Baltimore City Paper

City Paper writers recommend a few kid movie favorites


With its clever, nourishing depiction of childhood body positivity, 1995's "Heavyweights" was two decades ahead of its time. Before countless Tumblr blogs devoted to exalting the fat body became du jour on the internet, this sweet, structurally sound family comedy was one of the most formative texts a lifelong husky kid (like this reviewer) could glean some second-hand self-confidence from. Directed by "Mighty Ducks" scribe Steven Brill from a script by pre-mogul Judd Apatow, the film follows a fat camp and its lovable inhabitants as they suffer through a rebranding from maniacal self-help guru Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller).


The role of Perkis is a dark horse for the most iconic character Stiller's ever inhabited, but his particular brand of villainy, cartoonish though it may be, strikes to the core of how society views obesity as a signifier for sub-humanity. That Perkis and his misguided malevolence are targeted against preteens makes the argument against fascist fitness mavens all the more sound. By the film's end, he goes full Col. Kurtz and this easygoing summer camp turns into these children's own private Vietnam. But along the way, their farcical tribulations function as necessary, realistic struggles on the way to true self-love.

"Heavyweights" isn't all doom and gloom. It's riddled with sharp montages, quotable dialogue, and hilarious set pieces that poke fun at the circumstances the titular fat kids find themselves in, not at their fatness itself. What makes the film so unique is that it doesn't pull its punches. The psychological abuse the kids undergo is very real, and though couched in cinematic absurdity, never too far from the mark of real adolescent experience. That bravery in subject matter and delicacy in tone make for much more satisfying catharsis than your average '90s kids flick. Oh, to live in a world where every stout youth forced to shop in the big and tall section could find a VHS copy of this film tucked under their pillow with a note that reads, "It gets better." (Dominic Grififin)


"Cool Runnings"

"Cool Runnings" is surely not the representation of Jamaicans in popular culture that Jamaicans themselves deserved, or even asked for, in the 1990s. None of the four actors who portray the 1988 Olympic bobsled team was actually from Jamaica, for one thing, but such is the power of the spell cast by this film that it left American audiences prepared to supply Jamaican efforts in international athletics with armaments and tactical support if called upon. The film gets a lot of mileage out of its premise—someone at Disney was treated to a three-Diet Coke lunch after that pitch meeting—but what elevates "Cool Runnings" beyond the realm of fish-out-of-water Jamaixploitation gags are the performances, which are not just memorable but indelible.

There's Doug E. Doug in one of the decade's great PG-rated comic roles; the criminally underemployed Malik Yoba as Yul Brenner, with his dreams of living at Buckingham Palace; and not since Gregory Peck had earnestness appeared onscreen with such credibility as by Leon's Derice Bannock. And then, in one of his last parts, there's John Candy, whose size is a sad reminder of how rare it remains in Hollywood films to watch a fat character whose fatness is literally unremarkable. Though "Cool Runnings" may take medals in both the White Savior Archetype and National Stereotype events, its enduring influence is probably best remembered in the image of Yoba and Rawle D. Lewis shout-chanting into a hotel room mirror: "I see PRIDE! I see POWER! I see a badass mother who don't take NO crap off NOBODY!" (Andrew Holter)


Spooky movie options for younger viewers are pretty limited, but 2015's "Goosebumps"—based on those quickie horror books every kid and their brother read 20 years ago—fits the bill nicely. Really, "Goosebumps" feels like an ode to films like "The Monster Squad" or similar '80s fare designed with kids in mind but clever enough for their parents or babysitting older sister to dig it, too. If you need more convincing, the film's first act is essentially a beat-for-beat reenactment of 1985's "Fright Night," with new kid in town Zach (Dylan Minnette) confronted by mean neighbor R.L. Stine (Jack Black) rather than the ambiguous sexual menace of Chris Sarandon. Black, by the way, pulls double duty here as both the hilariously fussy fictionalized Stine and as the scenery-chewing voice of Slappy the Dummy.

Director Rob Letterman, who made his bones at Dreamworks, puts his background in animation to good use on "Goosebumps." The movie's built around fun set pieces, from a showdown with the "Abominable Snowman of Pasadena" in the town's ice skating rink to our heroes fleeing the gym shorts- and Chuck Taylors-wearing "Werewolf of Fever Swamp" inside a grocery store. Worried adults can rest assured that these scenes never veer too far into outright violence, and the film's stacked cast of clueless adults (including Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, and Jonah from "Veep") keeps things nice and light. "Goosebumps" doesn't invent the wheel or anything but it's a nice Horror Movie 101 for kids. (Max Robinson)

"Master Of Disguise"

Pure Jerry Lewis-esque goofing-off and Sid Caesar-style silliness, "Master Of Disguise" stars Dana Carvey as Pistachio Disguisey, a clumsy doofus who, it turns out, is a part of a long dynasty of "masters of disguise" throughout history. So, he slowly puts his impersonation skills to an end beyond pissing people off and in the process saves the day, finds himself, gets the girl, and all the rest. More importantly though, he impersonates Tony Montana while making scrotum jokes; dresses up as a cherry pie that inexplicably fires cherries at baddies like a machine gun; bounces around as the tubby, heavily punning Mayor Maynot; and pretends to be George W. Bush, who backflips and headbutts somebody into a pool. Meanwhile, the villain, Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner), is a priggish, Constitution-stealing capitalist villain creep who farts every time he laughs. Cameos from Jesse Ventura, Jessica Simpson, and Bo Derek, among others, won't mean much to your tyke, but they'll laugh as flimsy CGI shows these middling celebs pulling their faces off to reveal Pistachio underneath. Oh and a music nerd curio: The sugary pop soundtrack was put together by Music World Entertainment's Matthew Knowles—Beyoncé and Solange's semi-corrupt dad—and features early tracks from Solange and Jhene Aiko.


A damn near plotless, patched-together, unmitigated disaster of a movie, "Master Of Disguise" is, more importantly, a vehicle for comedian Carvey's impressions and glib absurdity and, through that, lands in an interzone of anarchy—a toddler-courting take on Carvey's short-lived sketch show "The Dana Carvey Show" (first skit on the show ever: Bill Clinton breastfeeding puppies) or "Saturday Night Live" oddities such as Massive Headwound Harry. The half-stepping, incredibly basic entertainment for kids that's everywhere and those finely crafted Pixar pictures have nothing on the temerarious weirdness of "Master Of Disguise." (Brandon Soderberg)