Your Favorite Childhood Movie Is Not Very Good

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Before I begin, let me put a disclaimer here: I love the 90’s. In my fantasies, I would have been able to scrap up some level of fame prior to the airing of VH1’s I Love The 90’s, so that I could be a talking head next to Michael Ian Black, and tell the world how strongly I felt about the decade. However, sometimes re-watching something you once loved can lead to massive disappointment. Even though you may have memorized 70% of the movie’s dialogue, you’re shocked at the 30% of the dialogue that went over your head. Plus, with the rapid advancement of special effects today, badly executed scenes are nearly unavoidable.

Nostalgia first occurred after a friend and I jotted down a long list of films we hadn’t seen since our VCRs passed on. When a film did happen to fall into our radar, live commentary became a popular medium, which comedically highlighted the glaring omissions while inside, our cherished memories were crumbling over the criticism. To better illustrate, here’s a list of the Top 5 Movies of my childhood – and most likely yours - that just no longer hold up.

1. The Land Before Time (1988)

What I remembered as a kid: Littlefoot lost his Mom, and met a bunch of lovable dinosaurs who travel together to find their lost relatives that must have seriously flown onto another hemisphere after the “Earth Shake.” I also remember the promotion that Pizza Hut did with the plastic “puppets” that barely moved yet had a basement smell to them. Since I’m not ashamed of this, I’ll also admit remembering a newfound appreciation for broccoli, as I related it to trees from the Great Valley.

What Really Happened: While not a 90’s film, I feel like the film was critical alongside that decade. Yet as an adult, my attention span barely made it towards the end. It’s no help that Littlefoot’s clan is insanely unlikable: Cera the Triceratops who thinks she’s superior solely to being a different kind of dinosaur (“Three horns never play with Long Necks”?  Seriously?) Ducky, who I personally can’t figure out the breed of (besides “small, childish dinosaur”), Spike, who doesn’t contribute anything to the group, and Petrie — a pterydactol who was my personal favorite, since he actually accomplishes a personal goal by the end of the movie. I always root for the underdog.

Stating that the movie is “sad” isn’t really a groundbreaking review. It’s universal knowledge that you might cry during, and after the film. But for a kid’s movie, you don’t actually see these dinosaurs having a good time. Even though Littlefoot lost his Mom and is on an incredible journey to survive, why should I sit through a movie which consists of dinosaurs arguing with each other?

It’s just a bad sign when a kid’s movie ends, and you want to rewind to watch the Pizza Hut commercial that was featured at the beginning of the VHS tape. It’s also a bad sign when a movie labeled as a classic was knowingly junked up due to additional sequels that were pumped out so frequently, they stopped being numbered. I remember feeling a bit upset when I learned that the sequels included songs, but after rewatching Ferngully, a song or two may have moved the original’s plot along a little better. Yeah, I said it.

2. Rookie of the Year (1993)

What I remember as a kid: A young boy gets into some kind of accident, has a hilarious cast, and ends up pitching for the Cubs. Eventually he loses his gift, but ends up winning a game based on his clever charm. And since I had a huge crush on that boy, I rented this movie from Blockbuster at least 5 times.

What Really Happened: Henry Rowengartner goes from being the worst player in his little league team to an overnight sensation, after he throws a ball back on the field at rocket speed, post-hilarious-cast arm injury. He got his injury, ironically, from tripping on a baseball that caused him to fly 7 feet in the air, in slow motion. The Cubs need to fill every single seat for their remaining games in order to keep their sponsorship, which seems unreasonable. Luckily Henry’s young age is a huge draw, and people flock to see him, since — child labor laws aside — a kid playing for the Cubs is amazing!

Henry is psyched to play with his idol, once known as “Rocket” but also known as “Gary Busey Is In This Film?”. Busey hates him at first for stealing his thunder, but then realizes he’s just a nice kid, with an attractive single Mom. Daniel Stern also helps coach him — yet for the duration of the movie, Stern locks himself within two small spaces. I’m guessing this isn’t a rare occurrence.

At the end, Henry slips on another baseball and loses his gift. However, since 12 year old kids are smarter than seasoned professionals, the Cubs still manage to make it into the playoffs. Henry quits, and celebrates the fact that he’s once again a kid that sucks at little league.

The movie would have held an adult’s attention much better if, instead of the Cubs bending backwards to handle Henry’s childish exploits, Henry actually grew up and learned something from taking part in America’s favorite pastime. Phrases that made me laugh back then (“Funky Buttlover” being one), just read as being embarrassing today.

3. Free Willy (1993)

What I remember as a kid: Whale! And a Michael Jackson song! The theater I saw it in, my personal distance from the big screen, and having to go to the bathroom (the film is, after all, 2 hours long.)

What Really Happened: A ragtag foster kid named Jesse has to do “community service” by cleaning his own graffiti off the wall of an aquarium with a dry sponge. Luckily, he is interrupted when he meets Willy — a killer whale that was taken from the ocean and bought as an attraction. The sole animal trainer can’t seem to teach Willy any tricks, and refers to him as moody, but Jesse seems to reach him. Doing a complete 180, Jesse turns good until some obnoxious kids bang on Willy’s tank during his first show. Willy, whose cry could wake the dead, ends up disappointing Jesse to the point where he wants to move to California to be with one of his friends that got him into trouble in the first place. Jesse sees the aquarium owner making the tank hole bigger than expected — after the failed show, Willy is worth more dead than alive. So Jesse does what any reasonable 12-year-old whale fan would do. He wants to “Free Willy”, by putting him in a truck that will later drive up mountains, despite the fact that Jesse can see the entire ocean — which is so close, it might as well just overlap into the aquarium anyway.

Okay. So, they mention that Willy weighs a few tons. I understand acting on impulse, and the troop succeeds with valor, but the likeliness (as well as the image of Willy being watered down with the equivalent of my showerhead) is just, well, unlikely. I’d think some kind of further planning needs to be involved; perhaps a diagram, or a powerpoint. Especially since the whale-hauling crew is made up of a guy who recites whale mythology, a 12-year-old kid, and a whale trainer that’s, as I repeat, not very good.

“But Karen, don’t you have a heart?” I do. And trust me — midway through, when Willy was finally learning some tricks, I thought to myself, “I can’t find fault in this film. It’s truly a classic!” But when Willy smashed into the glass out of anger, with the look on his face that’s clearly the whale robot double, I have to admit, my heart shrunk three sizes, and my fondness of the whale morphed into a cartoonish laugh.

I also questioned how, like in many kid movies, Jesse seemed to have free rein. Despite his foster father telling him to be in bed by eleven, Jesse never seemed to comply. The two times they actively looked for him, he was A) drowning in a dolphin tank, and B) on a stolen truck with a whale attached to it. Was school involved at all?

4. Beethoven (1992)

What I remember as a kid: A family gets a dog!

What Really Happened: A family gets a dog after it wanders away from an evil vet, who is trying to kill him for unexplained experimentation.

After escaping a pet store robbery, Beethoven walks into the Newton house and never leaves. Charles Grodin plays George Newton, who despises the slobbery St. Bernard from the start, but can’t put his foot down after his kids beg to keep him. When “Lost Puppy” signs fail, Beethoven turns into a gigantic beast and ends up saving the day on numerous occasions (ie: Bringing oldest sister Ryce’s boy crush over to her with a fake-out game of fetch, Scaring away the bullies for wussy kid Ted, and saving the youngest, Emily, from drowning in a pool despite being at least three blocks away. Beethoven just senses these things, you guys!)

Unfortunately Beethoven’s vet — Dr. Varnick — is the same doctor who tried to kidnap Beethoven in the first place. After placing it in George’s head that St. Bernards could turn on their owners, Varnick stages an “attack” and attempts to use this as an excuse to euthanize Beethoven. The family notices later that Varnick is free of flesh wounds, and investigates the case even further. Action scenes happen, Ted accidentally pummels Dr. Varnick straight in the chest with numerous dog vaccinations, Beethoven is once again heroic, and the Newton family ends the day with a bunch of rescued pups.

The dialogue still holds up in the film, but too many scenes are overbearingly tacky. Similar to Free Willy, “robotic animal close-ups” are used (unless St. Bernard eyes really become psychotic at the site of bacon) as well as a few misdirected moments which spare reality in order to be funny. In one scene, where George is in the midst of signing a contract with two prissy clients (Patricia Heaton and respectfully, David Duchovny, who over-accentuated his dialogue to stay true to the “family comedy format”), Beethoven loops his leash around a table and some chairs, and drags Heaton and Duchovny down the sidewalk at rapid speed. Not only did the chairs reappear unharmed later, there were no side plots about entering Beethoven in the Dog Olympics. Plus, Duchovny and Heaton failed to realize they could stand up.

I must give props that unlike movies of today, they didn’t make Beethoven talk or move his mouth, ala Mr. Ed. Alas! A movie could appeal to children without poorly executed effects!  Also, it was written by John Hughes. Always a plus.

5. Ladybugs (1992)

What I remember as a kid: A boy dressed like a girl? That’s hilarious!

What really happened: While trying to impress his boss, Chester (Rodney Dangerfield) pretends to know a lot about soccer. Ironically, the all-star girls soccer team, the Ladybugs, are in need of a coach. Figuring that the girls could probably win based on their own merit, Rodney doesn’t panic. That is, until he realizes that the Ladybugs have only one returning member. The rest of the players are garbage.

After some smarmy commentary, Chester puts Matthew (Jonathan Brandis) — his fiancee’s son — on the team, by the name of Martha. With this new addition (since you just need one all-star to succeed, as most movies teach us), the Ladybugs once again become champions. Of course “Martha” has to reveal he’s a guy, and later ends up dating a girl on the team named Kimberly, who he grew close with throughout but couldn’t admit his “secret” to. Also — Kimberly is the daughter of Chester’s boss. That’s always the case, isn’t it?

Let’s point out one thing here. This is a role that only Rodney Dangerfield could pull off; otherwise, the movie would fall apart. But let’s not forget something about Rodney Dangerfield — he’s known as being somewhat perverse. In one scene where Chester is helping Matthew into his Martha-gear, a stranger overhears the two bickering in a dressing room: “Don’t worry, I’ll be finished soon.” “Ow! Take it easy, that hurts!” “Don’t worry. If it’s too tight you’ll get used to it.” Huh. Obviously this exchange went over my head at the time, but insinuating child abuse will always be appalling.

One thing I didn’t realize at the time was that Ladybugs was a PG-13 rated movie. Initially thinking it was PG made the rewatch a bit more painful - yet despite my 27 years, some of the off the cuff one-liners still completely shocked me. If I were watching as a 13 year old with brief (and probably bogus) ideas on sexual reproduction, I’d be absolutely mortified.

Readers, take heed. Revisiting the past should always be taken with optimism. If your childhood favorite can pass the test of an adult rewatch, it’s definitely a classic.

Karen Belz is a self-published writer of a book she’s not very fond of. She was proud of herself for not playing Diner Dash while re-watching any of the movies listed above.