Mac and Me [Collector’s Edition]

Studio: Shout! Factory

Aug 01, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Ostensibly I grew up on Mac and Me; I recall renting the Orion VHS tape from the bottom rack of the sci-fi section – where family-friendly movies were displayed – on multiple occasions, but 25+ years have a way of doing a number on your memory. As an adult who hadn’t seen this famously awful E.T. knock-off since childhood, the only scene which came to mind clearly was its notorious McDonald’s-set dance number. (Well, that and the large, soulless eyes of its nightmare-inducing alien puppets.)

Over the years I’d mistakenly assumed that Mac and Me had actually been produced in-house by McDonald’s. Re-watching it now, there’s plenty of stuff that would lead you to believe so: the huge Mickey D's dance number, the multiple references to the fast food joint and their signature Big Mac, a main character wearing her McDonalds uniform throughout the film, and the fact that the titular alien is named “Mac.” Even the trailer was hosted by none other than Ronald McDonald himself!

You can imagine my shock, then, to learn that Mac and Me wasn’t a piece of McDonald’s corporate propaganda, but a licensed product. Producer R.J. Louis had heard somewhere that Ronald McDonald was among the most recognized children’s characters in the world, second only to Santa Claus (and ahead of Mickey Mouse.) He approached McDonald’s for the right to use their mascot and trademarks but was only able to earn the Golden Arches’ approval with the promise that part of the movie’s proceeds would go to the Ronald McDonald House charities. In most cases, this would have been a can’t-lose scenario; but then, most movies aren’t as spectacularly bad as Mac and Me. Now, if the company ever desires to launch their own McDonaldland cinematic universe they’ll first have to shake away the stink of this perennial entry on Worst Movies of All Time lists.

Mac and Me is bad, but fascinatingly so. It’s earned its cult status – celebrated on this 30th Anniversary Blu-ray edition – because the train wreck which plays out on screen is still so weirdly watchable.

The movie opens with a NASA probe landing on Mars and accidentally sucking up an extraterrestrial family of four who wander too close. The machine returns to Earth and the aliens escape, sending government's men in black on a manhunt across the Southwest United States. Meanwhile, two young boys (one a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair) and their single mother wrap a cross-country move to the desert outside Los Angeles, only to find that a pint-sized alien’s made their new house his home. Much of the movie revolves around li’l Mac’s mischief – “Mac” apparently standing for “Mysterious Alien Creature,” and not purely a reference to the sandwich – and the children’s attempts to capture him. Eventually the government suits catch wind of Mac’s whereabouts, and then the movie shifts focus to the kids’ quest to return the little guy to his family.

Mac and Me lifts freely and shamelessly from E.T., but fails stupendously along the way. While the extraterrestrial star of Spielberg’s (obviously much better) movie was his own, distinct brand of horror-show in the looks departments, few would consider him to be offensively grotesque. Mac and Me’s aliens, on the other hand, are kind of hard to look at. They have weirdly bulging faces with fat, sagging cheeks, oversized and perturbingly realistic glass eyes, and round, gaping mouths assumedly modeled after a blow-up doll’s. Their gross faces are poorly controlled by puppeteers, while their wobbly, misshapen bodies were brought to life by local mimes. (Who would ever think they could seamlessly combine puppets with mimes and not create pure, unleaded nightmare fuel?) The film’s choice to cast a paraplegic kid in the lead was admirable, though in practice appears mostly to have been an excuse to put the poor lad into numerous, precarious scenarios where his wheelchair is flying downhill at out-of-control speeds. There is an over-the-top McDonald's dance routine, but the most egregious use of product placement in the movie surprisingly isn’t for Mickey D’s – it’s for Coca Cola, which in the movie’s mythology has the ability to bring aliens back from the brink of death. What kid wouldn’t ask for a refreshing can of Coke after watching it so heroically save the day?

Shout! Factory has reissued this cult stinker on Blu-ray for its 30th Anniversary. (We’ll hope that means they’ve also secured the license for a future episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.) One of the greatest joys of these notoriously terrible movies being re-released are their retrospective bonus features, and learning just how and why these movies got the way they are. Shout! don’t disappoint, compiling interviews with the director, Stewart Raffill, and songwriter Allee Willis. (Raffill also supplies a frank audio commentary – it was unsurprising to learn, for example, that much of the script was written over the weekends as shooting was already underway.) Sadly none of the cast participate in any fond reminiscing, but it’s hard to imagine any would rush to maintain their association with Mac and Me.



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