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Film / Harry and the Hendersons

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For as long as there have been stories, there have been legends. Many of these explain things now covered by science, while others cover the inexplicable for which science cannot account. Even as human knowledge expands, there always seem to be elusive creatures that tread the blurry line between legend and fact, which people swear are real but no one has been able to reliably study. These creatures are likely to remain in the shadows of human understanding.

At least they were, until George Henderson hit one with his car.

Realizing that he just made the find of the century on his way back from a family camping trip, George packs up what he believes to be the corpse of a Sasquatch and takes it home with visions of fame and fortune dancing in the minds of his family, but soon after makes a number of other discoveries: The creature was not dead, only stunned. And far from being the rampaging monster they first fear he is, he just appears to be quite gentle and curious, if confused about his current setting.

Now they have a new problem: Keeping him a secret.

Harry and the Hendersons (1987) is a family comedy film starring John Lithgow as George Henderson, against the rather phenomenal special effects by Rick Baker used to bring the friendly Bigfoot to life, for which the movie won an Oscar. It was followed by a 1991-1993 live-action series following the adventures of the Hendersons and their pet Bigfoot, billed as "ALF for the 90s".

This movie contains examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: If not for Irene's intervention (even though it was for different reasons), LaFleur might have gotten the jump on the Hendersons.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Unlike his family, Ernie looks amused when Harry starts (unintentionally) demolishing their house. He's also impressed when he realizes LaFleur is chasing them with their own car.
  • Alliterative Name: Harry Henderson, once he gets his name.
  • Award-Bait Song: Love Lives On by Joe Cocker.
  • Ax-Crazy: During the frenzy while Harry is missing, a customer in the hunting store is desperate to buy a gun in order to defend himself from Harry (since Harry was spotted three blocks from the man's house). What kind of gun is the customer looking to buy? Either a Magnum, an M16, or a fully automatic gun equipped with a night scope.
  • Batman in My Basement: The basic premise.
  • Believer Fakes Evidence: We see Lafluer planting bigfoot tracks earlier in the film to try and gin up belief in the creature. Ironically, his own technique would be used against him later, when the Henderson family strap on Bigfoot plaster casts to leave fake tracks, only in this case to lead Lafleur away from the creature, whom they have come to love as a member of the family.
  • Big-Hearted Bigfoot: Harry might as well be the poster-child for this trope.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Not only does George yell at Harry to try to get him to leave (so he can escape a Sasquatch hunter), he also punches him. Considering Harry's size, ordinarily this would be very bad for George's health. He does give him a proper goodbye once he and the hunter have made peace later on.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: George finally stands up to his father and goes off on him after the latter changes his gentle Sasquatch standee to look more ferocious.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: The title.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Initially, when George and Dr. Wrightwood first met, the latter with a jerkass façade vehemently refuses to divulge any information about the legend of Bigfoot as it ended his scientific career in disgrace and left him bitter and disillusioned and he doesn't want that happen to George.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Harry doesn't know that the Hendersons' house isn't Sasquatch-proofed.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The entire reason George hits Harry is that he is speeding through the wilderness roads despite Nancy's repeated pleas for him to drive carefully.
  • Everyone Has Standards: George has no qualms about hunting (for food or taxidermy), or teaching his son to shoot, but when his father gets an idea to turn their hunting store into a "Bigfoot Central" in order to raise business, George shows concern not only for Harry's safety, but because it might bring in a lot of people unqualified to handle a loaded firearm.
  • Everyone Must Be Paired: In the series's Grand Finale, Harry hooks up with a yeti girlfriend, all the major characters pair up, and only the parents remain at home with their youngest son... until a neighborhood girl borrows him as well, leaving the parents to enjoy their Happily Married life in quiet for a while.
  • Evil Plan: Jacques LaFleur seeks to kill Harry to prove Bigfoot is real.
  • Fish out of Water: Harry, once transplanted to suburbia.
