I received a kind invitation to write a post for The Animals in Film Blogathon, by Crystal at In The Good Old Days of Hollywood. Please be sure to visit Crystal’s blog to read other wonderful posts by classic movie bloggers, about all of the many animals that have appeared in films.
When I started to think about animals in classic film, I immediately thought of Lassie, Trigger, Toto, and Cheetah. I figured that since I was not as quick as the other invited bloggers to join and announce the animal that they’d be writing about, I decided to pick a film that my own children had greatly enjoyed, a film probably not considered a “classic”, which featured an ape as the star of the show, 1996’s Dunston Checks In. Based upon a story by John Hopkins, screenplay by Hopkins and Bruce Graham. Directed by Ken Kwapis. Released by 20th Century Fox.
This film has a simple main plot, and a simple subplot, due to the main audience of this film was children, and then their parents; a confusing film with intricate plots wouldn’t work for this audience demographic. The main plot is about a hotel manager gearing up for a huge social event, The Crystal Ball, to be held at the hotel he manages. The hotel owner is demanding that they impress a hotel critic who will be a guest at this event; hotel owner has a 5-star hotel, she wants to earn a 6th star. The hotel manager, a single dad, works hard at his job, but his two sons are rambunctious boys and get into mischievious adventures at the hotel, that threaten to ruin their Dad’s efforts to run a wonderful, classy hotel.
The subplot involves a suave jewel thief, posing as a “Lord” from England. In his employ helping him steal jewels is an orangutan, Dunston, whom this thief raised from infancy but isn’t a good caregiver. The hotel owner, awed by this thief’s manners and charm, thinks he is the hotel critic, so she demands he be treated well by the manager and staff.
Of course, the two boys find the orangutan, rescuing him from the jewel thief, and inform their father about who this Lord really is. This Lord discovers that the boys have taken his orangutan from him and he is determined to get him back, and nab some of the Crystal Ball guests fabulous jewels. Hotel manager Dad is determined that Dunston be found by the animal control officer he has called, all the while not letting his boss, the hotel owner, know about this creature in her hotel.
There is a lot of slapstick humor, of course, which appeals to a broad audience. The cast of humans in this film are great in their presentations of their characters: Jason Alexander as Robert Grant, the dedicated hotel manager. Eric Lloyd and Graham Sack are his adorable sons, Kyle and Brian. Faye Dunaway is superb as the haughty hotel owner, Elena Dubrow. Rupert Everett is the charming and sneaky jewel thief, Lord Rutledge. Paul Reubens(PeeWee Herman!) as Buck LaFarge, animal control expert and officer, and Glenn Shadix as Lionel Spaulding, the real hotel critic.
Dunston, from what I could gather, was played by one orangutan, named Sam. He had a lot to do in this film, and I cannot fathom how many people it takes to film an animal required to do one thing, let alone several things in a scene! In trying to find out a bit more about Sam, to see if he had been in other films, tv shows, commercials, etc. I stumbled upon a piece written by Zach Sokol, who decided to find out about some of the beloved animals he loved to see on tv or in films when he was a kid. If you click on his highlighted name, the article is there. Spoiler, it’s a downer, but sort of tongue in cheek, too.
When Dunston Checks In hit theatres, some film critics were hard on the film and some were not. I recall watching it with my kids, we rented it probably in 1999, and we all enjoyed it very much. The kids laughed at the antics of the two boys and Dunston. I was glad to see the tale reveal that in the end, the good folks are rewarded and the bad people get their just desserts. For a fun, family movie seek out Dunston Checks In. Since it came out in 1996, it probably won’t be too difficult to rent, and perhaps it is being streamed somewhere.