The comeback vehicle of TV mountain man Dan Haggerty, (“Grizzly Adams”), “Grizzly Mountain” boasts spectacular scenery, time-travel twists and a worthy environmental message. Aiming for the kind of wholesome wilderness adventure Disney used to make, pic doesn’t quite reach the mark due mainly to a rather anemic script, but still emerges as pleasant family entertainment. Commercial prospects look just fair, as its box office security promises to be short-lived given the imminent arrival of much bigger bears in the marketplace.
First-time director Jeremy Haft and co-scripter Peter White set the story in rural Oregon in two different eras. After a brief prologue in Oregon’s mountains circa 1870, the action jumps ahead to the present-day Portland suburbs, from where an attractive young family heads for the mountains on a camping trip. When kids Dylan (Dylan Haggerty) and Nicole (Nicole Lund) wander off to explore the environs, they soon find themselves in a mysterious cave that begins to rumble, shake and emit bursts of light. Emerging from the cave, Dylan and Nicole find they’ve been transported 127 years into the past.
There they meet Jeremiah (Haggerty), a kindly mountain man who promises to help them find their parents. But Jeremiah has other pressing problems, like Boss Man Burt (Perry Stephens), a greedy entrepreneur anxious to level the forest and dynamite the mountain so he can bring the railroad to the fictional nearby town of Saragosa.
Alternating between two time periods, the film tries — with mixed success — to balance two dilemmas. In underwritten sequences, Dylan and Nicole’s parents search for their kids; meanwhile, the two youngsters find themselves increasingly involved in Jeremiah’s struggle. Along with Jeremiah, his animal friends and a local Indian tribe, the kids try to outsmart Boss Man Burt and his team of dimwitted but menacing villains. They booby-trap the bad guys’ hideout and terrorize the villains with their transistor radios and videogames. These scenes, albeit hackneyed, are among the film’s most amusing. Eventually, the territorial marshal helps save the day, removing the explosives and restoring land rights to the Indians.
Remainder of the story is straightforward: The kids bond with animals and learn to love nature. When their parents finally find them, having made it through the cave, Dylan and Nicole persuade their father not to violate the integrity of the mountain.
Production values run the gamut. Lensing by Andy Parke is crisp and fine, with stunning shots that embrace Oregon’s mountains and Crater Lake. Special effects, however, such as the time-travel sequences, look cheap and unconvincing.
Acting is generally adequate, though Haft has better luck with adults than with children. Haggerty, who has cornered the market on the lovable mountain man role, seems to have lost a mere step or two since his “Grizzly Adams” days some 20 years ago — all the more remarkable since a near-fatal motorcycle accident two years ago almost cost him a leg.