Be forewarned that this witless but diverting Disney comedy contains far less monkey-related frivolity than the title might suggest. Tommy Kirk returns as science whiz Merlin Jones, who becomes the legal guardian of a chimpanzee named Stanley in hopes of teaching the beast advanced social skills. This initial storyline is set aside once the Midvale College football team is endangered due to low grades. In exchange for the acceptance of the best fraternity on campus, Merlin develops an "honest way to cheat" by implanting exam answers subliminally while the football heroes sleep. After some initial controversy, this successful method is hailed by the faculty as a perfectly legitimate escape route for terminally lazy students. Unfortunately, the football team is threatened once again when a generous endowment comes with strings attached, and the result is an end to the popular collegiate sport. Merlin is called upon to build the world's first successful man-powered flying machine, for which an even bigger cash payment will be awarded by a more football-friendly donor. Can he do it? It takes a lot of dubious science and a token song from Annette Funicello to find out, but precious little of the simian-based comedy the viewer might be expecting. After dominating the first few scenes of The Monkey's Uncle, Stanley the chimpanzee fades to the background, appearing from time to time to help Merlin out in the lab, make coffee, and chatter into the lens as punctuation to the pratfalls of his human co-stars. Veteran character actors like Frank Faylen and Leon Ames bluster nicely, but Kirk and Funicello aren't overly ambitious as the youthful leads and their fellow students fare no better. Enlightened parents may want to think twice about subjecting their children to the prehistoric gender dynamics of The Monkey's Uncle. True, Annette Funicello's character is a college student, but appears to be interested only in receiving her MRS degree, and supportive boyfriend Kirk says things to her like, "Try to think intelligently instead of like a girl." For Beach Boys fans, the best part of The Monkey's Uncle will be the film's opening credits, in which the fab five rock a frat party with Funicello on lead vocals. While they punch out the irresistibly catchy theme tune ("Love his monkeyshines/Every day his valentine/I love the monkey's uncle and the monkey's uncle's ape for me") the camera gets a skirt-level eyeful of the dance floor and lively footage of the original pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys with their lovely guest doing what she's best at, namely being cute and singing silly songs. It's nearly worth the price of admission.
by Fred Beldin review