Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Sony Music Films
|Box office||$67 million (overseas)|
Moonwalker is a 1988 American experimental anthology musical film starring Michael Jackson. Rather than featuring one continuous narrative, the film expresses the influence of fandom and innocence through a collection of short films about Michael Jackson, several of which are long-form music videos from Jackson's Bad album. The film is named after the dance technique known as the moonwalk, which Jackson was known for performing.
The film's segments are meant to represent the different stages in Jackson's career and were based on his own view of how his fans idolized him rather than listening to the messages he wanted to say with his music.
"Man in the Mirror"
The first segment of Moonwalker is a live performance of "Man in the Mirror" during his Bad World Tour in Europe. Clips from Wembley Stadium among others can be seen. It also features a montage of clips of children in Africa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus Christ, kids in graduation, and other historical figures.
The third segment is a parody of the music video for Bad's title song, featuring children filling the roles of various people from the original clip. The video stars Brandon Quintin Adams (who also appears in the Smooth Criminal segment later in the film) as the young Michael Jackson, who would later star in The People Under the Stairs, The Mighty Ducks and The Sandlot. It also featured three of Michael's nephews Jermaine La Jaune Jackson, Jr. along with TJ and Taryll Jackson and a young Nikki Cox, who later starred in Unhappily Ever After and Las Vegas. The singing group The Boys appeared as background dancers.
The fourth segment begins with the "Badder" short film transitioning into the second short film, "Speed Demon", produced by Claymation innovator Will Vinton. A portion of the clip is set to Jackson's song "Speed Demon".
After filming "Badder", Little Michael and his bodyguards (also young kids) are leaving the set and walk through a cloud of smoke and come out as their regular adult age. As he exits the set, he is spotted by tourists and they suddenly begin to chase him for an autograph. In an attempt to avoid the overzealous fans (including camera-happy Japanese tourists accompanied by stereotyped "Oriental" music, the press, and even The Noid) plus some gunslingers (after stumbling upon the filming of a Western helmed by a director resembling Steven Spielberg), Jackson soon disguises himself as a rabbit named Spike, using a costume from one of the film sets (imbued with animatronic properties using Claymation, giving a similar combined-media effect as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but with more obvious bluescreening), but ends up taunting the fans into chasing him once they realize it is him. Michael steals a motorcycle in order to flee, with the fans and paparazzi (now also appearing in Claymation form) giving chase in various other, more cartoonish vehicles. During the chase, he morphs into other celebrities, namely Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner and Pee-wee Herman, with the bike also briefly morphing (into a jackhammer, stop sign, waterski, and jet pack) in repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to throw the fans off.
After a long chase, the fans/press are finally thwarted by crashing into a giant (Claymation) cop and are arrested. Michael finally then managed to escape and rides off to a desert. He takes off his rabbit costume and it then suddenly comes to life and challenges him to an extended dance-off. In the end, a passing traffic cop interrupts Michael to point out he is in a "No Dancing Zone", and when Michael turns to show him that he was competing with the rabbit, he sees that the rabbit has disappeared. The cop then sarcastically asks for Michael's autograph (as opposed to "signature") on the ticket. Just as Michael is preparing to leave, the rabbit's head materializes on a nearby rocky crag, which then nods to him and smiles.
"Leave Me Alone"
The fifth segment of the film is a surreal animated music video for the song "Leave Me Alone", focusing on Supermarket tabloid interest in Jackson's personal life, because he had felt that people wouldn't leave him alone. It compares Jackson's life to an amusement park, and how his fans just see him as such. It is meant to point out, in a mocking tone, the way the tabloids unnecessarily sensationalized his life with claims that he had a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor and bought the Elephant Man's bones. In the video, Jackson's life is portrayed as a circus due to the press's manipulation and the everyday tug-of-war he endured as an artist. His beloved then-pet chimp Bubbles makes a cameo appearance as Jackson is seen picking him up and riding with him in his roller coaster car. His pet snake, Muscles, is also present. The press is portrayed with dog heads to insinuate that they are like animals. The segment ends with Jackson destroying the park, and looking off into space.
