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Film / Carnival Magic

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Carnival Magic is a 1981 fantasy film starring Don Stewart as a magician who sets out to save a local carnival from going out of business with a super-smart talking chimpanzee. Complications and hijinks ensue as Alex the chimp gets into mischief, and a jealous lion-tamer and an unscrupulous doctor cause trouble for Markov and the rest of the heroes.

Of some note, the film was considered the great "lost" Al Adamson film for many years, until a 35mm print was found in a warehouse in 2009.

This movie was featured in an episode of the reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Tropes pertaining to that episode can be found here.


This movie contains examples of the following:

  • Abusive Parent: Downplayed; due to issue stemming from her mother's abandonment, Stoney doesn't let Ellen dress in feminine clothes and exclusively refers to her as Bud. Markov and David talk him out of this.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The question of why Alex is able to speak is never addressed at all.
  • And Starring: "Introducing Missy O'Shea (The Girl In The Car)".
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: If there's a talking chimp around and you want to study it in the name of science, most folk would try things like interviews and non-invasive physiological assessments before cutting the dang guy open.
  • Deadly Doctor: Dr. Poole, who shows up wanting to study Alex and refuses to take no for an answer. His plan ultimately is to kill Alex and dissect him, and he eventually resorts to drastic measures with help from Kirk.
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  • Dinky Drivers: Alex takes a car (with its hapless sleeping passenger inside) for a joyride at one point, driving around crazily, causing a police car to wreck, and destroying a fruit stand at a gas station.
  • Disney Death: By the time Markov, Stoney, and the rest of the carnies reach Doctor Poole's lab to rescue Alex, they arrive just in time to see Alex on the brink of death after ingesting some poisonous material, and Alex seemingly dies shortly afterward. He gets better.
  • For Science!: Dr. Poole's only motivation. Why he thinks that trained behaviors are best studied via vivisection is never really made clear.
  • Jerkass: Kirk, boy howdy. He basically quits the carnival over a bruised ego, doesn't even act the least bit grateful to Markov for saving him from one of his own tigers, and even beats his girlfriend when she begins questioning him about his plans for Alex.
  • Karma Houdini: Alex gets in numerous trouble throughout the movie, which neither he, Markov, or the carnies ever have to answer for. Alex even steals a car (inadvertently kidnapping a woman who was asleep in it in the process), and causes the sheriff to wreck his car before ultimately plowing it into numerous objects including a fruit stand. You really would think that any of the main characters would experience some repercussions for that if anything. (In reality the carnival would probably get sued.)
  • Kick the Dog: Kirk abuses both his animals and his girlfriend.
  • The Lost Lenore: Markov is still mourning his late wife at the beginning of the film.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: There are a couple of scenes that seem to imply that Markov's magic is real.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: When the carnies band together to rescue Alex.
  • Missing Mom: Ellen's mom ran out on her and Stoney years ago, which contributed to the issues Stoney suffers from in the film.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The two dancers. One sides with Markov, the other with Kirk; only one pair ends well.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Markov comes across like this.
  • Police Code for Everything: The Sheriff sees a moving car that apparently has no driver, and radios that he's "chasing a Ghost Car." The Deputy catches up and sees Alex the chimp is driving (and there's a girl in the backseat), so he radios that there's "a King Kong" in progress.
  • Product Placement: One of Markov and Alex's acts at the carnival includes a Snickers bar as a prop.
  • Random Events Plot: Once Alex is discovered, the movie just sort of meanders from scene to scene until the third act.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Kirk the animal tamer is the carnival's headline act, but you'd think he had top billing at Caesar's Palace the way he carries on.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Markov listens to the animal noises and replies in English, but its clear they understand each other. This is the origin of his feud with Kirk (who is upset that his animals like Markov better) and implied to be how he trained Alex.
  • Storming the Castle: The entire carnival piles into their cars and drives to Poole's lab in order to rescue Alex.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Stoney has his daughter Ellen disguised as a boy named Bud when she's working at the carnival for the first part of the movie. Ellen doesn't like this much at all.
  • Talking Animal: Alex the chimp, an extremely intelligent chimpanzee capable of speech.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Markov saves Kirk from potential death after one of Kirk's tigers mauls him. In return, Kirk helps Dr. Poole abduct Alex for vivisection.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Poole and Kirk are both terribly evil, well beyond what should be in a nominal family movie.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Markov.