This is another film lost to the fogbanks of my youth. I know my family rented this at least once when I was a kid, maybe more than once since the title of the film has remained in my memory even if little else about it did. When a reminder of it came from Paramount’s YouTube channel, I decided to refresh my memory of this 1985 film from Simon Wencer.
Barret Oliver, perhaps better known from his role as Bastian in The NeverEnding Story the previous year, has the title role as Daryl, a young boy who is abandoned in the woods near a modest suburb. He has no memory of who he is beyond his name, or where he came from. The local authorities quickly place him in foster care, with a couple that have been hoping for an adoption for some time and view this as a potential chance to do so.
As is so often the case in these films, it’s the kid who should have been screened more thoroughly.
The Richardsons (Michael McKean and Mary Beth Hurt) are delighted with Daryl; in a lot of ways, he’s the perfect son. He’s highly intelligent, a gifted athlete, and unfailingly polite. The only problem is… he’s almost too perfect. He doesn’t get upset. He doesn’t argue. It takes lessons from his neighbor and new best friend “Turtle” (Danny Corkill), a kid who makes an art out of finding the right mixture of being obnoxious and lovable, for Daryl to start seeming more like a normal boy. But that, of course, is because he isn’t. The audience finds out early on that Daryl is really D.A.R.Y.L.: Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform. (I’d hesitate to spoil things, but come on; it’s the title.) And when his creator shows up, Daryl’s new life is not only uprooted, but endangered.
The film is aimed at the 8-12 crowd, and it’s not going to be quite as engaging for an adult, as it lacks a little bit of depth and subtlety. But there’s still a lot to like here. The early suburban scenes are probably the ones that are most likely to breed impatience, but they’re necessary for the setup, and the interactions between Daryl and Turtle are moderately amusing. Once Daryl leaves suburbia, the sci-fi elements really start coming into it with the full revelation of his capabilities. And the latter half of the film is pure adventure, and while it isn’t on the Die Hard end of the scale for adrenaline, it’s more than enough to be entertaining, especially as it keeps its humor in places — and also has a note of pathos here and there.
Barret Oliver does a reasonably good job as the mostly-stoic Daryl, balancing the need to be reserved in most scenes with the need to occasionally emote as Daryl starts to stretch his personality. The other roles are fairly simple for the most part, but well-acted. Of note, though, is Josef Sommer as D.A.R.Y.L.’s creator, who goes through his own emotional journey as he comes to realize that his creation is more than even he had understood.
It’s not a complex film as far as sci-fi goes, but it’s an enjoyable one. If you’re looking for a film to introduce a youngster to the genre, or if you’re just looking for a blast of nostalgia, it’ll do the job well.