Its trailer trumpets that Young Einstein is a film “Warner Bros. is proud to present.” While the studios say that about all their films, Warner Bros. went out of its way to prove it, as the company spent $8 million to advertise a film written, directed by, and starring someone completely unknown to American audiences. They hoped for a replay of Crocodile Dundee which, like Young Einstein, did big business in its native Australia before being imported to the States. But as the Bible tells us, pride goeth before destruction: While Crocodile Dundee yielded a $174 million take at the 1986 American box office, an Oscar nomination, and two sequels, Young Einstein settled for a paltry $11 million in receipts and a one-way ticket to obscurity.
Technically speaking, the film did make a profit. Warner Bros.’s marketing machine got audiences to come out to see the unforgettably named Yahoo Serious reimagine German-born Princeton, NJ native Albert Einstein as the son of Tasmanian farmers. In addition to playing the Aussie-fied Einstein, Serious also wrote and directed the film, and the opening credit announcing his auteur status is Young Einstein’s biggest laugh: It reads “A Serious Film.”
A serious film this is not. Young Einstein begins in a Tasmanian village complete with its own Tasmanian devil. It’s an appropriate opening as this is one big Looney Tunes cartoon, where people get hit with heavy items, go flying through the air, and emerge from explosions and electrocutions covered in smoke and disturbingly appearing as if they’re wearing blackface. A true-life figure’s history is retold with little regard for the truth, and the main character is a funny-looking wiseass who’s smarter than everyone around him.