Welcome back to Misan[tope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on Stuart Gordon! Today, I’ll be highlighting the children’s film “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”
“The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” united one of the most acclaimed horror directors, Stuart Gordon, with one of the undisputed masters of science fiction writing in history: Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, their collaboration was not to be a science fiction horror classic, but a family-friendly adaptation of a short story about a white suit.
“The Magic White Suit” by Ray Bradbury was published in 1958 in the Saturday Evening Post, and was eventually retitled and popularized as “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” Prior to the film, it was adapted by Ray Bradbury himself as both a traditional stage play and a musical, both of which had influence on the film version.
Ray Bradbury himself wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own work, marking another rare instance in which Stuart Gordon directed a film with no direct influence on the writing.
The cinematography on “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” was provided once again by long-time Stuart Gordon collaborator Mac Ahlberg, his second-to-last work with Gordon before his death in 2012.
The story of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” follows five down-on-their-luck men who happen to share the same suit measurements. They are ultimately assembled together for the purpose of buying an impeccable white suit, which they split the cost of and share. The rest of the film follows their developing friendship around the suit, as well as the way the suit affects their lives positively.
The cast of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” is actually pretty impressive, boasting veterans like Joe Mantegna (who worked again with Gordon on “Edmond”) and Edward James Olmos. Clifton Collins Jr. reunited with Stuart Gordon after appearing in “Fortress,” and joins Esai Morales and Gregory Sierra to round out the central cast. The accessory cast includes cameos by comedy legend Sid Caesar and Howard Morris, as well as character actor Mike Moroff as a heavy.
Pedro Gonzales Gonzales also makes a quick cameo as a bitter landlord during the film’s first act. Apart from being a prolific actor, is also Clifton Collins Jr.’s grandfather. Collins used to use the name of “Gonzales Gonzales” in his honor. In another bit of trivia, Joe Mantegna starred in one of the stage adaptations of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” prior to the making of the film.
Despite having a Ray Bradbury writing credit and an impressive cast, “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” wound up getting buried, only receiving a direct-to-video release and garnering very little attention. That said, it currently holds an 80% critics score and a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and has a 6.6 rating on IMDb.
Personally, I think that this movie is absolutely wretched. First off, there is a pretty significant change to the original story’s ending. Normally, I don’t much mind changes to a story in an adaptation. However, in this case, the ending alteration completely changes the meaning of the story. In the original, it is revealed that the central character doesn’t need the suit to succeed, but just lacked the confidence that the suit gave him. It is an uplifting sort of message that dispels the idea that the suit was somehow supernatural, but that it revealed something positive within the men who wore it. In the movie, however, this key revelation is skipped. Instead, the lesson is changed to be about friendship, and how the suit brought the men together. Honestly, you can tell that this wasn’t the intended ending: instead of dismissing their obsessive materialism, the story endorses it, and loses some of its charm along the way.
Perhaps most egregious of the film’s flaws is the fact that it relies heavily on stereotypes to try to drudge up humor. Outside of the racial caricatures, the only other attempts at humor come in the form of loud noises and cartoonish, flailing physical comedy, which gets to be a pretty tired schtick after a while.
Worse yet, none of the characters manage to develop meaningfully, or even have any characterization at all outside of, at best, one trait. One of them is dirty, one of them is smart, one of them can sing: they might as well be cartoon dwarfs for all of their depth.
A couple of things that I will commend about the film are the theme song, which is alarmingly catchy, and the opening title animation, which is done interestingly colorful with sand art. There are also a few moments throughout the film where street art is integrated into the story, which is also pretty cool to see.
Probably the thing that bothered me the most about this film was the unfortunate squandering of some real acting talent. Olmos spends most of the film frenetically bouncing around, while Mantegna and the others basically function as “The Three Stooges,” decades displaced in time and using long-expired humor.
Overall, I just could not stand this film. I am generally not a big fan of family and children’s films, primarily because they tend to debase to the audience. There is a way to do family fare without descending into content that amounts to solely loud noises and flailing arms, and this film does not rise to that challenge. It basically represents everything that is wrong with most family comedies, with an extra side of unappealing racial stereotyping. I mean really: would it have been too difficult to portray Latino characters as something more dignified than live-action cartoons? Or hell, why not actually cast a full cast of Latinos for the movie (looking at you, Italian-American Joe Mantegna)?
There is absolutely no reason to seek out this movie. There isn’t any genuine entertainment value to it outside of Sid Caesar’s quick cameo, and even that isn’t really impressive. I will say that Stuart Gordon deserves some props for trying something outside of his usual film fare, but this was an experiment that just didn’t go quite right. As for Ray Bradbury’s writing, I don’t know what the hell happened here, but this film is absolutely awful.