Elliott Gould is strapped for cash and looking for a gig. A qualified pilot, he is offered an opportunity by Vincent Gardenia to fly a bunch of animals and a missionary (Genevieve Bujold) to an island. Two annoying orphans (Ricky Schroder and Tammy Lauren) manage to stowaway on board too, but before Gould can get truly irritable (and believe me, strident animal lover Schroder really does grind Gould’s gears), they find themselves faced with an even bigger problem. Due to a plot contrivance involving a cassette player that frankly isn’t worth getting into, the plane has swayed way off course in the middle of the ocean. They soon find dry land in order to make a crash landing on a remote island. Seemingly deserted, it is in fact the current home (for 35 years!) of two long-displaced Japanese fellas (John Fujioka and Yuki Shimoda), who still think their country is at war with the US and are initially wary of Gould. Before long, though, everyone’s chummy and working on a way to get off the island. Yeah, they’re gonna do what you think they’re gonna do, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well you can watch the movie if you really want to. I’m not necessarily advising it, though. Dana Elcar and John P. Ryan play a bookie and his goon, the former of whom loser gambler Gould owes money to.
Weak attempt by Disney and director Charles Jarrott (“Anne of a Thousand Days”, “Mary, Queen of Scots”) to blend “The African Queen” with Disney’s own “Swiss Family Robinson”, and throwing in the insufferable Ricky Schroder and some frankly unattractive animals (chickens, a hideous-looking ox, etc.) to boot. This 1980 belly flop from The Magic Kingdom is mostly a chore, when it’s not being completely insulting to the Japanese. Elliott Gould and Genevieve Bujold play their Bogey-Hepburn roles quite well, though they aren’t terribly well-written (or likeable) characters. At least they don’t grate on your nerves like the way too loud and chatty Schroder, who will make your ears bleed. Seriously, was there ever a more annoying child actor? Does he have to shout his every line at the top of his lungs? The plot, as I said is cribbed from other films, and the pacing is truly deadly.
I had a miserable time with this one, even though I like Elliott Gould well enough as an actor. He can’t save the film, nor can an admittedly well-cast Bujold (I particularly liked that her character was somewhat competent in flying a plane), and the poor Japanese stereotypes played by John Fujioka and Yuki Shimoda are truly insulting. See, it’s funny har-har ‘coz them thar ‘Japs’ think the war is still going! Har-Har. Um, no it’s insulting and completely moronic. It’s enough to make you yearn for the stereotypical Asian pirates in “Swiss Family Robinson” (not a good film, but certainly better than this). Yes, Fujioka is likeable in the part, but not enough to wipe away the cultural insensitivity. Sure, they come up with the idea of turning the plane into a boat, but they also get made fun of because they sure do talk funny har-har. Sigh. The ‘oriental’ parts to the Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Mandingo”, “A Passage to India”) score are the final nail in the coffin.
The inclusion of a shark in the latter stages provides moderate interest, but the rest is a snoozer, and a huge waste of some interesting supporting actors (Veteran character actors John P. Ryan and Vincent Gardenia only feature in the opening). With ugly and charmless animals (They’re farm animals, so there’s no chimps, zebras, rosellas, pandas, or giraffes here), obnoxiously loud kids, an irritable leading man, and a somewhat repressed leading lady, there’s not much to get drawn into here. But for me it was the shamelessly unoriginal plot and half-speed pacing that really did this one in. It’s got no energy whatsoever, and it’s not much fun.
Based on a story by Ernest K. Gann (who adapted his own novel for the John Wayne film “The High and the Mighty”), the screenplay is by Steven W. Carabatsos (who wrote the story for the western “The Revengers”), George Arthur Bloom, and Sandy Glass. Hideous opening song ‘Half of Me’ by Alexandra Brown is nauseating, too. Crude and cheap film that has rightly been largely forgotten. Oh, and the animals aren’t even paired, so why the hell is the film and the title plane/boat called Noah’s Ark? Simply because it’s a boat with animals? That’s not good enough. The undemanding kids of 1980 (those who saw it, at least) might have fond memories of it, but believe me, let those memories stay. You’ll hate this as an adult.