Greetings once more, Retro Junkers! It's time to see what the Fall and Holiday Movies of 1991 have in store for us.
I was 14 and in the Eighth Grade this year, and as I look back on my memories of the time, it's a mixture of good and bad. On the good, my two older brothers (who are twins) had gone off to college, so I had the house to myself for the first time, and was greatly enjoying it. I had gotten my first real pet over the summer (a cat named Satia), and was anticipating a trip to Orlando and Disney/Universal that my parents and I were going to be taking in the Spring of next year. It was to be my last family vacation, as my parents would divorce just a couple months afterward. I had no idea during the trip of their being any problems, and speaking to my mom in recent years, she said things seemed fine at the time, so it must have been very sudden.
I also was going through the usual problems with school, as I struggled with fitting in with the other kids, so there's a lot of memories associated with that. But the main thing I remember about this time of 1991 was my anticipation for the Super Nintendo. I had asked for one for Christmas, and it was about all I could think about at the time. I remember pouring over issues of Nintendo Power, and dreaming about how cool it was going to be to play Mario, Castlevania, Zelda, Mega Man, and my other Nintendo favorites in 16-bit. When Christmas Morning came that year, my parents did not disappoint, and I certainly was not disappointed. To this day, the SNES remains my all time favorite console.
But enough about me. Time for some movies. We have a few stinkers here, a few winners, and one genuine classic, so let's not waste any more time. The movies of 1991 await!
SUBURBAN COMMANDO RELEASED: OCTOBER 4
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: An outer space hero named Shep Ramsey (Hulk Hogan) has his ship damaged during a battle, and has to hide out on Earth, passing himself off as a normal human while his ship recharges. Of course, he can't help but try to help out everyday people with their problems while on Earth, which causes no end of trouble for the average suburban family that he's living with, particularly the father, mild-mannered Charlie Wilcox (Christopher Lloyd). And when some alien thugs come to Earth looking for Shep, our world is turned into an intergalactic battleground.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was not a fan of Pro Wrestling back in the day, and had never seen any of the earlier movies Hogan appeared in. However, a good friend of mine at the time was, and insisted we see it the weekend it came out. I liked Christopher Lloyd a lot, and the premise sounded like it could be funny, so I figured I would at least give it a chance. I remember two things: I remember my friend loved it, because he pretty much worshiped the WWF and everything that had to do with it, and I remember thinking the movie was kind of lame. When it was over, I would have rather spent the afternoon playing one of my friend's terrible wrestling video games that he had at the time than have watched it.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: My views on Pro Wrestling have not changed, and neither have my views on this movie. It's a potentially funny idea for a kid's comedy, and to be fair, it does have a moment or two that kind of makes me chuckle. But for the most part, it just reminds me of why I never really got into the whole Wrestling thing back in the day. I never saw most of Hogan's movies, so this is what immediately comes to mind when I think of his illustrious acting career. I should probably keep it that way.
ERNEST SCARED STUPID RELEASED: OCTOBER 11
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: All-around lunkhead, Ernest P. Worrell (the late Jim Varney), is back to cause more good-hearted trouble. This time, he accidentally releases an evil troll that was sealed away years ago. Now that the troll is back, it sets about creating an army of monsters, and terrorizing the local children. Ernest may be stupid, but he's always willing to help, so he gathers up a group of his own to fight back, save the children, and the town itself.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Unlike Pro Wrestling, I did enjoy most of the Ernest movies at the time, with Ernest Saves Christmas being my favorite of the films back then. I went with the same friend I saw Suburban Commando with, and I remember us both being more in agreement with this one. While it wasn't one of my favorites, I did have fun with the film's comedic horror theme. This was the last Ernest movie I ever saw at the theater, so at least the series went out on a fun note.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While I don't enjoy the Ernest movies the way I used to, I do see them as harmless fun for kids, and Scared Stupid is no exception. In fact, as an adult, there is one aspect of the film that I still love, and that is the opening credit sequence, which features a bunch of clips from cheesy 50s and 60s B-Horror films. Being a big fan of films from that era, it's fun picking out what films the clips are from. Watch the opening sequence below...
