For no particular reason whatsoever I remembered this film existed yesterday and decided to review it. I was surprised, especially considering this was a Disney Channel Original Movie, that a lot of people I asked either didn’t remember or didn’t know about this movie. I think this was compounded by the fact that it had a similar concept to a movie called ‘Drop Dead Fred’ which was also released in the 90’s and also featured the main character, now older, coming face to face with their childhood imaginary friend. In fact when I described it to Tori B Bearly, she did in fact think I was talking about ‘Drop Dead Fred’, which I will admit is a great film in it’s own right, and stars the fantastic and dearly departed Rik Mayall.
Another reason perhaps for this movie being relatively unknown, especially for a Disney property, is that it was deemed to be too frightening for its young target audience, and as such was taken out of Disney’s broadcast rotation, even at Halloween.
Don’t Look Under the Bed features Erin Chambers (known for her role Siobhan McKenna Spencer on General Hospital) as Frances McCausland, Eric Tyrone Hodges II better known as Ty Hodges (known for his role as Larry Beale on Even Stevens and for his roles Miles from Home, Spy Kids and A Girl Like Grace) as Larry Houdini, Steve Valentine (known for his role as Nigel Townsend on Crossing Jordan and Harry Flynn in PlayStation 3 game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves) as The Boogeyman, Jake Sakson (known for his roles in various shows such as Charmed, 7th Heaven, Star Trek: Voyager and Boy Meets World as a child actor) as Darwin McCausland (Erin’s younger brother) and Rachel Kimsey (known for her role as Mackenzie Browning on The Young and the Restless, Meredith Hudson on Days of Our Lives and for various guest appearances on shows such as Moonlight, a show which I recently reviewed and you can check out here) who played Frances old imaginary friend.
Anyway, let’s move onto the review, I can sort of agree that this movie was a lot darker than you would expect from a Disney movie, and it confronts some pretty serious topics, such as the fear that children have about growing up, this is reflected both in Frances, Darwin and Larry’s characters, all of whom have to confront the idea of growing up. In Don’t Look Under the Bed, the main character (Frances) little brother, Darwin, had nearly died of Leukaemia a few years prior to the events of the movie, and as a result our main character abandoned her childhood, presumably because being confronted by her mortality at a young age was an overwhelming concept. Instead of living in a world of imagination and child-like whimsy, while it’s still socially acceptable to do so, she instead decided to live a life of Vulcanesque logic and emotional restraint. So yeah in a Disney movie, we have the literal near death of a child, and the more figurative death of a character’s childhood. I would admit that while I don’t think the movie was particularly ‘frightening’, that it was fairly dark, and I was surprised that Disney made it.
The plot of the movie kicks off with Frances, starting high school a year early, because they obviously wanted to hammer in the fact that she is rushing through her childhood. Meanwhile overnight, the town of ‘Middleburg’, is is chaos after someone has perpetrated a bunch of ‘pranks’ such as setting alarm clocks to the wrong times, egging a teachers car, filling a whole swimming pool with jelly and spray painting the letter B all over town, including on lockers at school (B for Boogeyman, just in case you couldn’t work that out). Additionally suspicion is cast on Frances because her locker is the only one missing a B on it, instead it is spray painted inside of the locker instead. These pranks are obviously a symbol of rebelliousness of youth, and as well as grabbing the attention of the main character, are symbolic for childhood, and fighting back against becoming an adult.
Shortly after, she is approached by a boy called Larry Houdini (because that’s a common name, and you should totally believe someone who sounds like they are using an alias), he claims to be an imaginary friend, and that he can help her. His assertion that he is an imaginary friend seems to be supported by the fact that he seems to be invisible to everyone but young children, and obviously Frances, a clear sign of her own subconscious inner child’s struggle to survive.
