“UP, UP AND AWAY” (Robert Townsend’s other superhero movie).



I’ve raved before about my love for Robert Townsend’s 1993 film The Meteor Man. But I recently found out that in 2000 Townsend directed and co-starred in this other movie, playing another superhero, and I finally managed to track it down. Written by Daniel Berendsen, this Disney Channel movie stars Michael J. Pagan as Scott Marshall, who is 4 days away from turning 14 years old when the film opens. Scott is part of a family who are all secretly superheroes. His father Jim (Townsend) is Bronze Eagle (who can fly), his mother Judy (Alex Datcher) is Warrior Woman (super strength), and his older brother Adam (Kasan Butcher) is Silver Charger (super-speed and electicity). Arreale Davis plays Scott’s 10 year old sister Molly, who isn’t an active superhero yet, but already has heat vision and x-ray vision, which she often uses to play pranks on others. Plus there’s Sherman Hemsley, playing Scott’s grandfather Edward, who is also a superhero, Steel Condor (flying). Joan Pringle plays Scott’s grandmother Doris, but there’s no mention of her having superpowers or being a superhero. There is also no mention of how any of the Marshall’s acquired their superpowers, they seem to be, I guess, mutants, like the X-Men, they’re just born with them. But the key is that most of them develop their powers by the age of 14, and if they don’t get powers by then, then it means they’re not going to ever have powers. The family is part of a larger community of superheroes, and there are references to the family knowing and spending time with characters like Spider-Man (& Mary Jane), Superman (whom Edward has a jealous rivalry with, claiming that Superman stole the “Man of Steel” moniker from him) and The Green Hornet.

So the premise of the film is that Scott and his family are concerned because he hasn’t shown any signs of developing any superpowers yet. A big party is planned for his birthday, where a bunch of other superheroes and their families will attend, to celebrate Scott getting powers and becoming a superhero. Feeling inadequate as his birthday approaches, Scott lies and pretends that he can fly & has super strength, fooling everyone except Edward, who figures out the truth but goes along with the lie for Scott’s sake. So at his birthday party, Scott is given a costume and dubbed The Warrior Eagle, and swears an oath to be a superhero, in front of everyone. But when Scott tries to rescue a woman from a burning building, Jim has to come to the rescue when it becomes apparent that Scott doesn’t really have superpowers, and his lie is revealed to the family.

Meanwhile, Kevin Connolly and Olivia Burnette played Malcolm and Nina, the owners of an environmental group called Earth Protectors. Nina has created a software program that controls the minds of anyone who watches it on a computer, and she plans to use it to force kids to recycle and be more environmentally responsible, while Malcolm secretly just wants to use it to get people to steal money for them. Admittedly, it’s not a very complex plot, but it is what it is. But after the Marshalls, in their costumed identities, manage to foil Malcolm’s plans, he becomes desperate to stop them. He manages to lure Bronze Eagle, Warrior Woman, and Silver Charger into a trap, and it’s left up to Scott to try to save the day, along with some help from his best friend Randy (Chris Marquette), and Amy (Jamie Renée Smith), a girl that Scott has a crush on and is also his biggest rival on the soccer team that they all play for.

In the end, the heroes are rescued, Malcolm is defeated, and Nina decides to destroy her software program, because it’s not right to force people what to do, even if it’s the “right” thing. Scott accepts being “normal”, and even appears to get the girl, as he an Amy become closer. So all’s well that ends well.

While I’ve described The Meteor Man as an all-ages family film, I’d say that UP, UP AND AWAY is more of a kid’s movie. It was made for the Disney Channel, after all. So I can cut it some slack. The special effects in this film practically make Meteor Man look like a CGI summer blockbuster. The various superhero costumes are as generic as their superhero names. When they have the birthday party, with all the other superheroes, it just looks like a normal Halloween costume party. And I should mention that all of the heroes have one common weakness: aluminum foil.

Seriously, just being around aluminum foil or touching it makes them weak, and could even kill them. That’s how Malcolm manages to trap the Marshalls, by locking them in a cage made up of aluminum foil. But don’t get me wrong, it’s a FUN little film. And it’s got heart. It’s about accepting who you are, and not being ashamed of it, and how you don’t need superpowers to be a hero.

In fact, there’s also a rather heavy gay/coming out of the closet subtext, that I don’t know if screenwriter Berendsen intended, and I’m certain the execs at the Disney Channel weren’t planned. But it’s there when you think about it. Scott is “different” from the rest of his family, and it’s something that both he and his parents struggle with, and his little sister teases him about. So Scott fakes being just like them, to make them happy. He specifically says that he doesn’t want his father to be embarrassed in front of the other superheroes if they found out his son doesn’t have superpowers, that’s why he fakes it to go along with the birthday party. But then his family finds out the truth, and help Scott comes to terms with who he is.

Replace superpowers with sexual orientation, and there you go. You’ve got the story of a young man coming out to his parents. Or you can overlook that and just watch it as a superhero adventure story. Either way, I give this film 4 STARS.

For whatever reason, this film doesn’t appear to have ever been officially released on VHS, DVD, or Blue-Ray. But I found a man selling cheap, good-quality DVD-R’s of the film on IOFFER.COM, which is how I got it.

And here’s a scene from the film that someone uploaded on Youtube, which is how I found out about it.

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