Can of Worms has the best title since Under Wraps

Unfortunately, I don’t have a real story to tell before this one. I had never heard of this movie before watching it, and the poster for it confused the hell out of me.

If I hadn’t watched Monster House before this, I would have been more horrified.

The best thing I can come up with is that I watched Can of Worms (1999) on the plane ride to the US from Korea. As I type this, I’m still recovering from jet lag. I must have gotten some weird looks from the people sitting behind me because some of the imagery in this was gross. Glad I didn’t watch this during the in-flight meal.

Everything about this movie was…odd, to say the least, starting with the name. Can of Worms. I thought it would be about some comedic mass alien invasion with worms. Nope.

The title refers to the many problems that arise after Mike Pillsbury (Michael Shulman) sends an emergency message to space asking to be taken away. Lots of aliens appear with various offers for Mike and cause trouble in his personal life. But that’s only a fraction of what this story is about. The aliens don’t even appear until much later in the film.

Unlike previous DCOMs, the story takes lots of time to focus on the characters rather than simply thrusting viewers into the world (Halloweentown) or bombarding us with ‘extreme’ stunts and dated jokes (Brink!). I think it’s because Can of Worms, like Zenon, is also a film adaptation of a book. I’ve never read the book, so I can’t comment on it.

Nice cover, though.

Minus the flash-forward to Mike sending a satellite signal to space, the movie begins by showing how awful Mike’s life seems. He’s a social outcast and only has two real friends, his best friend Nick (Adam Wylie, who was also in Under Wraps) and Nick’s brother Jay (Andrew Ducote). His father makes him do football, but he’s terrible at it and hates it.

Not to mention that he gets bullied constantly by his teammate/rival Scott Schreiber (Marcus Turner). At first glance, he’s your standard good-looking jock/bully, but he’s more of an intellectual rival. He’s not stupid by any means, and is considered a computer whiz.

I find his character fascinating, because the last time I saw that kind of dynamic was between Dexter and Mandark in Dexter’s Laboratory. Unlike Dexter and Mandark, though, their mutual hatred is never explained, adding to the DCOM trope of the ‘bully with an irrational hatred of the main character.’ You could make the case that it’s just a bitter rivalry between kid geniuses, but even those still have something that sparks the hatred.

They pull harsh pranks on each other and are at each other’s throats constantly, leading to some impressively done pranks. Mike hacks all the computers in class to make every computer play this entertaining video of Scott as a pig, to uproarious laughter. Later, Scott executes a greater prank that goes too far and is the last straw for Mike.

But before we get to that, let’s talk a bit more about Mike. Mike, like Scott, is also a tech wiz, and has what can only be thousand of dollars worth of technology at his disposal. He built a high-tech satellite in his backyard to contact alien life. In 1999. There are countries that would go bankrupt making that kind of technology.

Naturally, his obsession with alien life leads him to being an impressive storyteller. Nick and Jay love his detailed stories about aliens, which reflects his imagination and his personal life. More on this later.

Then you have his relationship with Katelyn. Katelyn is the head cheerleader and the most popular girl in school (*gag* trope alert), but she has a genuine interest in Mike. She asks for his help in designing a kick-ass, high-tech Halloween party at the school. In a nice montage, you see them bond more as they prepare for the party.

Their close relationship sends Scott into a jealous rage, leading him to sabotage the entire party by hacking Mike’s computer. Defeated and embarrassed that the party was ruined in front of Katelyn, Mike runs to his house and sends the emergency message into space, hoping that he could be rescued from his terrible life.

Now, you can see that he overreacted a bit, but when you’re an outcast at a young age in a tough environment, a big embarrassing moment like that can be traumatizing. The film did a great job building up the relationship between him and Katelyn in order for the impact to hit harder for both the characters and the audience.

The aftermath of these events cemented my feelings toward these characters. Mike goes to school the next day and Katelyn treats him like crap when he tries to talk to her. It seems a bit harsh, and I wish the movie addressed it more, although she calls later to apologize and rebuild their friendship.

By the time she calls, though, we get sucked into what is basically another movie. This is why I didn’t enjoy the second half of the movie. Most of the events from the first third of the movie are set aside for the alien ‘invasion’ that occurs.

I use ‘invasion’ in quotes because there are a few aliens that come in and solicit Mike with various offers, like his own TV show and… a lawyer. Well, if he goes to space, he should have someone versed in intergalactic law.

