Nielsen Ratings: Mr Magoo (1998) Review

Picture the scene – it’s the mid-1990s and adapting cartoons is all the rage for some reason. Disney studios turns its attention to multi-Oscar winning cartoon character Mr J Quincy Magoo, an elderly, wealthy and extremely near-sighted retiree who constantly gets into scrapes thanks to his refusal to acknowledge his near-sightedness. He’s a character very much of his time – and by of his time I mean 1949 when he was first invented. If you’re going to interpret the goofy short-sighted slapstick as insensitively ableist then you’re not going to have a good time with this movie. Actually, unless you’re quite young or very undemanding, there’s a chance you won’t have a good time with this movie regardless.

Leslie Nielsen as Mr Magoo

I’ve always had an enormous affection for Leslie Nielsen (as if this season of #NielsenRatings hadn’t given you a big enough hint of that) which I’ve come to realise is partly, I think, because he resembles my late grandfather so much. Not, thankfully, in general bumbling ineptitude or clumsy slapstick antics but the snow white hair and gentle, twinkle-eyed humour with an unassuming air of quiet authority. And its because of this subconscious bias, I’ve been both defensive of Nielsen and protective of myself by avoiding some of his more likely to be poor movies.

It’s with this in mind that I approached “Mr Magoo” with the low bar that it just needed to not be terrible. And you know what? It’s not.

By today’s neo-puritanical standards it’s got plenty of problematic elements – enough even to prompt Disney+ to preface the movie with one of its “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures” warnings but everything problematic comes straight from the source material. Putting that to one side, we’ve got a reliably committed performance from Nielsen who, not content with bringing his usual comic timing and studied obliviousness, makes the effort to incorporate as much of the verbal flourishes of Mr Magoo as originated by Jim Backus.

The film plunges our hapless Mr Magoo into a ramshackle and nonsensical plot involving a purloined precious stone and a shady international crime syndicate, which provide a backdrop for a variety of silly shenanigans which will entertain the under-10s but are likely to leave any older viewers yearning for the erudition and trenchant wit of Mr Bean.

What it may lack in sophistication, it makes up for in star power with Nielsen joined on screen by a host of recognisable names picking up and cashing their cheques as quickly as possible: Jennifer Garner, Ernie Hudson, Kelly Lynch, Malcolm McDowell and Miguel Ferrer all join in the fun. Ultimately it’s another one checked off my Leslie Nielsen blind spot list (sorry) and it achieved everything I required of it: it wasn’t terrible and my affection for Mr Nielsen remains undiminished.

Leslie Nielsen Rating 04

Nielsen Rating 4/10

Nielsen Ratings