Nothing funny about a film that makes fun of the blind

This Just In...

December 24, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

Starting tomorrow, in movie theaters across the nation, kids get to laugh and howl at blind-guy humor. It's the slapstick of Leslie Nielsen as the legendary "Mr. Magoo" in the Disney feature film treatment of an animated character who was deep-sixed two decades ago.

I know, I know: Mr. Magoo wasn't really blind. He was nearsighted, too vain to wear his eyeglasses. But, draw the lines anyway you like, folks, the Goo Man was funny because he could hardly see; he stumbled his way through life and misunderstood his surroundings. That's why we laughed. It was humor based on a handicap.

As a cartoon in the mid-1960s, it might have been acceptable. But as a motion picture comedy in the late 1990s, it's about as funny as a crutch. It's "Naked Gun" meets "The Miracle Worker." It's Disney saying it's OK to laugh at blind guys.

Of course, when the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind criticized Disney for pulling Magoo out of the attic to make a movie, the backlash was fierce. Conservatives, anti-multiculturalists and self-proclaimed civil libertarians dismissed the NFB's complaint as political correctness. (We received some extremely ugly mail here at TJI central, most of it anonymous.) A lot of people, conservative and liberal, believed the NFB's leadership just lacked a sense of humor. The blind need to laugh at themselves, after all!

"A lot of people just didn't understand or appreciate our point," says NFB President Marc Maurer. "But I think it was better that we spoke up about this. There was more of a backlash than I had expected. But people paid attention to the issue and, even if they disagreed with us, that is all to the best."

By the time the NFB squawked, the film had been made. (As if Disney would have stopped production if the complaints had come earlier.)

The only thing the NFB got out of its protest was a pathetic disclaimer Disney decided to tag to the film.

After audiences finish howling -- assuming "Mr. Magoo" actually strikesthem funny (and, judging from the trailer, that seems unlikely) - they might look up at the screen and see, maybe even read, the following words:

"The preceding film is not intended as an accurate portrayal of blindness or poor eyesight. Blindness or poor eyesight does not imply an impairment of one's ability to be employed in a wide range of jobs, raise a family, perform important civic duties or engage in a well-rounded life. All people with disabilities deserve a fair chance to live and work without being impeded by prejudice."

Give us this day our daily break.

If Michael Eisner and Disney really believed that, they wouldn't have made "Magoo."

Free Christmas dinner

Unconditional generosity: A free hot Christmas dinner will be offered to anyone who needs one by The Forum Caterers and New Destiny Victory Center, 807 E. 43rd St., at the center from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. tomorrow. "You don't have to be destitute or homeless, either," says Tony Smith, pastor at New Destiny. "Even if you have too much company and not enough food, send them over." I About Mamie's Cafe in Hampden, I have three words: Great pork chops. I The once-popular M. Gettier's of South Broadway has been transformed into a Spanish restaurant. Remember Chef Pepe (Jose Gutierrez) from the old Madrid in Charles Village? He's gone into business with veteran front-of-the-house man Antonio Aybar, operating as Cafe Madrid and featuring, among other specialties, a seafood combination, zarzuela, said to be Placido Domingo's favorite dish. We'll try it and get back to you. I Cathy Hughes' Radio One recently acquired two more radio stations, both in San Francisco. That makes 13 stations under the Radio One mast, including, of course, Baltimore's WOLB-AM, 92Q, Spirit 1400 and Magic 95. I TJI reader Larry Wagoner has a request for WLIF-FM and any other Baltimore radio stations offering an all-Christmas music format tonight and tomorrow: Please don't switch back to the usual fare when the clock strikes 12 Thursday night. "It's a rude awakening that Christmas is over," he says. "Why can't the stations just keep playing Christmas music till the wee hours of the morning?" (My theory? The engineers are sick of it!) I Sign near deli case at a certain imported-foods store in Highlandtown: "We do not cut cheese in the store." (God be praised for small wonders.)

Gravy to go

In a last-minute attempt to avoid making gravy for Christmas )) turkey dinner and keep the peace in her house - her husband insists on it - Cereal Mom called Eddie's on North Charles Street in search of the goo. "We cannot take any orders now because we've exceeded our limit of 500," the gourmet-to-go clerk said.

Dumbfounded, CM wondered aloud, "Does anyone cook anymore?"

Huh? Look who's talking!

I told CM to make her own gravy or buy it by the jar. What would CM's dear mother say if she knew her daughter was calling upscale supermarkets in search of overpriced gravy?

"She'd say, 'You go, girl!'"

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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