The Monkey's Uncle (1965) poster

The Monkey’s Uncle (1965)


USA. 1965.


Director – Robert Stevenson, Screenplay – Helen August & Tom August, Photography – Edward Colman, Music – Buddy Baker, Orchestration – Walter Sheets, Special Effects – Eustace Lycett & Robert A. Mattey, Makeup – Pat McNalley, Art Direction – Carroll Clark & William H. Tuntke. Production Company – Disney.


Tommy Kirk (Merlin Jones), Annette [Funicello] (Jennifer), Leon Ames (Judge Holmsby), Frank Faylen (Dearborn), Leon Tyler (Leon), Norman Grabowski (Norman), Arthur O’Connell (Darius Green III), Mark Goddard (Don Haywood), Cheryl Miller (Lisa)


Merlin Jones asks Judge Holmsby to grant him the right to adopt the chimpanzee Stanley so he can conduct an experiment in raising it as a human being. Holmsby instead grants him guardianship, making Merlin the ‘monkey’s uncle’. On the Midvale College board of regents, Holsmby is engaged in a dispute with his rival Dearborn who is seeking to have football banned from the college because he was never allowed onto the college team. Dearborn persuades the board to flunk the football jocks unless they pass their grades. Holsmby comes to Merlin for help and Merlin comes up with a method of sleep-coaching the footballers. However, this ends up with all of the jocks about to be expelled for cheating. Next, Holsmby seeks Merlin’s help when millionaire Darius Green III offers a $10 million grant if they can prove that human-powered flight is possible.

The Monkey’s Uncle is one of the wacky inventor comedies that Disney made during the 1960s. It was a sequel to the earlier The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1963). The sequel brings back Tommy Kirk and Annette (Funicello) and is again directed by Disney regular Robert Stevenson (see below). As with Merlin Jones, it also tells two stories – it is like two episodes of a tv series run back to back – one story about cheating on exams, another about human-powered flight.

The episodes are fairly bland. Nothing much happens – the resolutions come without any build-up or tension, while the film is lacking in any of the zany surrealism that made Disney’s progenitor of these wacky inventor films – The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) – such a delight. The film has to conduct a contorted legal guardianship debate in the opening scenes in order to justify the title pun; however, despite this being the title focus, the monkey thereafter drops into the background and certainly has no further importance to the story.

Annette Funicello,and Merlin Jones (Tommy Kirk) with Stanley the chimpanzee in The Monkeys Uncle (1965)
(l to r) Annette Funicello,and Merlin Jones (Tommy Kirk) with Stanley the chimpanzee

The film does have the rather subversive theme of advocating cheating on exams. The film also defends a preference for sports and football over academicism and in contrast to the film of the 1970s and 80s – Stripes (1979), Lemon Popsicle (1979), Porky’s (1982) and imitators – the jocks are regarded as the good guys, rather than as ignorant muscle-heads.

British director Robert Stevenson made a number of other films for Disney that include Disney include Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1963), Son of Flubber (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Gnome-Mobile (1967), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), The Love Bug (1969), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Herbie Rides Again (1974), The Island at the Top of the World (1974) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976). Before moving to Hollywood, Stevenson also made the Boris Karloff mad scientist film The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) and the sf film Non Stop New York (1937).

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