The segment begins with three homeless children (Sean, Katie, and Zeke) sneaking through a big city to see their friend Michael moving out of his apartment. As Michael stands in front of the door, he notices a falling star before he is ambushed by mobsters with machine guns. The film then backtracks to show Michael and the children playing in a meadow in happier times. As they're playing, their dog Skipper runs away, and as Michael and Katie look for him they uncover the lair of Mr. Big, whose real name Frankie Lideo is an allusion to Frank DiLeo (Michael Jackson's then-manager), is a drug-dealing mobster with an army of henchmen. He wants to get the entire population of Earth addicted to drugs, starting with children. As Mr. Big continues work on his operation, he discovers that Michael and Katie are spying on his operation.
The story returns to the ambush in front of Michael's apartment. Unknown to the gangsters, Michael wished on the falling star and escaped the gunfire, leaving only his jacket. Upon realizing he has escaped again, Mr. Big orders his henchmen to track down Michael with dogs. He is eventually cornered in an alley, where he wishes on another falling star and turns into a Lancia Stratos Zero sportscar that mows down several of Mr. Big's henchmen. Michael is pursued through the city streets until he loses the henchmen. Meanwhile, the children scout out Club 30s, where Michael had told them to meet him, and find only an abandoned nightclub. As Michael arrives, Katie sees a silhouette of him turning back from a car into himself. The door of the club opens with a gust of wind, and Michael walks in to find it filled with zoot suiters and swing dancers. The children gather outside a window of the club and watch Michael dance to "Smooth Criminal."
Mr. Big lays siege to the club and kidnaps Katie. Michael follows them back to Big's lair and ends up surrounded by his henchmen. Mr. Big appears and taunts Michael by threatening to inject Katie with highly addictive narcotics. While Katie manages to wriggle free, Mr. Big decides he's had enough and orders his men to kill Katie before finishing off Michael, but not before a falling star flies by. Michael transforms into a giant robot and kills all of Mr. Big's soldiers, then turns into a spaceship. Mr. Big gets into a large hillside-mounted energy cannon, firing on the spaceship into a nearby ravine. The children are his next target, but the spaceship returns from the ravine just in time to fire a beam in the cannon with Mr. Big inside. The children watch the ship fly into the night sky with a shower of light.
In the conclusion to "Smooth Criminal", Sean, Katie and Zeke return to the city, believing that Michael is gone forever. As the boys talk about Michael, Katie walks away crying and clutching a paper star. As she sits in a corner wishing for him to come back, the paper star flies out of her hand and Michael walks out of the night fog. He takes them to Club 30's, where they find that the club has turned into the backstage area of a concert. Michael's stage crew return the children's missing dog and then escort Michael onto the stage where he performs a cover of The Beatles song "Come Together" with the children watching and cheering him on from backstage.
During the closing credits, two more segments are shown. The first has Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing "The Moon is Walking" in Club 30's amidst behind-the-scenes clips. The second is the four-minute version of the "Smooth Criminal" music video.
- Michael Jackson as himself
- Joe Pesci as Frankie "Mr. Big" DiLeo
- Kellie Parker as Katie
- Sean Lennon as Sean
- Brandon Quintin Adams as Zeke and "Baby Bad" Michael
The release of Moonwalker was originally scheduled to coincide with Jackson's 1987 album, Bad. During the theatrical release of Moonwalker, Jackson was also embarking on the Bad World Tour, his first tour as a solo performer. The film was released theatrically in Europe and South America, but Warner Bros. canceled plans for a Christmas 1988 theatrical release in the United States. Moonwalker was instead released on home video in the United States and Canada on January 10, 1989, just as the Bad World Tour finished. (His tour was supposed to finish sooner, but had been postponed due to some vocal strain, so it went on until the last week of January 1989.) The video had sold more than 800,000 copies in the United States by April 17, 1989.
