A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dennis the Menace is a 1993 remake of the 1950s situation comedy. Expect a lot of exaggerated pratfall violence -- if Mr. Wilson isn't on the receiving end of Dennis' unintentional shenanigans (slipping, falling, golf ball to the groin, etc.), the antagonist (a scary-looking vagrant played by Christopher Lloyd) finds himself handcuffed, tied up, knife falling on his backside, etc. Dennis is kidnapped by a hobo. Dennis finds an old magazine in Mr. Wilson's basement called "Peep Show," with a scantily-clad woman from the 1950s on the cover. Little kids discuss "how babies are made (the mother's belly button opens up so they can enter). Dennis tells Mrs. Wilson how his parents like to "wrestle" on Sunday mornings, by themselves with their shirts off. A babysitter and her boyfriend make out on the couch. Later, this boyfriend reads a train-themed children's story to Dennis and misreads a line in the story as "all trains are impotent." Baked beans and the inevitable flatulence play a part in the action later in the movie. The screenplay was written by John Hughes, and like the classic 1980s teen movies he directed, there's a fair amount of "kids versus adults" noticeable to those familiar with Hughes' other movies.
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What's the story?
In DENNIS THE MANACE, 5-year-old Dennis is on summer vacation from school. Dennis loves to get into trouble and play pranks. After various babysitters find him too challenging, Dennis' parents turn to Mr. and Mrs. Wilson to watch their difficult child when they need to go out of town for work. A burglar named Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd)) breaks in to steal Mr. Wilson's gold coin collection. Dennis becomes a hostage. Can Mr. Wilson save the day?
Is it any good?
Instead of painting Mr. Wilson as a meanie in this unexceptional movie, director Nick Castle makes him more complex -- the frustrated victim of Dennis's childish literal-mindedness. Matthau brings lovable grouchiness and wince-inducing pratfalls to the role, setting the stage for Dennis and Mr. Wilson's inevitable reconciliation. A 4-year-old was puzzled by the sometimes good, sometimes bad behavior of Dennis and Mr. Wilson. For her, the most easily understood character was the menacing Christopher Lloyd, a sinister scene-stealing presence. Despite the violence, the 4-year-old liked his scenes best, because she could cheer for Dennis and hiss at his enemy without feeling confused.
A 7-year-old relished this depth of characterization, and watched Dennis with a knowing smile, shaking her head over his innocence and wrong-headedness. The set-up and delivery of jokes are geared to this age group: Dennis helpfully refills a nosedrop bottle with mouthwash, and refills a mouthwash bottle with bathroom cleaner. Enter Mr. Wilson, who uses his nosedrops and mouthwash before bedtime. Older children will delight in every spill Mr. Wilson takes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationship between Dennis and Mr. Wilson. Why can't they get along? How do you get along with someone who is difficult?
What would be the challenges in updating a 1950s sitcom to a modern audience?
The screenplay of this movie was written by John Hughes, who also directed Home Alone. What similarities do you see between this movie and Home Alone, or perhaps even other movies John Hughes directed?
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