Disappointing Childhood Favourites

The Writers' Roundtable is an open-ended discussion forum in which a question or idea is posed, to be discussed at length by our team of contributors.

This month’s question: what film or album, that you loved as a kid, does not hold up when revisited as an adult?

Benjamin Plymin: Mac and Me

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing a movie,” he told me, “just remember that not all movies in this world have had the advantage of a talented filmmaker.”

Now that I’ve painted myself as an honest and trustworthy narrator, let’s delve into the great childhood favourite-turned-disappointment that is Mac and Me.

Mac and Me depicts wheelchair-bound Eric and his “average” family (minus the father) who have suddenly become responsible for a lost alien creature named MAC. Whilst on the run from NASA, Eric and MAC endeavor to convince his family that he actually exists, consume copious of sugar products and join in on an unforgettable dance scene at McDonald’s.

I was a toddler at the time of Mac and Me’s release in 1988. I most probably gazed upon this monstrosity for the first time a year later during its VHS release. From the moment I saw that little rascal MAC and his disabled brethren confronting everyday challenges that I would have easily related to, I fell in love. I watched the shit out this film.

Regrettably, I revisited it only a few short months ago.

There are many childhood films that have stood up after recent viewings. The Witches, The Never Ending Story and of course Star Wars remain brilliant. But Mac and Me makes me want to travel back in time and give my childhood self a good ol’ whack over the back of the head.

It’s no secret that Mac and Me is a straight rip-off of Spielberg’s E.T: The Extra Terrestrial. In fact the writer admitted the film was only made because of E.T‘s success and the first draft was entitled E.T and Me! Reese’s Pieces have been replaced by Skittles, the older brother named Michael has been replaced by another older brother named Michael and it’s even got its own “chased by the government through suburban streets” sequence that leads to what I believe is a deleted scene that most probably involved Eric’s wheelchair flying away.

The product placement is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Mac hates water and can only drink Coca-Cola to survive. The infamous McDonald’s scene illustrates a fun filled restaurant complete with a diverse crowd who all appear to have quite healthy eating habits. Not only was the film not sponsored by McDonalds, but MAC’s named is an acronym of “Mysterious Alien Creature” and not named after a particular burger.

Most of the film’s content has to been seen to believe. But it all comes to grand finale when the alien family is granted American citizenship for saving Eric. In this terrifying sequence we see the alien family dressed up as “average” human townsfolk and before they head off in their pink Cadillac and setup the sequel, Eric and his family kiss the aliens on the lips as acceptance into their world. It simply sums up how ludicrous and disturbing this movie is for any audiences, especially children.

I’ve revisited many childhood favourites over the years and judged them harshly. Innerspace, The Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor turned out to be boring, unimportant and unsettling films as an adult viewer. But Mac and Me takes the cake. I sometimes wonder the type of person I would be now if this film hadn’t been such a big part of my younger and more vulnerable years.

Bradley J. Dixon: Chasing Amy

I'm going to stretch the definition of "childhood" here, for two reasons: one, I didn't start consuming/appreciating film until well after I'd left childhood, and two, I feel a compulsion to disavow myself of the respect and adoration I gave Kevin Smith during my early teenage years, which was as passionate as it was misguided.

Revisiting Smith's work every year or two is a handy form of self-appraisal, and there is no other director whose standing — in my opinion, anyway — has fallen so precipitously with the passage of time.

As a teenager, idealistic and impressionable, his subject matter (and the depth to which he interrogated that subject matter) seemed so very adult. I'd never had to deal with issues of jealousy or emotional malfunction, but when presented through the long, wordy monologues of Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck's goatee in Chasing Amy, they were issues I could relate to and form opinions about, feeling smug at the thought of my own thoughtfulness.

But a few years on — and with a far broader experience in life and cinema — the cracks started to show. The emotional depth and feeling I had identified as a teenager had been replaced, and far from being the poignant, reflective treatise on love and relationships I first considered it to be, it was now a loose collection of verbose, juvenile rants sandwiched in between hilarious scenes featuring Jason Lee.

On some level I'm sure Chasing Amy (and films like it) enabled me to think about life's significant questions in a more analytical way, so for that reason alone it performed an important function in the lives of many teenage boys, but the film itself barely holds up today. Chasing Amy was so relatable to teenagers because Smith's point of view was, ultimately, teenaged.

Richard S. He: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Every generation of kids has its fads. The casts might be different, but the structures remain the same – TV shows, movies, toys, Happy Meal promotions, and inevitably, baffled, worn-down parents. I’m not saying I won’t be rich and/or famous, but for purely pragmatic financial reasons, remind me never to let my future mixed-race children watch my goddamn Power Rangers VHS tapes.