The film received mixed reviews. Critics praised the music though complained that there was no plot and that it seemed like a series of music videos tied together. Variety reported that Moonwalker "seems unsure of what it was supposed to be. At the center of the pic is the "Smooth Criminal" segment, a musical/dramatic piece full of dancing, schmaltzy kids, sci-fi effects and blazing machine guns (directed by Academy Award winner Colin Chilvers, based on a story by Jackson). Around it are really just numerous Jackson music videos with little or no linkage. Although quite enjoyable the whole affair does not make for a structured or professional movie."
Moonwalker was released on VHS, and remained #1 on Billboard's Video Chart for 22 weeks.
The Video Software Dealer's Association awarded Jackson with an award for Moonwalker in 1989.
In 1989, Moonwalker was honoured with a certification of 800,000 copies sold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Moonwalker has been certified 9 x Platinum in the United Kingdom.
The "Leave Me Alone" video aired as a separate entity and won a Grammy in 1990 for Breakthrough Animated Video, which is the only Grammy Award Jackson received for the album Bad. "Leave Me Alone" video also won the Cannes Gold Lion Award for Best Special Effects.
Due to the large budget, the film had a limited theatrical release and was released in the United States on VHS and LaserDisc almost immediately afterwards. The vignettes featured in the movie also appear in a DVD box set of Michael Jackson music videos titled Michael Jackson's Vision. The set only features the song and dance sequences from "Smooth Criminal", the title song, and the ending "Come Together" as opposed to the entire short film.
Moonwalker was released on a region-free Blu-ray in the United Kingdom in June 2010 by Warner Bros. This Blu-ray version contained a new remastered transfer and a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The release has been censored, with the scenes of Mr. Big hitting Katie and threatening to inject her with heroin cut. The Blu-ray was released in its original theatrical 16:9 aspect ratio, different from the previous 4:3 home releases.
Because of specific music and film licensing, Moonwalker has yet to be officially released on DVD and/or Blu-ray in North America. However, imported region-free DVD copies of the film from Japan or China have surfaced throughout the web.
|Canada (Music Canada)||4× Platinum||40,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||9× Platinum||450,000*|
|United States (RIAA)||8× Platinum||800,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
Moonwalker was first adapted in game form to various home computers by British developer U.S. Gold. This top-down action game followed the segments of the film and bore little resemblance to the latter, more popular games developed by Sega with Michael Jackson's cooperation.
Moonwalker was developed into an arcade video game by Sega with the help of Jackson, which was released on the Sega System 18 hardware. A distinct adaptation was also developed for Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive and Master System home video game systems. The console versions of the game were actually based on an evolved version of the side-scrolling Sega Mega Drive Shinobi series engine, while the arcade version was a three-quarters beat 'em up.
Both the console and arcade versions are based on the "Smooth Criminal" segment of the film, following Michael in suit and fedora through stages based on his different music videos as he rescues children from the drug dealer Mr. Big. In the three-player simultaneous arcade game, contact with Bubbles, Michael's chimp, transformed him into a robot warrior, replacing Michael's "star magic" and melee dance attacks with missiles and laser beams. In the console versions on certain levels, rescuing a certain child first would trigger a comet to fall from the sky that could be grabbed transforming Michael into the robot (which could fly with a rocket pack as well as using lasers and a missile special attack). Michael automatically changes into a robot for the final showdown with Mr. Big's henchmen and finally into a space ship for the last battle, in a sort of flight-sim shooter in the Genesis/Mega Drive version. All incarnations of the game featured the ability of Michael to use some form of "Dance Magic" which would force his enemies to dance to the music of various tunes from "Bad" or "Thriller" and be destroyed as a result.
In 1989, Blackthorne Publishing adapted the film into a comic book, Moonwalker 3-D (# 75 in Blackthorne's 3-D Series). This title, illustrated by Abel Laxamana  was a major contributing factor in the demise of Blackthorne, since the publisher had to pay a large licensing fee for the property, and when the comic flopped, they experienced a large financial loss. Blackthorne ceased its operations in 1990.
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