Flight of the Navigator (1986)

flight of the navigator

“I do not leak, you leak!”

The Scoop: 1986 TV-PG, directed by Randal Kleiser and starring Joey Cramer and Paul Reubens

Tagline: Take off on the ultimate fantasy adventure! (Though I much prefer the other tagline listed on IMDB: He came 8 years too late for dinner – and he had a fantastic excuse…)

Summary Capsule: A 12-year wakes up eight years in the future. Calamity, and The Beach0 Boys, ensues.

Heather’s rating: Tastier than a roasted zigzog with extra Special Sauce.

Heather’s review: There aren’t a lot of children’s films which Mini Me remembers fondly that hold up well against the cynicism of Adult Me. In fact, Mini Me thinks Adult Me is kind of a jerk, trashing such long-revered works as Clarissa Explains It All, My Best Friend Is A Vampire and Carebears in Wonderland. Adult Me is clearly a tasteless monster.

The up side to having these warring personalities (aside from alerting me to my questionable mental health) is that they make watching a movie like Flight of the Navigator feel like an epic victory. You see, Flight of the Navigator, while clearly not the masterpiece I remembered it to be, is a darned solid movie that has held up well over time and stopped the argument. For now.

As a child it was one of my favorite, most-watched movies, having met my harsh criteria of “spaceships”, “wacky main character”, and “fun stuff happening. Navigator is about Dave Freeman, a 12-year-old who has to go walk his bratty little brother home from his friends house before their Fourth of July dinner can start. His little brother, Jeff, jumps down at him from a tree, scaring him witless.

Angered, Davey starts to chase Jeff, then decides to just go on home. On the way he falls down, knocking himself unconscious. A while later he wakes up, alone and bewildered.  In the mood to turn his brother into a decorative lawn ornament, Davey makes his way back home, pounds on the door and starts screaming at Jeff. A very bewildered old woman opens the door and tells him he has the wrong house, to which Davey responds by pushing past her and running through the house, calling for his family. All he finds is the very rude shock of an old man in a robe.

The woman calls the police to come help him, and the two officers who look into his situation find a very bewildering answer: Davey has been missing for eight years and hasn’t aged a day. He is reunited with his family, whose minds must be clouded with joy, because they have zero issues with the fact that they’re given a 12-year-old boy instead of a 20-year-old.  I’m not a parent, but after having my son declared dead I would have some questions about a child being presented to me as my own and looking the way he did eight years ago.

His parents’ questionable observational skills aren’t Davey’s only problem:  While all this has been going on, NASA has discovered a crashed spacecraft, and thanks to his police record (and spiffy 80’s technology!) they immediately discovered him, too.  Approached by NASA, Davey agrees to spend a couple of days at their facility to try to find out what has happened. NASA discovers an interesting correlation between Davey and the ship, and decide to renege on the whole “Forty-eight hours and you’re home” thing.

Feeling trapped, and hearing strange voices compelling him to come to the craft, he escapes with the help of an intern, played by Sara Jessica Parker, and makes his way to the ship. He shocks the scientists by boarding the ship, which they had found to be impenetrable, and meets Max (voiced by Paul Reuben). Max tells Davey that he is both the craft and pilot, and accepts Davey’s orders to escape the base.

This is where Davey’s adventure begins and he finds out all the answers to his questions. Max needs Davey’s help to find his way back to his home planet, and eventually agrees to return him to 1978 in exchange for his assistance. So how did he end up in the future? Why would Max needs help to get to his home planet? The answers are actually well done. I mean, it’s not winning any awards, but I think the plot was fairly unique and interesting.

The acting isn’t bad, but nothing really stands out. Cramer does well, and Paul Reubens made a decent voice actor (even when though he started Pee-Wee-ing all over the place). The story, as mentioned, is solid and fun, and aside from some of the dialogue (really were kids saying “duh” in 1978?) and both Freeman houses I don’t think it dates itself too badly. The most impressive thing about the movie is the special effects. That is easily one of the best spaceships I have ever seen (helped by the fact that they used a good-looking prop ship when possible), and even today it looks fantastic. That design is perfectly simplistic, fluid and elegant. Oh, and let’s not forget the bangin’ synth soundtrack!

