Saturday Matinee #101, Spot Week: Spot Marks the X (October 18, 1986)
Originally Published December 8, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
Happy Spot Week, everyone! There are many spots one could cover in for this special themed week. Why, if I were covering a 1961 animated film, we could say I have one hundred and one spots! But rather than discuss One Hundred and One Dalmatians, its direct-to-video sequel, its two live-action films, or its Saturday morning cartoon series, we'll be looking at a spot of an entirely different sort. Actually, it's not even remotely related to Dalmatians, although a dog is still a prominent feature. I'm talking, of course, about 1986's Disney Channel movie Spot Marks the X. Haven't heard of it? Don't worry, up until a few years ago, neither had I. After reading the summary, you'll know why.
A young boy named Ken comes across a lost dog, who he names Astro. He and his friend Kathy grow close to the dog, although they realize there's more to him than meets the eye. Unbeknownst to them, Astro is actually Capone, a dog who was trained by Doc Ross to steal valuables. Ken and Kathy try to train Astro/Capone to be a good dog, while also dodging the neighborhood dog catcher. Astro seems to have an affinity for pine trees in Shadow Park, which we learn is due to Doc Ross and his goons (Beevis and Elvis) having buried stashes of money throughout the park. After getting arrested, jailed, and released, the three have trouble finding the money. Astro, on the other hand, remembers which trees they buried at, and he ends up leading Ken and Kathy towards a tree with some money inside.
The two kids soon realize that the stash they found was part of a bank robbery some months ago, and try to tell the cops. Astro ends up causing some trouble to avoid the dog catcher, preventing them from telling anyone. Ken and Kathy then find the rest of the money - thanks to Astro - and change the dog's appearance to avoid him being caught by anyone. However, a run-in with a sprinkler system causes Astro's dye to wash off, and the dog catcher takes him away. Through a series of events that just seem too remarkably convenient, Ken and Kathy end up keeping Astro, Doc Ross and his goons are arrested again, and we end the film with Ken and Kathy being led by Astro towards a new adventure.
Ken and Kathy's Literary Roles: Barret Oliver as Dicken; Natalie Gregory as Alice.
This little-known television film was broadcast in Disney Channel's early years and featured two child stars of the era: Barret Oliver and Natalie Gregory. Given its TV-movie roots, production information on Spot Marks the X is quite hard to find. Rather, we'll focus on the two leads, as they are the most memorable parts of an otherwise underwhelming film. Strangely, their career paths are remarkably parallel to each other. Both stars had regular roles in television and film throughout the 1980s, before deciding to retire from acting as the decade came to a close. In addition, both have Disney credits on their r'sum', but are perhaps better known for their non-Disney roles.
For Barret Oliver, I wouldn't go far in assuming many know him for playing Bastian in The Never Ending Story and the titular boy-robot D.A.R.Y.L. Both films received regular airplay on Disney Channel, perhaps even more so than Spot Marks the X ever did. Although Spot Marks the X is a Disney Channel film, most Disney fans will know him better as Victor Frankenstein in Tim Burton's short film Frankenweenie. The 1984 film would be remade again 28 years later, with the same name, by the same director, and the same company. Despite Oliver's two Disney roles, I usually associate him with young David in Cocoon (as The Never Ending Story really belongs to Noah Hathaway's Atreyu) or as Dicken Sowerby from Hallmark Hall of Fame television adaptation of The Secret Garden. Oddly enough, Disney Channel was where I first saw The Secret Garden as well. Goodness, Oliver had a great agent; I can't imagine many other young actors of the era whose movies would get constant cable-channel replay for a good decade or so.
Natalie Gregory's CV doesn't feature as many memorable roles as Oliver's, although she did star in two notable miniseries from the decade: 1985's Alice in Wonderland (a two-part CBS miniseries with the likes of Carol Channing, Red Buttons, and Sammy Davis Jr.) and 1986's Fresno (Carol Burnett's hilarious miniseries that spoofed "Dallas," "Dynasty," and other primetime soap operas of the era). The former is on DVD and is definitely worth seeing. For me, Gregory is one of the definitive portrayers of Alice, at least from the Alice in Wonderland film/tv adaptations I've seen. (I'm sure "Once Upon a Time" reviewer Kelvin Cedeno would have a better-informed opinion on Alices). She's right up there with Kathryn Beaumont (of Disney's 1951 Alice in Wonderland), and her miniseries is definitely more enjoyable than the 2010 Disney version (Depp excepted, of course). Gregory's voice would also be most familiar to children of the 1980's; she portrayed Jenny Foxworth in 1988's Oliver & Company. And theme park fans will know her best as Buzzy's love interest, Annie, in EPCOT Center's Cranium Command attraction.
Ken and Kathy's Disney Roles: Barret Oliver as Victor; Natalie Gregory as Jenny.
Spot Marks the X has never been made available on home video in the US, although it did receive a VHS release in the UK. Given its non-availability in the US, I wouldn't mind seeing this film be part of Disney's burn-on-demand "Disney Generations Collection" line. Until then, your best bet is to look for the film online.