Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons. Amblin Entertainment 1987.
Harry and the Hendersons. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I get a sense this movie was conceived as a response to the success of E.T. Instead of an alien hiding in a suburban family’s home, it’s a sasquatch. This time around the entire family is in on the secret (and the dad seems to be the one taking point on how to handle hiding him), but there’s still government people looking for him and he can’t stay forever. Not a total knockoff like Mac and Me, and produced by the same companies, this might be more of a spiritual sequel.

I know nothing about what any of the family does other than John Lithgow, but I assume the kids play with Harry, do cute kid stuff with him, and are generally the main catalyst for sasquatch antics.

After watching the movie:

Yuppie hunter George Henderson, while driving his family home from the Mt. Ranier camping trip he dragged them on, runs into a seven-foot tall ape-man. Thinking him dead, George talks the family into letting him bring the beast’s body home to sell as a rare specimen. Then he wakes up. Their house can’t withstand the weight and strength of the sasquatch, who is terribly averse to the idea of mammals coming to harm and not so concerned about carelessly breaking inanimate objects, but before they can lure “Harry” back to Mt. Ranier, he leaves on his own, wandering through the area getting seen and misunderstood by townsfolk who expect Bigfoot to be a bloodthirsty monster and stirring up a town full of armed sasquatch hunters out to protect themselves by shooting first. Not only is George trying to save Harry to do right by him, he and the rest of the family have come to love the big guy.

I was wrong about the government being involved. The police are trying to manage the panic, and there’s a hunter who’s been trying to bag a sasquatch for years, but mostly the reason Harry can’t stay is because he doesn’t fit in suburbia. The suggestion that he’s around scares the town into the gun stores, and entirely without meaning to, he breaks every man-made thing he touches, so if he stays, he’s going to leave a trail of destruction until he gets killed. And he’s so harmless, he’s a vegetarian (though fish are okay).

The rest of the family doesn’t have a great deal to do. They slot into roles and serve as canvases onto which Harry’s antics can play. The pragmatic wife, the moody teenager, the eagerly impressionable kid. It’s George’s story, they just live in it. And that’s fine, I just expected a more ensemble-driven plot.

This doesn’t so much have a message to sell as a philosophy it lives in. It doesn’t feel like it’s very strongly trying to teach me to put down the gun and get to know what’s scaring me, it just exists in a worldview where that’s obvious, but it’s inevitable that people won’t. And of course it was already obvious to me, so maybe I’m just the choir being preached to. But it simply seems like the most straightforward theme to write on when developing a sasquatch in suburbia slapstick comedy. Everything that isn’t the practical effects just seems to be path of least resistance.

This was a bit of fun, but predictable in a direction I didn’t initially predict. It promises antics with bigfoot, and that’s what it delivers. It’s a vehicle for Harry and his shenanigans and everything else is the delivery vector for them. And that’s enjoyable, but nothing terribly special. I’m sure there are a lot of people who love this movie, but I think it reached me 20 years too late.

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