Some of today’s family films aren’t exactly kid stuff. Sure, the trailers and the fast-food cross-promotional commercials try to make children drool with anticipation, but a couple of recent family releases are really more appropriate for video-renting adults.
The very subject of John Hughes’ Dennis the Menace (1993, Warner, PG)—not to mention its lurid violence—makes it less for young Barney-ites and more for baby boomers who grew up on the Hank Ketcham comic strip and the ’60s sitcom. Dennis (too-cute Mason Gamble) is now a ’90s kid, but he’s still a menace. When his parents (Lea Thompson and Robert Stanton) go on business trips, he indulges in exaggerated Home Alone-style high jinks while staying with the Wilsons. But unlike the other Hughes megahits, in which the bandits are ineffective idiots, here the thief who takes Mr. Wilson’s beloved coin collection (Christopher Lloyd) is a scary, violent homeless man. If you loved Dennis the Menace as a kid, do yourself a favor: Skip this film and hold on to your memories.
Those in the mood to return to the age of innocence might want to try The Sandlot (1993, FoxVideo, PG), a ’60s coming-of-age story reminiscent of Stand by Me, even down to the emotion-laden narration. In this baseball buddy story’s unlikely premise, young Scotty (Tom Guiry) is such an egghead that he doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is. Nonetheless, his cool neighbor, Benny (Mike Vitar), teaches him to play ball and even comes to the rescue when Scotty unwittingly hits a ball into the jaws of a terrifying junkyard dog. This rosy film is clearly not for the Peter Pan set: Even today’s younger viewers who aren’t eggheads may never have heard of a sandlot-much less the Sultan of Swat. The only thing they’ll revel in is replaying the slobbery-canine-confronting climax again and again.
Dennis the Menace: C+ The Sandlot: B-