CURLY SUE RELEASED: OCTOBER 25
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The father and daughter team of Bill (James Belushi) and Curly Sue (Alisan Porter) are homeless, and make a living conning wealthy people into getting food and sometimes a warm place to sleep at night. When they con a wealthy female lawyer (Kelly Lynch) and invites them to stay with her for the night, she actually starts to fall for the pair. Bill feels that leaving his daughter with this woman who obviously cares for her and can give her a better life might be the best choice. But Curly Sue hopes to get her father and the woman together.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember this movie getting a lot of attention back in the day, as it was the next kid's comedy from John Hughes after Home Alone the previous year. And then, it just kind of faded from everyone's mind almost the weekend it came out, and didn't really go anywhere. When I saw it, I remember thinking it was pleasant enough, but it certainly wasn't anything memorable. Honestly, until I re-watched it for this article, I had completely forgotten about the movie and what it was even about. Catching up certainly helped remind me why this didn't make much of a splash back in the day, as it's a rather forgettable film.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie is pretty much only remembered for the fact that it was the final film John Hughes directed. He strictly wrote scripts after that. Doing some research, I learned that this was a particularly hard film to shoot, as apparently Hughes and Belushi did not get along at all, and that they were constantly at each others throats during the filming. Maybe the experience just soured Hughes on actually making films, and he just decided to stick to writing from that point on. If so, that's very sad, and it's sad we never did get that big Hughes comeback that many dreamed of. Another thing to note, the film features a brief "before he was famous" cameo by future film star, Steve Carell.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS RELEASED: NOVEMBER 8
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: All young brother and sister Ethan (Ethan Randall) and Hallie (Thora Birch) want for Christmas is to see their divorced parents get back together. Unfortunately, their dad doesn't see this happening, and their mom is getting set to marry a smarmy Yuppie (Saturday Night Live's Kevin Nealon). While Hallie feels the best way to get their parents together is to make an important wish to a department store Santa (Leslie Nielsen), Ethan comes up with an elaborate scheme that will either bring their family back together, or get them grounded for the rest of their lives.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: One of my dreams as a child was visiting Manhattan at Christmas time. It's a dream I have filled many times, as I visit New York on a regular basis for personal theater trips. And so, the movie got my attention due to the fact it was a New York Christmas film. I remember finding the movie kind of sweet, but nothing all that memorable. It's yet another movie from the time that I had largely forgotten about until researching this article.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Yeah, this is quite a schmaltzy little Christmas film filled with cutsey jokes, and brainless, easily manipulated adults who are clearly not as smart as the kids in the movie. Of course, we wouldn't have a movie if they weren't. It's a harmless, goofy little kid's movie that probably will appeal to very young children. Everyone else will be left with a lot of questions. Questions like, how did the Department Store Santa know where Hallie lived, so he can show up on her front door to deliver her lost pet mouse, Snowball? And, why is everyone in the living room celebrating Christmas, and not in the kitchen where their housekeeper is apparently giving birth? (This is brought up, then never mentioned again.) The only actor who escapes this movie with any dignity is legendary screen actress, Lauren Bacall, who plays the children's grandmother, and gets a nice scene or two.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST RELEASED: NOVEMBER 15 (LIMITED)/ NOVEMBER 22 (WIDE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In Disney's first animated musical since 89's The Little Mermaid, a lovely young woman named Belle (voice by Paige O'Hara) goes to rescue and ultimately surrenders her freedom for her father, who is being held in a castle dungeon by a ferocious Beast (Robbie Benson), who is secretly a Prince who has been cursed by an Enchantress' spell, and can only be freed of it if he finds true love. As Belle and the Beast spend time together, they begin to open their hearts to one another, with the help of the various castle staff who have been transformed by the spell into enchanted objects such as candlestick holders, clocks, and tea pots. But will the villagers, led by the vain and egotistical Gaston (Richard White) be able to accept the Beast?
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: At last, the first movie on this year's list that is worth remembering!! There was a lot of pre-release hype for this movie, including word that an unfinished version of the film had received a standing ovation from a prestigious New York film festival earlier in the year. With many of the same creative and musical talent from Mermaid coming back, there was a lot of anticipation. And, as we all know, it was all well founded. The movie not only went on to be a smash hit, but it is now seen as a modern day classic of animation, and became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It's legacy lives on in a long-running smash Broadway stage musical, and an upcoming live action remake set to be released next March.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is easily my favorite film of the "Disney 90s Renaissance". It's still beautiful to watch, has some great moments of heart and humor, and of course the timeless songs by the team of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (who tragically died of AIDS before the movie was released). The movie was an instant favorite of mine when I saw it over Thanksgiving weekend in 91, and has pretty much remained there ever since. It's easily one of the top 3 Disney animated films, in my opinion.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY RELEASED: NOVEMBER 22
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: America's first family of the macabre get the big screen treatment. Family patriarch Gomez (the late Raul Julia) is haunted by an argument he had years ago with his brother, Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), which caused a rift between them, and found Fester leaving home and disappearing. Now, a greedy lawyer (Dan Hedaya) and a con artist (Elizabeth Wilson) come up with a plan to rob the Addams of their supposedly vast fortune that is kept locked away in a secret vault. They dress up the con artist's son as the long lost Fester, saying he was found wandering in the Bermuda Triangle. At first, the ruse seems to be in danger of falling apart, as the imposter Fester just doesn't fit in with the Addams' weird ways. But, as he spends time with them, he not only accepts the Addams, but begins to think that he may actually be Fester.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Next to Beauty and the Beast, this was the big movie of the fall for me. I was a huge fan of the early TV show, watching reruns after school when I was young. The trailers had me exciting, and the casting seemed spot on. I saw the movie opening night, and I remember having a great time. I would later rewatch it many times on video in the years that followed. This was just a fun movie to me, and a great companion piece to the original comics that started it all, as well as the TV show that launched the characters to national fame.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: My love has lessened somewhat, as I am able to see the film's flaws. The whole "impostor Fester or is he?" plot is very convoluted, and they really should have done a lot more with the later half of the film, where the Addams are forced out of their mansion, and have to find work in the real world. That being said, this is a very nostalgic movie for me, and one that never fails to make me smile. I still love the cast, the set design, and the effects used to bring the Addams world to life. This looks like it was a fun movie to make. The only thing about this movie I don't remember fondly? That atrocious "Addams Groove" rap song that Hammer did for the soundtrack. Relive the early 90s cheese here...
AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST RELEASED: NOVEMBER 22
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In this follow up to the hit animated film from 1986, Fievel Mousekewitz (again voiced by Phillip Glasser) and his family have not found the opportunities America had promised them in New York. So, they decide to head out West, to a town where cats and mice supposedly live in harmony with one another. However, the town is an elaborate trap set by the scheming Cat R. Waul (John Cleese) who plans to turn all the mice into mouse burgers. Fievel must now team up with an aging lawman dog named Wylie Burp (James Stewart in his final performance) and his old cat friend Tiger (Dom DeLuise) to save all the mice before it is too late.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: We had some kids at our house over for Thanksgiving, and they all really wanted to see this. I personally wanted to see Beauty and the Beast, but most of the kids were boys, and thought that it was a "girl's movie". So, I went to see Beauty later during the holiday weekend, and took them to see this. I remember thinking this was a very different movie from the first. The original Don Bluth film (which I loved) was almost like a drama, and really made you feel for the little mouse as he searched for his family. The sequel (which Bluth had no part in) was much more comical, emphasizing slapstick and visual gags. My overall reaction back in the day was that it wasn't anything great, but not terrible either.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: There are a lot of cute moments, a couple moments where I smiled, it has a nice music score by the late composer James Horner, and it's great to hear James Stewart again. But, Universal was fooling themselves if they thought this would stand a chance against what Disney was releasing at the exact same time. Again, this is not a bad movie, and it's quite well drawn, too. It's just obviously aimed at very small kids instead of family audiences. It's fine for what it is, but it doesn't add up to much if you're over the age of 10.
MY GIRL RELEASED: NOVEMBER 27
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A coming of age story centered around a preteen girl named Vada (Anna Chlumsky) who is struggling with the fact that her widower father (Dan Aykroyd) has fallen for a woman who works with him at his funeral parlor (Jamie Lee Curtis), and may get married again one day. Along with her best friend, Thomas (Macaulay Culkin), Vada will learn lessons about love, friendship, and even a personal tragic loss.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember this movie got a small bit of controversy back in the day, due to the fact that it was being advertised largely as a comedy for kids. And while there are quite a few light moments throughout the film, it could also be quite tragic and sad, especially a few select scenes near the end concerning Culkin's character, who was fresh off of his Home Alone success. I was old enough to know that this was a very sweet and honest story about kids, and I enjoyed it back in the day, though I remember some of my friends and other kids being disappointed that it wasn't a full-on comedy.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I still admire the film, and think it does a great job dealing with the issues that it brings up. It's not a classic of the coming of age genre, such as Stand By Me, but it's funny, has some great performances by the cast, and handles the tonal shifts of the story quite well without it being too jarring. This is one I've kind of forgotten about over time, but I enjoyed catching up with.
STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY RELEASED: DECEMBER 6
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: It's the final film featuring the original Star Trek cast, and one last shot at redemption after the disaster of 1989's Star Trek V. This entry focuses on the Klingons finally being willing to make peace with the Federation after 70 years of war. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew of the Enterprise are tasked with heading up the peace talks. Things don't go as planned, and when the Klingon High Chancellor is murdered during the volatile talks, Kirk and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are wrongly charged with the murder, and sent to a hard labor camp on a desolate ice planet. It's up to the rest of the crew to clear their names, find the identity of the true murderer, and create a peace treaty before the two warring factions tear each other apart.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I'll be honest, I've never been much of a Star Trek person, except for the Next Generation TV series, which I got into for a while, and still occasionally enjoy. That being said, I have seen the movies and often enjoyed them. Not only that, both of my older brothers were huge fans, and would always take me along to see them. It was known at the time that this would be the last film with the original cast, so it got a lot of attention back in the day. I remember having fun with this one, and being able to enjoy it even if I wasn't a loyal fan of the show.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I recently caught up with all the Star Trek films, and while this one isn't my favorite, I do admire it, and had just as much fun catching up with it as I did back in the day. There are some nice touches throughout the film, since this would be the last time we would see these characters together on the big screen. I especially enjoy the end credits, which include the personal signatures of the main cast. Overall, this is a fine send off to the original series, and kind of helps bridge the gap between it and the Next Generation series.