  • Frazetta Man: Zig-zagged in Harry's case. He resembles a generic archaic hominid, has ape-like features, but we also see females and infants of his species at the end of the movie, and he doesn't seem to find human females attractive.
  • Gentle Giant: Harry might be big and strong, but in personality, he's like an eight-foot teddy bear. He is also a herbivore, (mostly. He does eat fish) and gets visibly upset when confronted with hunting trophies, furs, and even cooked meat. (George had been a hunter, and worked in a hunting goods store at the beginning of the movie.)
  • Groin Attack: LaFleur knees Harry in the squishy bits. At first, it seems to do nothing but make him mad - but then he drops LaFleur and howls in pain, and then gets really mad. Apparently Sasquatch has nards.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The hunter Jacques LaFleur at the end, when he realizes that Harry isn't dangerous.
  • Hidden Depths: George initially seems like your typical manly man hunter, but his interactions with Harry show that he is also quite kind, sensitive, and a highly talented artist.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: How the Sasquatches avoid being found.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: It's a subtle but present part of the Aesop of the film. Anyone who encounters Harry is scared witless, and the rash of sightings after he's brought into civilization sparks a frenzy of frightened people. However, despite his enormous size, Harry is a Gentle Giant. It's the humans like LeFleur who are the truly violent and dangerous ones. Harry is appalled when he discovers George's hunting trophies, and upon realizing the deer head on George's wall isn't actually attached to a deer, the look Harry gives him practically screams, "how could you do this?"
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Dr. Wrightwood was once a Bigfoot believer, but finding no evidence during his scientific searches that disgraced him left him bitter and disillusioned. It takes seeing Harry with his own eyes to restore his faith to giddily believe to be Real After All.
  • Masquerade: The Hendersons realize that Harry could be in a lot of danger if people find out about him.
  • Meaningful Name: Harry didn't come with a name, but Ernie misinterprets his father saying "hairy friend" as "Harry" (the "friend" was muffled by the sound of the car door crashing) and the name sticks.
  • Nonhumans Lack Attributes: Played with: Harry's fur is thicker in that particular area and nothing is in immediate evidence, but Sarah Henderson states that she can tell he is male. (Her mother starts to ask how she knows, but has a moment of realization and avoids further inquiry). LaFleur confirms this later. Ow.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Irene.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: George is concerned that the Bigfoot-related hype running roughshod through Seattle will lead to many unqualified people arming themselves. Later, he is clearly frustrated by a panicky customer who tries to purchase "anything that goes fully automatic", the man clearly ignorant of the fact that such a weapon is illegal.
  • Right Behind Me: Dr. Wrightwood discovers near the end that for someone who is eight feet tall and probably more than 500 pounds, Harry is really, really quiet.
  • Running Over the Plot: The Hendersons hit a Bigfoot (the titular Harry) with their car, then take it home to recuperate.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sarah frets that Harry's presence will wreck her social life, speculating that her classmates will pour pig's blood on her if they find out.
    • The Addams Family theme music plays during a scene where Harry is being groomed.
    • George mentions to Nancy (played by Melinda Dillon, who has played another well-known mom) that even though he asked for paints for Christmas one year, his father got him a BB gun.
  • Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying: Most primates would interpret Harry's toothy grin as an aggressive or fearful gesture rather than a friendly one. The again, Harry is clearly shown to be more like a human than an ape.
  • Spanner in the Works: While LaFleur is preparing to sneak attack on Harry, Irene arrives and starts threatening him, alerting the Hendersons to his presence.
  • Stock Ness Monster: After LaFleur finally gives up on hunting Harry, Wrightwood asks him what he will do now. LaFleur states he might try hunting the Loch Ness Monster. A case of Hilarious in Hindsight - an episode of the TV series did have the characters seeing Nessie, although we aren't shown it.
  • There Is Another: At the end they release Harry into a forest and he goes off with three other Bigfoots.
  • Wham Line:
    George: You take care of yourself now, okay?
    Harry: Okay! (grins)
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Harry is a gentle creature that gets greatly upset when he discovers George's trophies. However, he does eat fish without hesitation. Presumably it's the nature of keeping the dead as trophies that disturbs him.