Color, 1985, 90 mins. 40 secs.
Directed by Michael Rubbo
Starring Mathew Mackay, Siluk Saysanasy, Alison Darcy, Michael Hogan, Michel Maillot, Helen Hughes
Imavision (Blu-ray & DVD) (Canada R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Unidisc (DVD) (Canada R0 NTSC)

The Peanut Butter SolutionThe Peanut Butter Solution

No Canadian family film has imbedded itself in the consciousness of ‘80s kids or caused more freaky dreams than this bizarre fantasy, the second and most famous installment in a long-running Quebec movie series called Contes pour Tous (Tales for All). (You can read all about the convoluted backstory behind the series here.) A by-product of the country’s golden era of tax shelter films, the series tended to emphasize fantastic elements and kid-friendly comedy with a very Québécois flavor that makes it stand far apart from the live-action fare being produced by studios like Disney at the time. There’s a good reason this particular film has stood at the head of the pack for a very long time, and anyone unaware of what they’re in for will be confronted with some of the strangest 90 minutes ever spent in front of a screen.

Peculiar things are afoot in the life of young Mike (Mackay), who lives with his single dad (Hogan, a.k.a. Colonel Tigh from the Battlestar Galactica reboot and Teen Wolf) and sister Suzie (Darcy). The Peanut Butter SolutionOne The Peanut Butter Solutionday after a particularly traumatic art class run by creativity hater The Signor (Maillot), Mike and best pal Connie (Saysanasy) explore the recently incinerated remains of a nearby building – and something scares Mike so badly he falls unconscious. The next morning he’s gone completely bald from fright and has to wear a wig to school, which doesn’t turn out so well at an after-school soccer game. Salvation for Mike’s baldness problem seems to arrive through the advice of the two ghosts of the burned building’s residents, who tell him how to use peanut butter to concoct a gloppy paste that will grow his hair back. Unfortunately the cure causes his hair to run rampant, turning him into a hirsute menace to the school – and gaining the attention of a local child kidnapper, at which point the film transforms into a psychotic Canadian variation on The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T involving the local paintbrush industry.  

Any linear plot description of this film sounds like the handiwork of someone on hard drugs, and that’s not far off from the experience of actually watching this goofy and sometimes nightmarish yarn The Peanut Butter Solutionthat’s packed to the gills The Peanut Butter Solutionwith quotable dialogue and hallucinatory flourishes (including a bit involving sentient hair that anticipates Japanese horror films like Exte by a few decades); in the end it all feels like Nickelodeon by way of David Lynch. It also features some early vocal stylings by a young Celine Dion, just to put that final Canadian stamp on the whole endeavor. It’s easily one of the most memorable entries in that weird tradition of family-friendly traumatic films that really started proliferating in the 1970s from fare like Child of Glass and The Bermuda Depths to more contemporary ones like Bridge to Terabithia. This one’s even more random than usual though, with its attempts to make the story and locale as universal as possible giving it an even more unearthly feeling since you can never quite put your finger on where any of this is supposed to be happening (a la the later The Witches). This ended up getting the widest distribution of any film in the series outside of Canada via New World Pictures in the United States, and it became a regular fixture on VHS and TV for a few years where it lodged itself in the memories of more than a few impressionable kids. Unfortunately New World only picked up one more film in the series, the perplexing The Great Land of Small (a must for fans of this film and a crazed vehicle for Michael J. Anderson, the future dancing Man from Another Place from Twin Peaks).

The Peanut Butter Solution hasn’t The Peanut Butter Solutionbeen available in the United States since its VHS bow in 1986 from New World (and a budget LP-speed edition soon after from Starmaker), but in The Peanut Butter SolutionFrench-speaking Canada it’s been in circulation more or less since then with a French-language DVD edition from Unidisc in 2007 as part of the third Contes pour tous set. That release isn’t recommended though since it’s taken from a very dated master and the film was actually shot in English; the Quebec French track is actually pretty good, but it isn’t the preferred way to watch the film. Fortunately the film has been salvaged for a Blu-ray and DVD combo release from Canadian label Imavision with a fresh transfer from the original negative, and anyone familiar with this film’s history will be stunned at the improvements on display here. The detail level is far superior to even the theatrical prints (which still pop up occasionally from time to time), apart from the somewhat dupey and lo-fi look of the opening credits, it looks immaculate from start to finish, albeit a bit on the dark side. Unfortunately it’s also been authored at 29.97fps instead of the normal 24fps for a feature film, so set your player accordingly if you don’t want to see some motion blurring and stuttering during scenes with a lot of movement. Lossy Dolby Digital mono options are provided for both the English and French tracks, which are fascinating to compare. The sole extra is the (very haphazard) theatrical trailer, which is viewable in either its English or French versions. Hopefully this means more Tales for All titles are in the works and will be available in HD soon, if the world can handle it.

Reviewed on May 17, 2017.