Larry says that the real prankster is in fact ‘The Boogeyman’ and for some reason he is trying to frame Frances for the various incidents across town. Events, continue to escalate when the town is plunged into a blackout, with only the McCausland home being unaffected, further implicating Frances in the pranks. Also the escalation shows how far The Boogeyman is willing to go, making the finale more climactic, because thinking about it rationally, while still criminal, spray-painting and egging cars, is easily considered to be in the youthful hijinks territory, meanwhile cutting off power to a whole town is not only dangerous but easily moves into supervillain territory, I suppose vandalism really is a gateway crime. Also the movie just glosses over it, but the whole alarm clock thing is way more serious than it makes it seem, it means that The Boogeyman is totally cool with breaking and entering. Basically, my take away from this is that Oogie Boogie has built up a fairly substantial rap sheet by the end of the film.
I mentioned earlier that since her brother’s illness, she has treated the world differently, approaching things more logically, so when she encounters something that she doesn’t understand she does the one thing that makes sense to herself…she goes to the library. How very Hermione Granger of her. But anyway, she goes to the library and checks out a book about Boogeymen, and now armed with the ‘Boogey Book’ she and Larry use it to try and trap The Boogeyman who has been causing them so much trouble. They do this by making ‘Boogey Goo’ to act as bait, because apparently boogeymen find it irresistible, and a device which will age The Boogeyman till he’s old and harmless.
Anyway, things don’t quite go to plan, Darwin accidentally stands in the goo, because of course he does, and it gets on his shoe, which attracts The Boogeyman straight to him. He is dragged off to the boogeyman dimension, which is accessible under Frances’s bed, because of course it it, and in a bid to rescue Darwin, Frances and Larry soon follow them into the boogeyman dimension.
Once in the dimension, it becomes apparent that Larry is beginning to transform into a Boogeyman as well. According to the Boogey Book, a boogeyman is created when a child stops believing in their imaginary friend too soon. Darwin, encouraged by his sister’s attitude had begun to stop believing in Larry, and as a result he has metamorphed into ‘Boogey-Larry’ which I maintain is easily the creepiest thing about this movie, and Ty Hodges, does amazing in this scene, balancing the restraint of not wanting to hurt Darwin, with the hurt and betrayal of being abandoned by him. He almost hurts Darwin, but Frances is able to convince him to believe in Larry once again, reverting him back to normal.
They are now left with only one problem to deal with, the original Boogeyman, but armed now with knowledge of how to beat them, and why they exist in the first place. They first use the device to turn the Boogeyman into an old person, and it’s at this point that they discover the Boogeyman is in fact her old imaginary friend Zoe. Frances then takes the Boogeyman’s hand, and shows her that she still cares about her, and believes in her, and thus she too reverts back to normal.
Now with the problem dealt with they return to the real world, and nothing much of consequence happens except that Larry kisses Frances, reminding her that she can have both adult and more child-like things in her life, that she doesn’t have to pick on or another, and as the movie went to great lengths to demonstrate, it’s unhealthy to forget or suppress your inner child, and that we in fact contain multitudes.
About the only bad thing about this movie, is something I found out when researching, that apparently according to the director Kenneth Johnson, Disney was quote: “concerned about having a black boy kiss a white girl”, which especially considering how innocent it was seems short sighted. Apparently Disney asked Johnson to do the end kiss, a few different ways, including basically not at all, but he fought for it to remain in the film, and they ultimately allowed it to stay, and in response Johnson said the scene “is exactly the way I had always intended to do it.”
Overall I think this movie deserves a lot more credit than it ended up getting because not only did it manage to be a relatively engaging and entertaining 90’s film, but it dealt with complex and mature issues in a way that children could process and understand. In fact it dealt specifically with issues that children were facing and showed them that growing up doesn’t mean putting away childish things, but learning and growing and becoming a complete individual instead. It was also reasonably well acted, by a strong cast of actors, and at least for me was a charming little film, that I’m glad I remembered existed, and if you would like to check it out you can on Disney+ their subscription video on-demand streaming service. So with all that said and done, I think I’ll give this movie a strong 7/10.
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