Harry and the Hendersons

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

George Henderson (John Lithgow) is returning home with his family from a camping trip when they hit something with the family station wagon. George investigates, and discovers to his horror and awe, that they had hit a Sasquatch. Deciding to take the creature home, George does so, strapping it to the roof of the car. Meanwhile, a mysterious hunter has been tracking the creature and discovers the Hendersons’ license plate, which fell off when they hit the creature. At home, curiosity gets the best of George, and he goes out to the garage to examine the creature. Much to his shock, the creature was not dead and has since disappeared. He hears noises from his kitchen and sees the creature, it has knocked over the fridge in its attempt to find food. After waking the whole house, the family realizes that the creature is friendly and kind. George has a change of heart, at first he wished to make money from the creature, but now decides to take him back to the wild. Naming the creature “Harry”, George tries to lure him into the station wagon, but Harry believes that the Hendersons mean him harm and instead he disappears.

Saddened, the family resume their normal lives, but as the sightings of Harry become more frequent and the media fervor heightens, George decides he needs to find Harry in order to keep him safe. George visits the “North American Museum of Anthropology” to speak with Dr. Wallace Wrightwood, an expert on Bigfoot, but is disheartened when he realizes its ramshackle state. Giving his number to the clerk (Don Ameche) inside the Museum, George resumes his search of Harry. The hunter from the woods is revealed to be Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet). Once a legendary hunter, he became obsessed with Bigfoot and has hunted for one ever since becoming a laughing stock. LaFleur tracks down the Hendersons, and begins to get closer to finding Harry. After a Harry sighting, George goes into the city to search for him. Meanwhile, the police are dealing with the sudden “Bigfoot Mania” by apprehending several local Bigfoot enthusiasts that are hunting Bigfoot in case the Bigfoot in question is someone dressed as Bigfoot. Following a car chase, George is able to save Harry from LaFleur, and LaFleur is subsequently arrested by the arriving police officers. When George brings Harry home, he and the Hendersons bury the hunting trophies and pay their respects to the dead animals that were converted into hunting trophies.

The next morning, the neighbors of the Hendersons notice hair in their pool as Harry is seen being dried off while watching The Addams Family. At the police station, LaFleur calls up someone stating that he has a lead on Bigfoot and tells him to secure his release by this day. George calls Dr. Wallace Wrightwood from the museum and asks to have dinner to speak about Bigfoot. At the Henderson house, George is met by the same museum clerk who is revealed to be Dr. Wrightwood himself, having also become a laughing stock. Dr. Wrightwood tries to tell George and the rest of the family to give up on Bigfoot as it has destroyed his life and will do so to theirs. His faith is rejuvenated when he meets Harry, and instantly he agrees to take him to safety, away from the city. By this time, LaFleur has been bailed of jail and heads to the Henderson house. George and Harry escape the house with Dr. Wrightwood and his old truck. LaFleur gives chase and eventually catches up with the Henderson family.

Fleeing to the mountains of Washington state, George tries to make Harry leave, going so far as to hit Harry. Confused and upset, Harry does not leave, allowing LaFleur to catch up to them. When LaFleur attacks the Henderson’s dog, Harry attacks LaFleur until George intervenes. Through George’s faith and Harry’s kindness, LaFleur changes his mind and decides that Harry deserves to live peacefully. As the family says goodbye, George thanks Harry for all he has done for the family and tells him to take care of himself, to which Harry replies “OK” (his first spoken words). As Harry leaves, several other Sasquatches appear from their hiding places and also disappear in the wilderness with him much to the amazement of the Hendersons. When Dr. Wrightwood asks LaFleur what he’s going to do next, LaFleur quotes “I don’t know. There’s always Loch Ness.” As the two of them laugh at that comment, the Hendersons keep waving goodbye to Harry.

REVIEW:

Going back to my elementary school days, one of the films that I seem to have a fondness for is Harry and the Hendersons, and since I’ve recently started watching 3rd Rock from the Sun again, this might be a good time to go back to this classic comedy. Will it still hold fond memories after I watch it again? Who knows?

What is this about?

Returning home from vacation, the Hendersons accidentally run over a strange Bigfoot-type animal. They decide to take the friendly “Harry” home, but soon they’re scrambling to hide their new friend from authorities and Bigfoot hunters.

What did I like?

Bigfoot. This is a different take on Bigfoot. Instead of the big, scary monster that will devour you whole, we get a big, scary, monster that cares for others. Also, I must mention the design of the character and how he was portrayed on screen. I believe this came out around the same time as Beauty & the Beast, and Harry’s look somewhat reflects that (as does the movie poster). As far as his portrayal, the actor inside the suit was able to show us more feeling through a few grunts and eye movements than I’ve seen from almost all of Hollywood in the last 5-10 yrs…at least.

Family. I’ve noticed that when a family is on-screen, they don’t often feel like one. When my family would take road trips, I would be doing two things…annoying my sister or sleeping. That feeling is what I got from watching this group. Typical mom and dad love each other and brother and sister are at each other’s throats. Ah….memories!

All the right pieces. Screen legend Don Ameche plays a scientist who had been studying/searching for Bigfoot for most of his life. The way we are introduced to him, one would almost think he’s hunting for Harry, too, but as it turns out he is one of the good guys. Chalk that up to Ameche’s ability to bring the audience in and manipulate us one way or the other. Now, couple him in a cast that also has John Lithgow, Lanie Kazan, and a couple of short scenes with character actor M. Emmet Walsh, plus the rest of the cast. Those aren’t bad pieces for a small family comedy, huh?

What didn’t I like?

Papa, can you hear me? I don’t really understand the reasoning for having Lithgow work for his father M. Emmet Walsh at their outdoor store. Anyone could have been the manager there and the father could have been used or brought in elsewhere. It just seemed an odd, not necessarily bad, choice. I would like to know the reasoning, but that’ll probably never happen.

Hunter for hire. Our antagonist is a French (maybe Canadian?) hunter with all sort of tracking, hunting, and military skills. What’s the problem with this guy? As a comedic villain, he was a bit too cartoony for my taste. They should have made this guy hardcore and serious about his craft, rather than the moustache twirling version we got on screen. I wonder how much different that prison scene would have been. Instead of the other prisoners avoiding him because of the stench, they’d probably be avoiding him out of fear!

Recovery. Here is something I have a problem with. The Hendersons bring home Harry, a 7 ft tall creature who proceeds to destroy their house and subsequently, the neighbor’s garden. This can perhaps be attributed to why no one has been able to actually see Bigfoot, but does no one else in this neighborhood hear all the noise going on at the house that hasn’t been there before? This was during the time when neighborhood watch was big and the slightest peep that wasn’t normal would send everyone to their phones calling the police. I don’t know, maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky about that, though.

Final verdict on Harry and the Hendersons? There was a time in the mid 80s where everyone was trying to rip off E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial. In some ways, this could be considered another of those, storywise…also probably the better ones. This lovable Sasquatch is definitely an underrated gem in family film. If I’m not mistaken, there was a spinoff TV show that lasted a few seasons, as well! Do I recommend this picture? Yes…yes I do.

4 out of 5 stars

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