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Film / Moonwalker

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Timmy: Oh, look, look, Grammy. It's M-M-M-Mi-Mi-MI—It's M-M-Mi-Mi-
Grammy: Mantovani?

Moonwalker is a 1988 film starring Michael Jackson, and both his only major film appearance after The Wiz in 1978 and his only film as the star, not counting the posthumous documentary Michael Jackson's This Is It. It's best described as a Music Video anthology, with music mostly drawn from his 1987 album Bad. The eight segments are:

  • "Man in the Mirror" — Clips of Jackson performing this song on the Bad tour are combined with clips from the original video taking a look at world movers and shakers over the 20th century.
  • "Retrospective" — A mixed-media montage of Jackson's career from his Jackson 5ive days to what was then the present.
  • "Badder" — The "Bad" video remade with an all-kiddie cast.
  • "Speed Demon" — Michael is pursued around a movie studio by Claymation critters; he escapes by disguising himself as one (a rabbit).
  • "Leave Me Alone" — A song about a romantic relationship ending is visually presented as Jackson's commentary on the media picking on him for his eccentricities (both real and rumored).
  • "Smooth Criminal" — The centerpiece segment, taking up about half the film total, has Michael battling a drug-peddling supervillain (Joe Pesci) and his goons for the sake of his kid friends and children the world over. By the end, Michael has turned himself into a spaceship to achieve this goal. (Would it surprise you to learn that Michael himself came up with this storyline?) Note to fans of film music: the David Newman credited as the screenwriter is not the composer.
  • "Come Together" — Really the closing scene of "Smooth Criminal", The Beatles are covered by Michael in a nightclub performance.
  • "The Moon is Walking" — This Ladysmith Black Mambazo tune shot on one of the "Smooth Criminal" sets leads us into the end credits.

For the Sega game based on the movie, which served as one of the first major hits for the Sega Genesis, see Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. Not to be confused with the James Bond film, Moonraker, or the 2015 film, Moonwalkers, nor the one shot manga Moon Walker.

This film contains examples of:

