tek's rating: ¼

Harry and the Hendersons (PG)
Amblin; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikipedia

This came out in 1987, but I didn't see it until 2017 (thirty frickin' years later). It's something that's always sort of been on the fringes of "movies I want to see someday," possibly somewhat overlapping with "movies I'm not sure I care if I ever see or not." Its critical reception was middling at best, and it wasn't a big box office hit (though it did make money). I've never even been entirely sure whether it qualifies as a cult hit, though I must have friends who saw it and liked it, back in the 80s. And I'm sure it has a fair number of fans, but... you know, it's never really been something I thought was among the more mainstream of non-mainstream movies. (Probably because in its own way, it's a little too mainstream.) Whatever, now that I've finally seen it, I can say I liked it well enough. I mean, for the past three decades I probably imagined it was possible both that I wouldn't like it at all, and that I'd like it more than I actually did end up liking it. Really could have gone either way (like Schrödinger's cat). Also I want to say it's one of those movies I really wasn't sure where to put my review. I assumed I'd probably put it under "comedy," and in fact that's where I started setting up a page right after I watched it. But it was dramatic enough that I made at least a token consideration of putting it under "serio-comedy." I also considered "paranormal" or "weird." But ultimately I went with "family," just because... eh, I dunno. It's PG, so it's not really family unfriendly, I guess. And it is kind of ridiculous in a way that's probably better appreciated by kids than by most adults. And "family" is a fairly broad genre. (I include some films under that heading that would otherwise be considered fantasy or sci-fi or whatever.)

So... it starts with a family camping trip that is just coming to a close. George Henderson (John Lithgow) is out hunting with his young son, Ernie, who kills a rabbit. They return to their camp site, planning to cook the rabbit for lunch, but George's wife, Nancy, and their teenage daughter, Sarah, don't want to eat a rabbit. So they pack up camp and start driving home. Before long, they hit something, which at first George thought was a man, but looking at it lying motionless on the road, it's obviously some kind of large animal, though it's far from obvious what kind. George gets his rifle and goes to look more closely at it, and it appears to be, for lack of any better explanation, a Sasquatch (aka Bigfoot). It seems to be dead, and George decides to strap it to the roof of their car and take it home, hoping to make some money for this incredible discovery. However, it turns out not to be dead, after all. That night, it escapes from the garage, breaks into their house, and begins making a shambles of the place. At first it seems scary enough to be something out of a horror movie, but eventually the Hendersons realize it's actually rather friendly. (Although it is very upset by all of George's hunting "trophies" on the walls.) Naturally, young Ernie ends up really liking the Bigfoot, while Sarah really doesn't. (Nancy seems somewhere in between.)

Eventually, George decides he has to take the Sasquatch back to the woods where they'd found him, but before he can, the creature runs away. It's shortly after that that George sort of inadvertently names the creature "Harry," and goes out looking for him. (I thought it was really strange that he was calling out "Harry," a name the Sasquatch had never heard before.) Meanwhile, there are a lot of sightings of Harry by local people, and it becomes a big deal in the media, and for the police. More importantly, there's a Bigfoot hunter named Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet), who is tracking Harry, and wants to kill him. Also, LaFleur has a former partner named Dr. Wallace Wrightwood (Don Ameche), who runs a little Bigfoot "museum," but has stopped believing in the creature's existence. And as the public gets more interested in the Bigfoot sightings, George's father, George Sr. (M. Emmet Walsh), wants to take advantage of that interest by turning his gun store (where George Jr. works) into "Bigfoot HQ." He asks George to draw a scary picture of the creature to put in the storefront window (completely unaware of his son's connection to Harry). This is part of a subplot about how George Jr. always really wanted to be an artist, and he's really good at it, but his father always discouraged it. It was he who turned his son into a hunter. (I did generally think this subplot, despite being relatively minor, made the movie better. Although if the writers wanted us to think George Jr. was carrying on his father's cycle by having given Ernie a rifle, that didn't really work, because unlike George Jr., Ernie pretty clearly did want to be a hunter. So, by supporting that, George was, ironically, doing the opposite of what his own father did with him.) Well, George eventually finds Harry, and gets help from Dr. Wrightwood in trying to protect him from LaFleur and take Harry someplace where he'll be safe.

And... I guess that's all I really want to say about the plot. But it's a reasonably amusing movie. Oh, and I wanted to say that during the closing credits, there are some drawings in George's style, which become animated in a way that I thought was very evocative of the video for A-ha's "Take On Me." Also, there was a syndicated TV series based on the movie, in the early 90s, but I never saw any of that (and have no interest in ever doing so). Anyway, I'm really glad to have finally seen the movie, though it's probably not something I'll ever feel the need to watch again.


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