Moon Pilot was based on Robert Buckner's 1960 novel Starfire, which was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. Considered by many to be one of Disney's best and most sophisticated live action films, Moon Pilot takes a satirical look at the space program during the Kennedy era, taking gentle swipes at America's government and military.
Moon Pilot was partly a vehicle for lead actor Tom Tryon, who had previously made his mark with Disney playing Texas John Slaughter on the Walt Disney Presents television show between 1958 and 1961. Although Tryon never reached stardom as an actor, he ultimately quit show business to become a successful horror and mystery novelist (The Other, Harvest Home, Night Magic).
The lovely French actress Dany Saval is also featured in Moon Pilot in one of her few American film roles. Character actors Brian Keith and Edmond O'Brien lend comic support as a blustery general and FBI agent, respectively. Disney veteran Tommy Kirk (Old Yeller , The Shaggy Dog ) also appears in a small role as Tryon's younger brother Walter.
Moon Pilot was a modest success upon its release in 1962 and received generally positive reviews. "Sacred cows, if skillfully milked," said Time magazine, "produce tons of fun; but Hollywood usually avoids them because they often kick back. The more reason to be pleasantly surprised that Walt Disney, not specifically known for socio-political daring, should have herded three of these pampered critters-the FBI, the Air Force and the astronaut program-into the same plot. Under the deft manipulation of Director James Neilson and Scenarist Maurice Tombragel, they produce a fairly steady stream of healthy nonsense." The New York Times said, "Of all people, Mr. Disney is making good-natured fun of the high-minded scientific project of firing a man around the moon...Mr. O'Brien rants and mugs something awful. So does Brian Keith. And Mr. Tryon does a lot of mugging too. But Charlie is natural and amusing (isn't every chimpanzee?) and the rocket stuff is fascinating. This should be a fun film for the kids." Variety said, "It's a healthy country that can take time out to laugh at its most sacred troublesome issues, and a healthy industry that supplies the tonic to ease such excess anxiety."
Moon Pilot also marked the first of several films that James Neilson (Summer Magic , The Moon-Spinners ) directed for Disney. Academy Award-winning songwriting team the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins , Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ) contributed three songs to Moon Pilot: "Seven Moons of Beta Lyrae," "True Love's an Apricot" and "The Void."
Producer: Walt Disney (uncredited)
Director: James Neilson
Screenplay: Maurice Tombragel; Robert Buckner (novel "Starfire")
Cinematography: William E. Snyder
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Marvin Aubrey Davis
Music: Paul J. Smith
Film Editing: Cotton Warburton
Cast: Tom Tryon (Capt. Richmond Talbot), Brian Keith (Maj. Gen. John M. Vanneman), Edmond O'Brien (McClosky), Dany Saval (Lyrae), Bob Sweeney (Sen. Henry McGuire), Kent Smith (Secretary of the Air Force), Tommy Kirk (Walter Talbot), Simon Scott (Medical Officer), Bert Remsen (Agent Brown), Sarah Selby (Mrs. Celia Talbot), Dick Whittinghill (Col. Briggs).
by Andrea Passafiume