  • The '70s: The video montage of The Jackson 5 and Off the Wall videos show the changing styles of the decade.
  • The '80s:
    • All the clips from the Thriller and Bad albums come from this decade, as do the listing of his many accolades, as this was the decade when Jackson was at the height of his popularity.
    • Most of the pop culture figures Jackson impersonates in the “Speed Demon” video—Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner, Pee Wee Herman—were at their height during this decade.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: It doesn't get more aggressive than trying to inject a little girl personally! Even better, no reason is given for why he wants to get everybody (especially children) addicted to drugs. He just wants to.
    • There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line that might explain it: at one point, Frankie Lideo rants about how everyone in the world will know his name!!! (But they'd better spell it right.) It's possible the only reason Lideo's pushing drugs on kids is to make himself world-famous, to be known as the guy who did something so horrible.
  • All There in the Script: Joe Pesci's character is named "Mr. Big" in the credits, but is not referred to as such via dialogue. The villain reveals his name is "Frankie Lideo" early on (an in-joke; Jackson's manager at the time was Frank DiLeo...who later played a character nicknamed Mr. Big in the first Wayne's World movie), but no one else refers to him by name.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • The "Leave Me Alone" video represents the Paparazzi as dogs, because they are constantly hounding Jackson. The chorus even ends with the line, "Just stop dogging me around."
    • Mr. Big heavily associates himself with spiders, picturing his drug empire as a web ensnaring the globe.
    • Jackson himself is represented by rats; likely because his theme to Ben was his Breakthrough Hit as a solo artist.
  • Ascended Extra: “Speed Demon” was one of only two songs never released as a single from the Bad albumnote , but it receives the longest vignette in the movie besides “Smooth Criminal.”
  • BFG: Being a drug dealer, it makes sense that Frankie has a Wave-Motion Gun the size of a building, hidden behind a retractable mountainside. Which is controlled using hand cranks. Yes.
  • Broken Aesop: "Man in the Mirror" is about making the world a better place, with visuals focusing on peacemaking and charity and brief shots of famous nonviolent peacemakers—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. It's harder to take that seriously when "Smooth Criminal" has Michael shooting off a machine gun during the sequence in Club 30s and blowing up all the villains in the climax.
  • But Not Too Evil/Bowdlerize: The Blu-Ray release was edited; we no longer see Mr. Big attempt to inject Katie, nor do we see Michael (try to) threaten Mr. Big.
  • But Now I Must Go: Subverted. Michael turns into a space ship and flies away after saving the day while his young playmates say "He's leaving"...but he doesn't actually go anywhere and comes back minutes later.
  • The Cameo: The Noid in "Speed Demon".
  • Captain Obvious: After everyone sees Michael run into the costume room, one of the gangsters walks up to the door and says, “I think he’s in there.”
  • Claymation: Most of "Speed Demon", courtesy of Will Vinton Studios. The montage also features a clip from a claymation video for "ABC" from the '70s.
    • The "Elephant Man" in "Leave Me Alone" is also realized through this method.
  • Cool Bike: In "Speed Demon", Michael turns a bike into a motorcycle at the beginning of the song. He also turns it into several things, including a jetski.
  • Cool Car: Michael transforms into one.
  • Cool Old Lady: The grandma in "Speed Demon" can ride a motorcycle, and dresses like a commando.
  • Cool Ship: Michael's third form.
  • Creator In-Joke: The film contains several references to Frank DiLeo, Jackson's real-life manager at the time.
    • During "Speed Demon," Spike leads his pursuers through a "Frank in the Box" drive-through window. The building's roof is decorated with a giant bust of DiLeo, surrounded by cheeseburgers.
    • The main antagonist of the "Smooth Criminal" segment, "Mr. Big" (played by Joe Pesci), reveals his real name during his character's introduction: Frankie LiDeo.
    • DiLeo himself appears in the background right before "Come Together," as Michael prepares to go onstage.
  • Crossover: For This is It, Michael briefly revived his "Smooth Criminal" persona and filmed a brand new vignette, featuring him interacting with characters from Gilda, The Big Sleep and In a Lonely Place. Check out the vignette in full here.
    • As mentioned above, The Noid from Domino's Pizza's "Avoid The Noid" campaign appears in the "Speed Demon" segment as one of the members of the mob in a few scenes.
  • Damsel in Distress: Katie gets kidnapped near the end and Michael has to save her.
  • Dance Battler: In the "Smooth Criminal" sequence, Michael dances and fights gangsters at the same time.
  • Deus ex Machina: It's not like we ever find out why Michael has the ability to turn into a superfast car, shielded robot with energy cannons, or a giant spaceship. It would seem to be the result of his wishing upon a shooting "lucky star", but why does it conveniently appear every time the chips are down?
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Two cowboy movie actors chase after Michael for disrupting their shot.
  • 11th-Hour Superpower: Robo-Jackson.
  • Enemy Mine: In "Speed Demon", the cowboy actors plays the heroic sheriff and an evil gunslinger, and they team-up to get Michael.
  • Everyone Chasing You:
    • "Speed Demon" deals with Jackson being chase by everyone imaginable; a group of fans from a studio tour, some cowboy actors who wanted to get revenge on him for ruining their movie shot and film crews!
    • "Smooth Criminal" also deals with Jackson being chased down by Mr. Big.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: Especially in montages.
  • Evil Redheads: The two fat guys riding mopeds in "Speed Demon".
  • Faceless Goons: Mr. Big's men.
  • The Film of the Song: Most of the film is dedicated to highlighting songs from the Bad album, with especially long vignettes devoted to “Smooth Criminal” and “Speed Demon".
  • For the Evulz: Mr. Big wants to get all the children of the world high on drugs...why? Because he wants to be famous... apparently.
  • Foreshadowing: "Retrospective" shows a couple elements that show up in later segments. The TV turns into a spaceship, a snippet of "ABC" features the Jackson 5 in Claymation, and a silver metallic robot.