The entire Power Rangers franchise was so pure, so earnest it could only ever appeal to kids. Five photogenic “teenagers” of varying race and gender, but unrealistically low sexual tension, defend the only city on Earth worth attacking from a revolving cast of intergalactic monsters. They never, ever go on the offensive because their inherently nihilistic universe contains infinite evil those checks just write themselves! Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie opens with the rangers skydiving in formation and ends with Van Halen’s eternal, ageless “Dreams”, so it’s automatically the awesomest, most radical movie of all time, right? I think. Have you rewatched it since you were five?

At 23, armed with a strong sense of irony, by far my favourite thing about MMPR: The Movie is the not exactly state-of-the-art 1995 CGI. Look at this shit. It’s hideous! It came out a full two years after Jurassic Park, and five months before Toy Story! It’s like a first-gen PlayStation cutscene, if you melted the disc in a microwave. This is how nostalgia dies: time travel is invented, I attempt to go to 1999 for the Pokemon but I accidentally stumble into 1995, only to find this movie laughing at my expression of horror.

Believe it or not, you can actually analyse this shit with a critical eye. For kids, the endless BIFF! POW! BANG! punch-ons with comically inept villains are the definition of playground fun. For adults, it’s “fun” in quotation marks, designed for minds with fish-length attention spans. The thing is, it could have worked! The TV show’s nonexistent budget – much of it was spliced from existing Japanese footage – was part of its charm. But in movie form, shot in panoramic Sydney instead of some random field/alley/cliff formation, it’s still so strung-together you practically want a refund.

Even worse, the film doesn’t remotely bother to define its characters or their struggles, a must for all great children’s stories – from fairytales to Adventure Time. The TV show’s monsters often played upon the rangers’ individual, yet universal fears – not all that differently from the likes of Saved by the Bell. But the film gives them no introductions, no insecurities, not one identifiable character trait – but hey, they’re colour-coded! Construction workers unleash Ivan Ooze, a scenery-chewing villain who wants to destroy the world. The rangers lose, because they’re not strong enough. They get new powers on another planet. They win by kneeing the now-giant robot Ooze in the crotch, sending him into the path of a conveniently timed comet. Maybe it appealed so much to kids because it genuinely feels like it was written by some five-year-old with a penchant for the absurd.

If rewatching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie gives me nothing but a renewed appreciation for Michael Bay’s Transformers series, I can’t complain. Dude’s a genuine auteur. If in several decades, my kids write their own dumb “disappointing childhood favourites” piece on the 45th Transformers, I’ll yell at them for not grasping the complexities of truly vulgar art. They’re “mainstream” films with elaborate visuals, atypically insecure American masculinity and unsettling levels of self-loathing, whose many flaws only make them more fascinating. Michael Bay already acts like a cartoon villain. So he’d be the perfect director for the upcoming, obviously totally necessary Mighty Morphin Power Rangers reboot. I sincerely hope it takes a dump on everyone else’s fondest childhood memories.

Ash Beks: Nu-metal

When considering the overwhelming number of terrible things I enjoyed when I was younger, my pre-adolescent preference for nu-metal is an embarrassing truth I simply cannot deny and far outweighs any other shitty cultural choices made during my youth.

I mean, “Disappointing Childhood Favourites”, of course nu-metal was going to get mentioned.

I’d say it probably started with Limp Bizkit. I would have been about ten when I first heard “Nookie” on triple j (believe it or not, triple j flogged the early Bizkit stuff) and my goofy yet angry younger self found plenty to relate to in this group of grouchy outsiders. I remember the film clip and Fred Durst standing like a messiah; cap on backward and cursing like the aggressive beacon of light angsty adolescents everywhere could emigrate toward.

From there, the nu-metal came hard and fast and by some miracle, the artists I listened to only got worse. Crazy Town, 28 Days and P.O.D. were some of the most notable offenders; my underdeveloped ears unaware of how truly embarrassing the genre, its music and its people are. I had all the CDs and played them to death – often so much so that the jewel cases became battered and bruised. My local Sanity always had the albums to satisfy my nu-metal needs – it was Shepparton after all, the whole fucking town was probably listening to nu-metal, old and young alike – and eventually, I had a collection of at least a dozen nu-metal classics.

Furthermore, I foolishly idolised nu-metal’s image, often attempting to dress similarly to my idols. For a NYE celebration, I wanted to look like the singer from Linkin Park in the “One Step Closer” video, all fluorescent greens and blacks with spiked hair and baggy trousers. Those shameful images still exist somewhere – hopefully they remain unearthed. The CDs however, did not survive. By about age 13 my tastes had (somewhat) developed and my love of nu-metal morphed into separate adoration for both rap and metal. Those battered nu-metal jewel cases likely wound up at the Shepparton Cash Converters; relics to be bestowed on to another generation of angry youths, consumed and again thrown away, compelled to a life of reuse and short-lived respect.

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