Equal parts Disney slapstick fantasy, Tarzan movie and underdog sports flick, The World’s Greatest Athlete had enough zany spirit for several films.
With a cast that included Tim Conway, John Amos, a then-unknown Jan-Michael Vincent (later star of TV’s Airwolf) and sportscaster Howard Cosell as himself, the movie continued the Disney sports comedy tradition of Gus and The Strongest Man in the World.
Amos plays college track coach Sam Archer, and Conway is his assistant, Milo Jackson. Faced with yet another dismal team and increasing pressure from Dean Maxwell, the two men are ready to pack it in.
But on a trip to the African wilderness, Archer and Jackson discover Nanu (Vincent), a born athlete raised in the jungle. The coaches swindle Nanu’s godfather, Gazenga, into letting them take the ‘world’s greatest athlete’ back to the States.
Nanu instantly turns the team around, astounding even the seasoned Cosell. But the two coaches messed with the wrong godfather, and witch doctor Gazenga (Roscoe Lee Browne) takes creative revenge, shrinking Jackson to mouse size and wreaking effects-fuelled havoc on the way to the championships.
The love story between Vincent and tutor Dayle Haddon slows things up, but there’s enough here to keep everyone entertained.
The World’s Greatest Athlete wasn’t the biggest hit in the Disney line-up of 70’s comedy, but it was a wildly fun treat for those who saw it.
Coach Sam Archer
Roscoe Lee Browne
Billy De Wolfe