Friday, September 6, 2013

Trojan Horse Movie Review: Dennis the Menace

A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended or disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack.

Title: Dennis the Menace
Genre: Family, comedy
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 14+

Summary -
Dennis is the neighborhood pest. Mr. Wilson in particular doesn't like him. At all. The boy is a threat to the man's peace and tranquility.
So he is less than pleased when his wife agrees to take care of Dennis while both of his parents are gone on business trips. Sharing his house with the monstrous child is a living nightmare, and everything takes a turn for the worse when Mr. Wilson is robbed and Dennis inadvertently ruins the work of half of Mr. Wilson's life.
Dennis is a menace.

The Bad - Note: About a third of the way into the movie, I stopped cataloging specific problems that I saw, mainly because I found it really distracting to keep pausing the movie in the middle of a gag to write down everything I objected to. I'll try to remember specific problems, but I can't promise to catch everything.

- Dennis gets himself (usually in complete innocence), into a lot of trouble. His hijinks include (but aren't limited to): giving Mr. Wilson a medical inspection while he's "sleeping" and accidently making him choke on an asprin, playing ding-dong-ditch on his own house (more on that later), accidently spilling paint, then accidently shooting paint at Mr. Wilson's barbeque, breaking Mr. Wilson's dentures and replacing the teeth with pieces of gum, accidently almost dropping a canoe on top of Mr. Wilson, mixing up Mr. Wilson's medicines, letting a dog into Mr. Wilson's house, flipping over a whole table of deserts, seriously injuring a bad guy (also more on that later), and shooting a burning marshmallow onto Mr. Wilson's forehead.
- Mr. Wilson spends his life avoiding Dennis, sometimes in bad ways. He "lies" about being sick to Dennis, prevents him from cheating in a game by lying to his accomplice, and speaking very unkindly to him.
- Dennis cheats in hide-and-go seek by using a little boy to watch where everyone is hiding.
- Dennis lies to his parents and disobeys them on occasion.
- Mr. Wilson suggests that Dennis' dad use a belt on him.
- Dennis' babysitter invites her boyfriend over to the house, makes some inappropriate comments (through the mouth of Dennis), and once Dennis is "asleep", starts a very heavy make-out session with him. Dennis comes down the stares and starts laughing at them (which is probably the most disconcerting part of the scene), then sneaks out and plays ding-dong-ditch. In an effort to catch the perpetrator, the couple sets an elaborate trap, and end up plastering Mr. Wilson with flour.
- A little girl about Dennis' age makes extremely inappropriate comments to him about love-nests and the like. She threatens another boy into kissing her, but when he proffers his lips, she makes him kiss her doll's bottom instead. She then proceeds to tease him about this for a very long time.
- Kids threaten each other with physical harm.
- Dennis begins describing his parent's love life very clearly to Mrs. Wilson. It is obvious that he doesn't know what he's saying, but Mrs. Wilson looks distinctly uncomfortable.
- There are several "close call" gags with men's unmentionables.
- A very bad man comes into town and tries to steal people's stuff. He kidnaps Dennis and threatens him with death (it's a very scary scene). Dennis, being Dennis, doesn't really notice, and proceeds to maim the man accidently. The whole sequence is supposed to be funny, but it just ends up being rather disturbing.
- God's name is taken in vain several times, and name calling such as "stupid", "babyrump kisser", and "hot lips" is bantered about by young children.

The Good -
Because the whole story is basically a spoof on childhood and neighborhood politics, there isn't a whole lot that can be used as a teaching moment in this movie.
Despite his utter annoyingness, Dennis really does love Mr. Wilson in a five-year-old sort of way, and he is completely oblivious to the man's dislike. Even when Mr. Wilson crushes his heart, he still runs to the old man with joy and completely forgives (or forgets) the man's faults.
Mr. Wilson finally realizes just how horrible he's been to Dennis by the end of the movie, and heartbrokenly searches for him after Dennis runs away. He honestly rejoices when the boy returns.
Dennis' mother is forced to go back to work because of a bad financial situation, but she tries desperately not to let that interfere with her motherhood. She defends her motherhood to snide coworkers who persecute her for her loyalty to family.

Conclusion -
This movie could have been so good.
I hate saying those words, because they mean that something beautiful was destroyed.
I guess most people wouldn't see a muddy, mischievous, precocious five-year-old boy as beautiful. Most people would run as fast as they can in the opposite direction, like Mr. Wilson. But the wonderful innocence of childhood makes all of the annoyances of that little boy completely worth suffering through.
The problem with this movie is its almost bipolar flip-flopping between innocence and innuendo. It is really disconcerting to hear young children discuss "birds and bees" one moment and then see them write "I'm sorry I accidently shot paint onto your chicken" notes the next. Or see them laughing at a young couple making out, then turning around and accidently ruining a garden party by pressing the garage door button.  It's more than disconcerting; it's disgusting. It is quite hard to enjoy a movie when you have to transition from laughing yourself into stitches to cringing in pain every two minutes.
That being said, I think Dennis the Menace has some merit. The softening of Mr. Wilson toward Dennis is rather wonderful to watch, and, outside of the humor of the story, was probably my favorite part of the movie.
This is a hard movie to put into a category, because while it has a lot of adult content, the story line and script was meant to make an 8-year-old laugh. And I think that's an incredibly dangerous combination.


grandma jane said...

Wow, I was rather shocked after reading this one. I think my generation (like Mr. Wilson's) simply saw the ho-hum, boys-will-be-boys attitude being played out without a thought to how this may be perceived by a much younger generation.
Kudos to you, Stacy, for a spot-on review IMO.
It must be reassuring for parents to have access to bloggers like you and Maria, who are like a modern day version of the muckrakers that wrote about what they perceived as negative societal issues and in that fostered a change.

Stacy C said...

Haha, I wouldn't go so far as to call us modern muckrakers, but thank you!
I grew up reading the actual "Dennis the Menace" comic strip and I loved it, so this movie, while not a complete fail, disappointed me on multiple levels. I guess I just put too much expectation into it. :(