This also is interesting as one of a series of adult-themed films Disney produced in the late 70s and early 80s (The Devil and Max Devlin, The Watcher in the Woods), as the studio struggled to define itself in the post-post-Walt (but pre-Michael Eisner) years.