What’s best about Mike’s reaction to the aliens is his revealed disbelief in them. Normally in films like this, the person is obsessed with whatever thing doesn’t exist (aliens, ghosts, monsters), then is overjoyed when they discover that it’s real. Not Mike. He’s in utter shock that this ugly green blob is sitting in his room and releasing fluid everywhere. Honestly, that’s probably the most realistic reaction.

This creature eats in the grossest way possible for five minutes straight. He’s also a lawyer.

I have to say that the character designs for the aliens weren’t fully unique, but they were at least distinctive from each other. The above alien was the grossest of the bunch by far, but still maintained the same cartoonish look as the others. Some looked more like they were puppets rejected by Jim Henson (ironically, one of the cast members is a puppeteer for the Jim Henson Company), but the voice cast is wonderful.

I can’t fully explain how all-star this voice cast is, so I’ll list some of them out and see if you recognize the names:

  • Malcolm McDowell — Alex from A Clockwork Orange and the titular character in Caligula (more on his character later)
  • Tara Strong — Bubbles, Raven, Harley Quinn, Timmy Turner, Batgirl, Twilight Sparkle, and tons more
  • Wally Wingert — Announcer on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, current voice of Jon Arbuckle in The Garfield Show, one of The Almighty Tallest in Invader Zim
  • David Coburn — The voice of Captain Planet. This one shocked me the most.
  • Peter Kelamis — Second voice of Goku in Dragonball Z and Rolf from Ed, Edd, and Eddy

As you can see, there’s a lot of seasoned voice actors behind the aliens. Unfortunately, the aliens are he least appealing characters in the film. The most notable ones, though, are Barnabus, the talking dog that helps Mike, and the Thoad, a collector of alien specimens who kidnaps Jay.

Barnabus is a dog that uses a necklace with a mouth on it to talk to Mike and other humans. He appears through the film to give advice to Mike while attempting to persuade him to leave Earth and avoid the soliciting aliens.

He was unhelpful and absent for most of the movie, but explains later that he went to space court and persuaded the council that the Earth should be protected because of the primitive life there. That whole side plot could have been removed since it was barely relevant to the story and wasn’t fleshed out well.

The Thoad collects beings from various planets in space. He has both a human form and a horrifying ‘80s movie monster’ form, which is partially why he scares the other aliens off because of his power.. His motivations for his collection boiled down to ‘I think I’m doing the right thing even though I’m not.’

He’s basically a lizard who can change to a human. Does that mean lizard people could be hiding on Earth?

There are two instances of character development that depend on the alien side of the plot. One is when Mike is on the Thoad’s ship and finds a captured alien that appeared in his dreams and stories. In a way, he did feel like he belonged to another planet, but because he felt a connection to an alien that was captured on the ship.

When you think about it, that alien technically sowed the seeds for the entire plot. The plan required everyone to give Mike shit over being obsessed with aliens, but it worked.

The other is when Jay and Scott are captured and Jay tells him one of Mike’s stories. While we don’t hear the whole story, Scott realizes that Mike’s story reflects the real-life bullying that Mike received from him.

Scott arguably is the most interesting and developed character. He pulls a 180 and becomes significantly nicer to Mike in the end. In the last lines of the movie, he shows a significant amount of empathy.

Scott: Pillsbury, why do you stay on the [football]team?

Mike: Believe it or not, Schreiber, it’s where I belong. You know what? I’m gonna prove it to you.

Scott: Dream on, Pillsbury. Dream on.

Mike: I will dream on, Schreiber. I will.

Funny how the Mike/Katelyn relationship isn’t a huge focus by the end. The romance was almost fully developed in the beginning, so I suppose it didn’t matter all that much.

I think that the movie would have worked better if they omitted the alien plot altogether. It could have been a nice short film about getting through the sad moments in life and accepting being weird.

Everyone has their own odd quirks and obsessions. Mike managed to combine those interests to become a solid storyteller and have a promising future in tech. Scott became a nicer person after noticing how much of a negative impact he had on Mike. If a sequel/epilogue existed, I’d love to see how their friendship develops. Oh wait, that happened. Now I need to read these books.

The next film is one I haven’t seen in a long time, but still remember. The Thirteenth Year, AKA that movie where the kid becomes a mer…person.

This is part of an ongoing series on the entire Disney Channel Original Movie canon. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram to r̶e̶a̶d̶ ̶m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶r̶a̶m̶b̶l̶i̶n̶g̶s̶ stay updated on my posts.

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Pop culture blogger. DCOM fan.

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