Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, Matt MacManus
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Cliff DeYoung, Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Hesseman
Walt Disney, Producers Sales Organization, Buena Vista Pictures, 90 Minutes
“Compliance!” – Max
Everyone I knew as a kid saw Flight of the Navigator. While it wasn’t a smashing hit, it was loved by many and had its following. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as some of the other family-friendly sci-fi flicks of the 1980s.
To start, it is a Disney movie and even though it doesn’t feel like a massive epic, it has groundbreaking special effects and was well-produced in every regard.
Joey Cramer plays twelve year-old David Freeman, a kid who wakes up eight years into his future, where his world is totally different. The role needed a lot of emotion and was probably quite challenging for a twelve year-old but Cramer did a fantastic job. Looking back, I don’t know why this didn’t lead to a lot more work for the kid. He got a few roles after this but nothing too noteworthy.
The story also features an alien ship controlled by a computer named Max. Max is voiced by Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. The relationship between David and Max is really what makes this film work. While you root for David to be reunited with his family but ultimately want him to be able to go home to 1978, the real standout thing about this film is the camaraderie between the two main characters. David is depressed and feels lost and desperate while Max feels tremendous guilt for pulling David out of his life.
Apart from Cramer and Reubens, the film features a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Veronica Cartwright – who I will always love for Alien, as well as WKRP‘s Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, who also lit up the screen in Head of the Class and Police Academy 2.
Flight of the Navigator used early CGI techniques to create the alien ship that took David on his journey. It was a metallic seed-shaped structure that could slightly alter its shape based off of what flight mode it was in. Also, the back of the ship would essentially melt open and provide free-floating steps for David to enter and exit the ship. The CGI animation is very similar to what James Cameron would use in 1989’s The Abyss and for the T-1000 in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
While Flight of the Navigator is not a flawless film, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and it is a fun and emotional journey. Its story is timeless and still effective and kids that I have seen watch it in recent years, all seemed to love it regardless of it feeling somewhat dated.
Flight of the Navigator is a much shorter film than what Disney does nowadays. That being said, it is welcomed, as it doesn’t waste a lot of time and stays on its rails. It gets to the point, packs an emotional punch and delivers a heartfelt happy ending. It doesn’t try to overdo it with razzle dazzle and massive special effects sequences. Frankly, I miss films like this.