Problem Child

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Problem Child Movie Poster Image
Antics of a diabolical child are neither valuable nor funny.
  • PG
  • 1990
  • 81 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 9 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

In an attempt to elicit laughs, the world is portrayed as filled with people who are some combination of stupid, mean, vengeful, materialistic, and oblivious. The film also presents a very negative picture of adoption.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Authority figures are seen as ineffectual, uncaring, and clownish. The one loving parent is naive and inept. Children (and most adults) are depicted as selfish, unkind, and materialistic. Bigotry is used as a source of humor.

Violence

Strictly cartoon violence throughout. A 7-year-old child is responsible for car crashes, including a man atop a careening, out-of-control vehicle; nuns slipping and falling; fist fights; men toppling from high places; setting fire to a house; and more. In addition, there's a bear attack, a prison break, and an exaggeratedly violent criminal wields a gun and kidnaps the boy and his adopted mom.  

Sex

A brief, farcical demonstration of the human reproductive system using plastic body parts; some beefcake photographs of men; one overblown kiss. Junior takes pictures of nuns undressing and a priest sitting on a toilet.

Language

Lots of mild swearing and potty behavior: "butt," "crap," "dick," "hell," "ass," "up yours," "goddamn," "balls," etc. Junior pees into someone's face and into a fire. Fart sounds. Some slurs, including "retarded," "Japs," "moron," "idiot."

Consumerism

Lots of visuals of Pepsi. Also: Whoppers, Icee, Milk Duds, Fluky's, Remco, Penn Sporting Equipment.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A convicted criminal smokes throughout. A few instances of adults having a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in this slapstick comedy, a 7-year-old boy causes chaos from start to finish. He's bad for the sake of being bad and delights in setting fires, causing accidents, hurting people, pickpocketing, and driving recklessly, all without remorse. His misbehavior is exaggerated and unrealistic. Despite characters being pummeled, hit with a baseball bat, squished and squashed, and even sailing through the air locked in a suitcase, no one is injured. There's lots of potty humor (including the boy's penchant for peeing on people and farting for effect). Mild swearing is frequent ("crap," "ass," "hell," "goddamn"), and there are several slurs ("Japs," "retarded"). Stereotypically heartless nuns and a priest are used as comic foils and objects of disdain, including shots of hefty nuns undressing and a priest sitting on the toilet. The movie also presents a very negative take on adoption.

Wondering if Problem Child is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMorgan H. May 29, 2018

Upsetting, malicious

I write this more as a kid than a parent, because I still remember watching this movie as a child. It made my heart sick that anyone found it funny
The child... Continue reading
Parent of a 1 and 11-year-old Written byZoethustra September 9, 2017

Not a bad family movie for 11 and up

Our 11 year old loved it! And John Ritter is crazy adorable in this.
Teen, 13 years old Written bymurdermystery June 26, 2019

PROBLEM CHILD is Okay

I thought PROBLEM CHILD was just okay. There is some shooting, but parents will need to know about the language which isn't bad but there's a few word... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 21, 2019

Best Comedy Movie I’ve ever Seen

I just watched the second one and I have to say one part is pretty gross for some people but I find it hilarious and the rest of it is just straight up hilariou... Continue reading

What's the story?

Junior, a destructively mischievous child, is passed from various homes to an orphanage and finally into the arms of Ben (John Ritter), a clueless but well-meaning adoptive father, and his social-climbing wife. The new household, as well as their entire neighborhood, is upended by Junior's behavior. Meanwhile, not too far away, Martin Beck (Michael Richards), a dangerous criminal, breaks out of prison, hoping to find Junior, who has become his ardent fan and penpal. Mayhem meets frenzy as the two forces of nature collide and Ben tries to bring some stability to the little boy's life.

Is it any good?

PROBLEM CHILD is a live-action cartoon with pratfalls, slapstick action, one-dimensional characters, and very little heart. Director Dennis Dugan, hoping perhaps to emulate Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner or Tom and Jerry, has come up with "devil-child against the world," with the same pacing and exaggerated violence of the animated shorts. And like those shorts, there's no real resolution, no change in behavior: Nice guys remain nice guys, buffoons are always buffoons, and the little guy's emotional arc barely moves from A to B.

The performances are uniformly loud and over-the-top, with some highly offensive comic portrayals of nuns and priests and a whiny, abrasive narration throughout from Junior himself. Ritter's usual nice-guy appeal can't save anyone, and Richards, Jack Warden, and Amy Yasbeck (who plays Junior's adoptive mother) are more obnoxious than comic. All of this might be somewhat excusable if the movie was funny or clever. But unless watching people crash and burn is your cup of tea, it's simply not.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the differences between cartoon violence and real violence. In a live action movie like this one, how do the filmmakers indicate that nothing is for real?

  • Punishment doesn't seem to make a difference in Junior's behavior. Are there consequences for your actions? Do you ever talk with your family about how they determine those consequences?

  • Ben was victimized by his father, his wife, and even his friends before he even met Junior. Did his relationship with his new son help him make any changes? How realistic is his character?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate