For the first time in this year’s #52PickUp, I revisit an 80s film (barely). This week is the 1989 Box Office Smash(ed):
Little Monsters. Okay who here remembers this film? Please, a show of hands.
I’m waiting. Yes, that poster is correct. This film stars Fred Savage at the height of The Wonder Years and two years after The Princess Bride; and Howie Mandel, known for stand-up involving a rubber glove. This movie was ripe for success, right?
Well, it didn’t do so hot. In fact, it initially ran on a meager one hundred and seventy-nine screens and was ripped from theaters not too long after. I mean look at its competition during the opening weekend:
Nevertheless, the film was largely entertaining to me as a kid. But when I tried to remember it, I recalled very little. And I already revisited this film in 2010 (I do remember THAT vividly).
The family is broken: Brian (Fred Savage) is a kid without friends who is always blamed for everything wrong at his house, his parents (Margaret Whitton and Daniel Stern) are at each other’s throats (their incoming divorce is Brian’s fault too), and his kid brother Eric (played by his actual brother, Ben Savage [Corey from Boy Meets World]) begins seeing Monsters in his room.
Ok first, I have to mention the first scene. As Brian’s parents argue, he can’t sleep, so he goes downstairs and makes a peanut butter and onion sandwich. Yes, PB and O. I was already nauseous. Get that shit out of here!!
Anyway, Brian, who mostly looks out for his brother, agrees to switch with Eric to prove that these monsters aren’t real. Brian does and it’s the end of the film. The Little Monsters title was referencing the two boys in a dysfunctional home… Duh.
No, Brian does indeed see a monster, and so he devises a way to capture the monster who, in turn, always sneaks away under the bed.
He creates a Home Alone-esque trap and plops the bed frame flush against the floor, preventing the monster’s escape. The monster thrashes as Brian screams at the top of his lungs. His Father hears him yelling, so comes in and flicks on the light. The monster disappears, leaving only his clothes and a fucking mess. Of course his Dad doesn’t believe Brian about the monster and blames him for the trashed room.
The two finally meet face to face: Brian and Maurice. It turns out that Maurice is part of a group of creatures that travel from home to home via the underside of sleeping kids’ beds, reeking havoc. In fact, they have a massive network of connections to every children’s room in America. Sound familiar?
Yeah. Except Little Monsters came first by twelve years, and is waaaaaay more darker than any Pixar film ever made. Not only is Daniel Stern’s Father true to form for an angry, stressed, dry alcoholic; but the film uses a fair about of “naughty” words like damn, shit, and bitch. Sure, that may sound standard in today’s landscape, but you have to remember, this was a kids’ film in the 80s (and well after the MPAA made the PG-13 rating), and at that time you could barely say “damn” on television.
This was the “for kids” movie I used to love: a fantastical plot, dirty humor and language, and steeped in realism. It’s a far cry from what’s out there now, even though those films are exponentially better written.
Speaking of writers, this film was written by an early duo, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio who– Hey, wouldn’t ya know it? I chose another film written by them… this year! They also wrote Small Soldiers, Shrek, Deja Vu, the first four Pirates of the Caribbean, oh and ALADDIN. Hell yeah. They certainly were successful.
Then we meet the tacked-on villains of the film, Snik and Boy. These two want to keep Brian in their world forever, and that’s a real concern, because if he doesn’t leave before sunrise, then he turns into a monster forever.
Snik is played by Rick Ducommun, and for those of you who can’t place him (I could barely myself), he was the father in Scary Movie, and the neighbor in the ‘burbs.
The Monster World (unnamed) looks like a cross between the magic of Never Never Land and something industrial Freddy Krueger would conjure up at which to kill kids.
At the end, Eric gets kidnapped, and Brian and his new friends must save him. They unfortunately miss their window to go home (in the east coast), and have to run across the United States to beat daylight. They barely make it and escape from under a hobo’s bed (a lawnchair) on the beach in California.
What’s the franchise like?
The only sequel was the “re-imagining” called Monsters, Inc.
Where/ when did I first see it?
I honestly don’t remember, it could have been on television or at my ever-present babysitter’s. Either way it must have been between 1992 and 1994.
How does it hold up?
So, it’s dated in a lot of ways, but the story is still strong (and as I mentioned, dirtier). The effects were mostly practical, so that helped immensely. The only visual effect that I questioned were these will-o-the-wisps type of trailing energy beams that would randomly fly around the Monster World. Maybe they were dreams? Who knows.
A few things to Note:
-Daniel Stern was everywhere in the late 80s/early 90s. From The Wonder Years (were he voiced an older Fred Savage reminiscing about his youth), to City Slickers, Home Alone, Rookie of the Year, Bushwhacked, and so much more!
-There was one disturbing scene were Maurice pulls Brian’s pants down in front of a small female monster to which she remarks, “Nice ass.” GROSS!
-Howie Mandel was all OVER the 80s. Not only did he perform stand-up, but he also hosted MTV as a VJ, did this film, and voiced Gizmo in Gremlins.
-I just found some cool articles about this film (and how baffled they were that it was PG).
Maurice without a doubt. He does all of the insane things, and makes Eric’s teddy bear commit suicide. What’s not side-splittingly hilarious about that?!
- Kids’ movies aren’t the same anymore.
- If Monsters tell you it’s okay to visit their world, don’t! Or do? It would be pretty cool to run across country in one night.
- Pixar inadvertently ripped off this film via “parallel thinking.”
Where can you see it?
Check out Little Monsters on
CanIStream.It? Not on there. Search iTunes, VUDU, or Amazon if you wish to see this original idea.