Most important of all, Adult Me and Mini Me finally found something to agree on.

Justin’s rating: Flying spaceships and alien abductions — just another day in 1986 for us!

Justin’s review: If you were a kid in the ’80s, then a copy of Flight of the Navigator was in your video collection. Maybe it was bought, borrowed, copied or stolen, but it was there. Maybe you even hated it, but some kindly aunt deemed that you should be gifted with every Disney-related film by the time you were 18. Maybe little Disney sweatshop gnomes smuggled it into your room and whispered not-so-subtle “suggestions” in your sleeping ear that you watch it. It doesn’t matter; everyone had this movie. And whether you liked it, hated it or were ambivalent towards it, you probably saw it a number of times, just like me.

12-year-old David (Joey Cramer) is your average Floridian 1970s suburbanite, living it up with a cool dog and an annoying brother. After a number of misleading teasers suggesting the presence of UFO’s, Davey finally gets his probing. Probably that was in a deleted scene that I hallucinated. Anyway, David falls into a gully and wakes up in 1986, eight years after his fall, yet he’s still the same age. His rediscovery of his (aged) family is compounded by the appearance of a genuine, certified Special Effect of a flying spaceship. This sends NASA into full-fledged evil mode, which comprises of imprisoning David and forcing him to watch Twisted Sister.

NASA didn’t get a great rap with this movie, which makes me wonder why they allowed their geeky brand name to be used. Like in E.T., government scientists are not to be trusted, and only kid power can escape to save the day. David makes his big escape in the hold of the cheapest robot ever built, and climbs aboard the UFO to meet Pee Wee Herman. This isn’t his day.

The weird joy of this 90-minute flick is the full-fledged salad bar of kid-approved concepts that were smooshed together in the obvious attempt to appease everyone. A little bit of time travel, a smidgen of kids vs. adults, a heaping of robots, a platter of aliens, a side dish of transforming, and a dessert made entirely out of fireworks. Cramer isn’t the best child actor I’ve ever seen — he constantly blurts out stuff like “What’s going ON? That’s IMPOSSIBLE!” and has a stage hand shooting a steady mist of fake tears onto his cheeks — but he fills the part and offers a nice foil to Max, the robot/alien/spaceship voiced by Paul Reubens, who gets the lion’s share of wisecracks and quotables.

Max touts that he’s a superior intelligence, which doesn’t exactly explain why he’s in the business of abducting kids and then later letting them fly a mach 20 spaceship manually. The ship itself is kind of cool, offering a number of factory floor options including:

  • Widescreen plasma TV
  • Slimy alien zoo critters
  • The universe’s most uncomfortable barcalounger
  • A FM radio tuner
  • A flux capacitor

There’s no real “meat” to the film; it’s just a flimsy series of escapades that ends up with David and Max flying the ship all willy-nilly before going home and deciding that home isn’t so hot after all. Still, there’s some reason we watched it a buttload back then, and still don’t “mind” if channel flipping comes upon it even now.

“Do not know ‘BFE'”


