Features and Columns · Movies

Warmth, Wonder, and the Wild Cinematic Shelf Life of ‘The Rocketeer’

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s one of the most earnest and bizarre superhero movies ever made!
The Rocketeer
By  · Published on July 14th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the strange cinematic life of the 1991 Disney movie The Rocketeer.

Wait a minute, the Rocke-who?

If you’re a millennial of a certain age, you probably owe Joe Johnston a big ole thank you for defining your childhood. He’s the efficient, unpretentious journeyman director of The Pagemaster, Jumanji, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Before that, he got his start in Hollywood as a concept designer on the original Star Wars trilogy.

So maybe it’s no surprise that the guy behind Boba Fett went on to make a whole movie about a jet pack-sporting superhero. And maybe it’s also no surprise that the guy who worked on projects like The Iron Giant and Captain America: The First Avenger made a movie so earnestly enamored by the kind of Americana that he’d make Norman Rockwell proud.

Based on Dave Stevens‘ comic of the same name, The Rocketeer follows a young stunt pilot named Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), who comes into possession of a rocket pack. He launches himself straight into a life of heroism, determined to save his actress girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) and thwart the Nazis under the high-flying guise of “The Rocketeer.”

A notorious commercial flop that has since found its defenders, it plays its earnest, gee-wiz, soda shop charm with a completely straight face. Without a cynical bone in its body, maybe The Rocketeer and its hyper-specific historical interests never stood a chance.

And yet, as the video essay below attests, here we are thirty years later, still talking about it. So, for a brief history of the movie’s critical and creative life, as well as its enduring, contagious power as a vessel of warmth and wonder, here’s a look back on The Rocketeer:

Watch “The Odd and Curious Life of The Rocketeer”:

Who made this?

This video on the bizarre (and bizarrely wonderful) The Rocketeer is by Andrew Saladino, who runs the Texas-based Royal Ocean Film Society. You can browse their back catalog of videos on their Vimeo account here. If Vimeo isn’t your speed, you can give them a follow on YouTube here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.