HOOK RELEASED: DECEMBER 11
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Somehow, Peter Pan has left Neverland behind, grown up, and become Peter Banning (Robin Williams), a short-tempered workaholic lawyer who barely has any time for his kids, Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott). While vacationing in London with his family, Peter's old nemesis from long ago, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) has come seeking vengeance, and snatches Peter's children away, taking them to Neverland with him, and hoping Peter will follow for one last duel. Peter has no memories of his past life as the eternal child, so it's up to Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the Lost Boys to help him remember.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Oh, was I pumped for this one. Steven Spielberg was, and remains, one of my favorite directors, and the trailers for this movie just had me psyched. My best friend at the time and I rushed out to see it the weekend it opened, and while he enjoyed it a lot, I found myself somewhat disappointed. The movie was kind of slow, very talky, and nowhere near as exciting as I had hoped. It was more about Peter finding his inner child, than it was about thrilling adventures with pirates. I remember thinking it wasn't a bad movie, but it certainly wasn't the movie I was expecting.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Seriously, I view this as one of Spielberg's worst films. I've attempted to watch it many times, and often, I find I can't sit all the way through it. This movie is just boring to me. It's dragged out, the dialogue is very wordy and seemingly never ends, and there's just no sense of adventure here, which is the first thing you would expect in a Peter Pan film directed by Spielberg. Worst of all, you never get the sense that you're in Neverland. All we really get to see is the Pirate Village and the Lost Boys hideout, and those look like massive sets, not places that could exist in a far off world. It's overblown, the performances are not that interesting, and I've really just grown to hate this movie over time. I know this one's a nostalgic favorite for a lot of people, and more power to them. I just cannot get behind this one.
FATHER OF THE BRIDE RELEASED: DECEMBER 20
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In this remake of the classic 1950 Spencer Tracy comedy, George Banks (Steve Martin) is a father who becomes stressed out when his oldest daughter, Annie (Kimberly Williams) unexpectedly announces that she is getting married. The wedding preparations, which increasingly balloon to incredible financial heights, only adds more pressure as George finds it hard to let go of the girl he raised.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Maybe after the big budget bloat of Hook, I was ready for something a little bit smaller and more intimate. My mom and I went to see this one on Christmas Day, as we long had a tradition of seeing a movie the evening of Christmas. I remember finding this to be a sweet and charming little movie that didn't really stand out all that much, but was still enjoyable. If my mind did wander a little from time to time, it was only because of the Super Nintendo that I had gotten that morning, and was waiting for me when I came home.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is another example of a feature length movie that resembles a TV sitcom, minus the laugh track, but it's not quite as bad as some other examples. Steve Martin is wonderful to watch, as always, and everyone in the cast is giving this their all. It's a pleasant movie that has a couple laughs, and never offends, but it doesn't do a lot to stay in your mind, either. It works as light entertainment, and that's about all it needs to do.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES RELEASED: DECEMBER 27 (LIMITED)/JANUARY 24, 1992 (WIDE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: While visiting a relative at a nursing home, an unhappy housewife (Kathy Bates) makes friends with the elderly Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), who tells her stories of two women in her family - Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker), two women living in 1920s Alabama who became friends, opened a restaurant, and took a stand for Civil Rights in a turbulent time. The story crosscuts between the modern day and the past, as the stories of Idgie and Ruth inspire the housewife to take charge of her own life for the first time.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This is another film I saw with my mom back in the day, and while I wasn't expecting much walking in, I remember being really impressed with the film. I loved the characters, and the way the story cut back and forth between two different storylines in different time periods, and how they ultimately came together. This was a film filled with a lot of emotion and laughs, and was a nice unexpected surprise for me.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie was a hit back in the day, but has kind of gone quiet since then. They don't even really play it on TV anymore, which kind of surprises me. Regardless, I still enjoy this as much as I did back then. Using two storylines could have made the film easily feel cluttered, but it expertly jumps between the different plotlines and characters in a clear and concise way. There's a lot of charm here, and if you haven't seen it or haven't watched it in a while, you should give it a chance.
And that will do it for 1991! I'm having a great time catching up with these films, and hope that you are having fun as well reading them.
I will see you soon for 1992, and until then, keep the past alive, Retro Junkers!