The Little Rascals is part of the early 1990s kids movie canon, a great collection that I still revisit, with or without a small human in tow. Since the 1994 film about a ragtag group of tykes was released as I entered teenager-hood, however, I passed and opted for classics like The Sandlot and The Mighty Ducks because, you know, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez and Adam Banks. Now, thanks to my sparse Hong Kong Netflix selection, I get to rewind the clock and fill in the blanks.
It turns out the ubiquitous Rascals of my youth are a charming bunch, even if the boys’ purpose of being is membership in the He-Man Woman Haters Club. It’s not exactly the kind of thing that earns cute points these days, and I was skeptical about how hard gender stereotypes would be pushed. The answer is, a lot. The Rascals are mostly the boys of the club, and they open the film by calling a meeting about an upcoming go-kart race. That is all good and well until we find out that everyone’s turned on little Alfalfa (Bug Hall) – he’s the one with the cowlick – because he’s sweet on Darla (Brittany Ashton Holmes).
There’s a lot of boys hating girls talk that’s not so problematic. Kissing is just revolting at that age. But Darla and her girlfriends are from another era, one that recalls the original shorts and series from the first half of the twentieth century rather than actual life in the early 90s. It might have been better to set the movie in the 1940s instead of attempting that aesthetic but in the present day. It’s cute that Darla’s shading herself with a parasol while Alfalfa serenades her on the lake, but I don’t know about her completely powder pink room and the fact that she and her friends look like dolls on display at the county fair.
Needless to say, it takes awhile for the boys of the HMWHC to come around. They do their best to drive a wedge between Alfalfa and Darla, allowing the new rich kid, Waldo (Blake McIver Ewing and not Macaulay Culkin from The Pagemaster) to muscle in. It’s enough to make me wonder what they’ll be up to in high school. Making matters worse are two bullies who grunt, growl, and chase the kids around like it’s their job.
Between the romantic drama, preparations for the go-kart race, and attempts to evade bullies, the movie floats along quickly. The child actors have buckets of personality and most of the major characters carry their own. Travis Tedford has an air of defiance, and a smidge of a Southern accent, as Spanky McFarland, the club president and best friend to Alfalfa. Kevin Jamal Woods also carries extra authority as vice president Stymie, despite being all of seven or so. My favorite characters are Porky and Buckwheat, played by Zachery Mabry and Ross Elliot Bagley, the tiniest members of the group. The are a giggly duo who are too small to do much of anything except warm your cold heart, and they do that brilliantly with just a smile. And good thing because there’s a cameo by a certain 45th president that puts an sick chill on the whole happy vibe.
Prod: Bill Oakes, Michael King, Gerald R. Molen
Dir: Penelope Spheeris
Writer: Paul Guay, Stephen Mazur, Penelope Spheeris, Mike Scott, Robert Wolterstorff
Cast: Travis Tedford, Bug Hall, Brittany Ashton Holmes, Kevin Jamal Woods, Jordan Warkol, Zachary Mabry, Ross Elliot Bagley, Blake McIver Ewing
Time: 82 min
Country: United States