  • Davey’s one-sided conversation with his dog about his disillusionment with life is one of my favorite bits.
  • I would blast that song from the opening credits in my car and be completely serious about it.
  • The scene where he enters the spacecraft reminds me of The Abyss
  • It’s adorable to watch people use computers in 80’s movies.
  • Relocating is NOT the same as being trapped in a test facility.
  • Upon being shot up into outer space my first thought would not be “Take me back”.
  • Paul Reubens is credited as “Paul Mall
  • MAX “speak thousands of languages” but doesn’t know the words “bathroom”, “promise”, or “privacy”?
  • MAX can pick up 2 million forms of radio waves, has studied humans, and doesn’t know what music is?
  • The kid who got a “D” in geography can identify Tokyo on site?
  • Because the fire department is equipped to deal with UFOs.
  • When David’s parents pull up to their house in the beginning of the movie, the song playing on the car radio is “You’re The One That I Want” from “Grease”, also directed by Randal Kleiser.
  • The first film released under the Disney banner to contain profanities. The word “shit” is said twice.
  • Not originally a Disney movie, the film was being made independently when midway through production the main production company, Producers Sales Organisation (PSO) collapsed. Walt Disney acquired the production in a liquidation sale, picking up all film rights for this film and several others, and also putting up the finance for its completion.
  • The toys in David’s NASA room include G.I. Joe and Transformers!
  • David’s brother’s way 80’s shirts and specs
  • That has to be the flimsiest, dumbest NASA robot I’ve ever seen
  • Max mooing
  • The alien menagerie… including the Snot Alien!
  • I like how the robot has two metal sliders to approximate some sort of eyebrow expressions
  • Why does every alien and robot in movies need humans to teach them how to laugh?
  • Pee Wee Herman’s voice coming out of the robot is… strangely appropriate
  • In his room in Nasa base, David asks when “Starsky and Hutch” is broadcast. Director Randal Kleiser also directed “Starsky and Hutch”

Groovy Quotes

David (to Bruiser): I just don’t know what I want out of life anymore. As a young dog you might find that difficult to understand.

David: Vectors? I don’t have any vectors. I’m just a kid.

Alien: Eyeyeyeyeyeyeye eye eyyyyyeeeee eyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeee…

Max: Try to make your directions clear because we got lost easy.

Tourist: Well your Indian village isn’t winning any awards, but your flying saucer is first rate!

Gas station attendant: He just said he wanted to phone home.

David: My dad took me to see the Bee Gees a couple months ago. Who did you see?
Carolyn McAdams: Twisted Sister.
David: Never heard of her.
Carolyn McAdams: It’s a him.
David: Oh.
Carolyn McAdams: Actually, it’s a them.

Jeff Freeman: This is totally rad, dude! You’re my big little brother!

Carolyn McAdams: All right, listen, um, I gotta go, um, is there anything else you want when I come back?
David: How about a Big Mac, large fries and a Coke? They’re still around, I hope.
Carolyn McAdams: Well, now, that all depends, Do you want New Coke, Classic Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke or caffeine-free Coke?
David: Huh?
Carolyn McAdams: Nothing, Forget it.

David: What are we doing all the way up here you geek?
Max: Geek?
David: I swear to God if I was driving this thing we’d be home by now!
Max: Oh yeah?
David: Yeah!
Max: Oh yeah?
David: Yeah!
Max: Ok turkey YOU fly it
[Max turns everything off]

David: Where do you go next, Max?
Max: Back in time to when I picked up my creatures. By now they’re so hungry, they could eat a zigzog.
David: What’s a zigzog?
Max: Kind of like a hippo, but with feathers.

Max: I do not leak, you leak!

If you liked this movie, try these:


    • You are correct. It looks as if my copy and paste skills need work. I’ll fix that when I get home this afternoon. Thanks.


      Seriously, though, I didn’t realize just how big of a deal it was to others my age until about a year ago. So far I’ve gone most of my life thinking it was some offbeat thing only I really remembered. As you and Justin have made clear, it was a certainly a part of almost every 80’s child’s films-that-got-watched-a-trillion-times list.

  1. Long time follower of Mutant Reviewers, first-time poster, and I have to say: oh man Heather, you just keep reviewing all my old favorites. Flight of the Navigator has always been awesome. I checked it out for old time’s sake a year or so ago, afraid it was going to end up right there in my mind’s nostalgia junkyard after seeing it through adult eyes. But I was very much impressed with how it still worked!

    Plus, Alan Silvestri’s electronic score for the film is still a fantastic earworm. “Robot Romp” (the BGM heard when David escapes NASA inside the mobile trash receptacle) has been haunting the corners of my music-memory since I very first heard it.

    You know an older flick has stood the test of time when the *Nostalgia Critic* puts in a plug for it.

    • Glad to see you posting, kenisu. It really is impressive how well the film held up, and how awesome that soundtrack is.

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