Sunday, July 24, 2005

Tanner, Tatum, and Timmy Lupus

As the new movie comes out, there is much praise heaped on the original Bad News Bears. I was eight years old when it came out in theaters, so I almost certainly saw it for the first time on broadcast television.

Part of the charm of the original is that it has kids talking like grownups. Following in the footsteps of movies like Paper Moon (also starring Tatum O'Neill) and television characters like Danny Partridge, the kids demonstrate that that they are wise beyond their years, often smarter than the adults in the film. Tanner Boyle had the biggest mouth of the team, even though he is the smallest player. His scrappy demeanor delighted audiences. I almost wonder if he was the model for cartoon character Scrappy Doo.

That's the edited-for-television version. And the 1979 television series with Corey Feldman, Meeno Peluce, and Jack Warden was similarly cute. However, the theatrical release was a much less pleasant film. In addition to the cursing, the original movie included racial slurs, mostly from the mouth of Tanner. For all of the politically correct moralizing about old films (anyone seen Song of the South lately?) with complaints ranging from stereotypes to smoking, here you have a film with a very realistic and very disturbing combination of violence and racism in a small child. Like the kid who acts out sexually in school, Tanner Boyle obviously learned his behavior somewhere. He does get his comeuppance when Ogilvie reminds him that all of the groups he just insulted were present and could easily beat him up, but it is difficult to see the cuteness of the Tanner character.

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