Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Bubble Boy”

There was a time when Jake Gyllenhaal was an unknown actor just starting out. Coming off his critical success of October Sky in 1999, Gyllenhaal opted to try out his comedic chops with Touchstone Pictures 2001’s Bubble Boy. Is it a good movie? I am about to find out.

The Plot

Jimmy Livingston was born with no immunities to germs. His overprotective mother has taken it upon herself to build a self-contained world at home that will keep all germs out, and her son safe but permanently inside. As the years pass, Jimmy grows up, and despite the odds being stacked against him, makes friends with the next-door neighbor Chloe.

Their relationship grows but is constrained by Jimmy living in a bubble. After high school, despite Chloe’s interest, Jimmy is unable to tell her how much he cares for her. When he learns that Chloe is about to be married, it motivates Jimmy to burst out of his bubble and stop the impending wedding.

He builds a travel bubble to help him survive the journey to Niagara Falls to stop the wedding. As Jimmy crosses the country, he lives a lifetime of experiences that he has missed out on. Despite being mistaken for a god by a cult, chased by his mother, making friends with a rough and tumble biker, Jimmy learns to take chances and to burst free from his worry.

The Good

Jake Gyllenhaal is hilarious. For such an early performance in his career, Gyllenhaal brings an innocence to the role of Jimmy that is difficult to pull off. I laughed more times than I thought I would because of Gyllenhaal. Jimmy could be played for the fool, and that is not what happens in the film. While Jimmy has spent much of his life in a bubble, Gyllenhaal’s performance allows the audience to believe that Jimmy can handle himself in the world.

Danny Trejo is brilliant. I love watching him be funny and tough. This is a movie that allows him to have fun because he’s not killing anyone or dying himself. I love how connected he is with Jimmy and tries to be his friend. Danny Trejo needs more comedy roles.

The multiple supporting characters that are made up by people who were pop culture famous in the early 2000’s is remarkable. I found that with each new scene, I was recognizing a new face that I had seen before and did not expect to see in the movie.

The Bad and the Ugly

While I found the movie funny, there is a certain level of silliness to the story that could cause a viewer to lose interest. There are laughs, but a lot of stupidity too. Had this film been made today, I suspect there are many jokes that would be reworked away from the offensive overtones. Bubble Boy is not destined for any Top 10 lists.

Beyond the Film Facts

  • The film received the distinction of a Stinker Award nomination for Worst On-Screen Hairstyle from The Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.
  • The film was originally going to have a darker tone, but studio executives changed the script to the typical teen comedy of the day.
  • Gyllenhaal takes many falls while traveling in his bubble. Apparently, those are genuine falls and not scripted trips to the ground.
  • Chris Kattan claims that he passed on the script for Bubble Boy to make Corky Romano. That seems like a step down in quality.
  • The movie was partly inspired by the 1976 TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble starring John Travolta.
  • The movie was later adapted into a musical in 2008.
  • The supporting roles are filled with some well-known stars from the screen and pop culture. Vern Troyer plays Dr. Phreak, Fabio plays the cult leader Gil, Stacey Keibler has a cameo as a ‘Working Girl’, Zach Galifianakis plays the Bus Stop Man, Beetlejuice as Li’l Zip, and Patrick Cranshaw who played Blue in Old School appears in the film as Pippy and Pappy.
  • When the film was released, it opened in 13th place at box office with a paltry gross of a little over $2 million.  

The Streamy Award

{Watch on your phone (1) Watch on a tablet (2) Perfect travel entertainment (3) Best at home with the biggest screen (4)}

Bubble Boy is not a great film but it’s not the worst. The best advice I can give is to have no expectations for greatness. At least that’s what I felt when I hit play on the movie. Start the show with no thought whatsoever and you will most likely enjoy the movie.

It’s not high brow comedy, nor is it down in the dirt low brow. There is a happy medium, and because I laughed more than I thought, Bubble Boy gets a Level 2 Streamy Award. Find your tablet, press the play icon, and let it run in the background while you do other things. You don’t need to follow the script word for word. In fact, I recommend you don’t. Have something else to do while watching the movie. That way you will laugh at the funny parts and miss everything else.

Cast and Crew

  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Jimmy Livingston
  • Swoosie Kurtz as Mrs. Livingston
  • John Carroll Lynch as Mr. Livingston
  • Marley Shelton as Chloe
  • Danny Trejo as Slim
  • Verne Troyer as Dr. Phreak

Directed by Blair Hayes

Produced by Bandeira Entertainment / Germ Free Productions / Touchstone Pictures

Release Date: August 24, 2001

Budget: $13 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $5,007,898

Coming Soon

Next week, it’s a journey back to 1997 with Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence in Nothing to Lose.

Bill Gowsell
Bill Gowsell has loved all things Disney since his first family trip to Walt Disney World in 1984. Since he began writing for Laughing Place in 2014, Bill has specialized in covering the Rick Riordan literary universe, a retrospective of the Touchstone Pictures movie library, and a variety of other Disney related topics. When he is not spending time with his family, Bill can be found at the bottom of a lake . . . scuba diving