  • Friend to All Children: Michael in "Smooth Criminal".
  • Groin Attack: The kid standing in for Michael in "Badder" clearly hurts himself when he grabs his crotch.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Michael Jackson vs. Joe Pesci!
  • He Knows Too Much: Presumably why Mr. Big is after Michael, when he and the kids stumbled upon his hideout in the flashback.
  • Impact Silhouette: In the "Smooth Criminal" sequence, during the music number, Michael shoots a gangster and blows him across the room and through a brick wall, leaving a man-shaped hole.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Mr. Big's entire army of Faceless Goons all shoot at Michael outside his apartment at point blank range. And all Jackson has to do is duck, and they ALL miss!
  • In Medias Res: "Smooth Criminal" opens in the city with Mr. Big's goons gunning Michael down (or so they think); we then Flashback to how Michael and Katie discovered his scheme.
  • Irony: The highway officer got Michael's "autograph", which the Claymation characters tried to get from him.
  • Jetpack: Michael sprouts one in "Speed Demon".
  • Large Ham: Joe Pesci as Mr. Big.
  • Medium Blending:
    • "Speed Demon" is a mixture of claymation with live-action in the mix.
    • "Leave Me Alone" is live-action mixed in with various forms of animation.
  • Messianic Archetype: The whole "Smooth Criminal" mini-movie is about Jackson's fantasy of saving the children by ridding the world of drugs.
  • Mind Screw: The page description is just the beginning.
  • Montage: The first third of the movie is a montage of Jackson’s career from The Jackson 5 through the Off the Wall and Thriller albums. The rest is devoted to highlighting songs on the Bad album.
  • Moonwalk Dance: Duh! Though Jackson only performs it a few times during the music video of "Smooth Criminal". Earlier in the film a cop gives him a ticket for moonwalking on the road in a "No moonwalking zone".
  • Music Video Overshadowing: "Leave Me Alone" is actually about a romantic breakup.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After dressing up as a rabbit, Michael is able to get past everyone chasing him. But he's so upset that they don't recognize him that he does his signature dance moves, so they'll keep chasing him. Says much about Jackson’s Awesome Ego.
  • Nightmare Face: The boy and his grandma in "Speed Demon" upon seeing Michael Jackson.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: Ok, drug lords having armies of goons is Truth in Television, but Frankie Lideo still manages to outfit them with top-of-the-line combat gear and then there's his Supervillain Lair with gigantic Death Ray.
  • No Body Left Behind: A man in "Smooth Criminal" tries to stab Michael from behind, only for Michael to shoot him. The man reels in pain for a moment, before suddenly flying backward into a wall, upon which he promptly disintegrates into a silhouette-shaped ash spot. Why this happens is not clear, though it's possible Michael's gun is magic or something
  • One-Winged Angel: Michael's robotic form in "Smooth Criminal" is a heroic example, causing him to quickly turn the tide against Mr. Big's army.
  • Paparazzi: In "Speed Demon", Michael was also being chased by them along with the fans. Among them is a mafia-like group carrying cameras instead of guns and bandoliers filled with films instead of bullets.
  • Random Events Plot: Really, there's no plot to speak of as much as several loosely-connected vignettes. And even the vigniettes are pretty random.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: "Speed Demon", with claymation characters.
  • Say My Name: Katie does this a lot with regards to Michael.
  • Scene Transition:
    • "Retrospective" ends with a clip of the beginning of "Bad", setting up the "Badder" segment.
    • Between "Badder" and "Speed Demon".
  • Shapeshifting: Michael gets this ability while disguised as a rabbit, shapeshifts into different celebrities. The rabbit suit comes to life and turned into a mountain.
    • In "Smooth Criminal", his ability comes from a wishing star.
  • Shot-for-Shot Remake: A group of children, featuring 80s Boy Band "The Boyz", do one of the Bad video.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The "Smooth Criminal" dance sequence is a homage to the Fred Astaire-Cyd Charisse film The Band Wagon.
    • Frankie's men have guns with cool LED ammo counters obviously inspired by the then-recent Aliens.
    • The logo also looks to have been very much influenced by the font used for the title of TRON.
    • The theme park in "Leave Me Alone" has two quick scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
  • Spectacular Spinning: Several times, most prominently when the dance-off between Michael and the rabbit in "Speed Demon" comes down to who can execute the most impressive spin.
  • Squashed Flat: The dancers from "Badder" were squashed by the tour guide in "Speed Demon".
  • Surreal Music Video: Well, surreal segment, anyway. In the middle of the music portion of "Smooth Criminal" is a slow-motion, darkened, extra-noire interlude before the dancing resumes and leads into the anti-gravity lean.
  • Talky Bookends: This is what the stories in "Speed Demon" and "Smooth Criminal" come down to — they just go on a lot longer than music video channels would allow.
  • Technology Porn: The extended-and-then-some robot Transformation Sequence. Helped in part by it being a joint effort by regular Jackson collaborator Rick Baker, and Eric Allard, the creator of Johnny Five.
  • Transformation Is a Free Action: Lideo's entire army has Michael at gunpoint, but just stand there nervously shuffling their feet as he slowly grows larger and larger, sprouting more and more armor, guns and missiles. Their boss has to scream at them repeatedly to fire before they snap out of it but by then it's too late.
  • Transforming Vehicle:
    • Jackson in "Speed Demon" turns an ordinary bike into a motorcycle. It can also turn into a jet ski.
    • The two fat guys in the same video can turn their mopeds into jet skis as well when chasing Jackson through the river.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Apart from the obvious, Frank "Mr. Big" Lideo quips that he has a "smooth operation".
  • Your Head Asplode: Michael's battle robot mode includes a sonic weapon which causes several mooks' helmets (and presumably the heads inside them), to explode.


Video Example(s):


Speed Demon

Different groups of people are chasing Michael Jackson, even though he's disguised as a motorcycle driving rabbit named Spike.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / EveryoneChasingYou

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