Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 17, 2015)
Back in the early 1980s, the “Cabbage Patch Kids” dolls turned into an enormous success. To this day, when a toy inspires shopping mania around Christmas, news articles remind us of the near-riots that came with the parental pursuit of the Cabbage Patch Kids circa 1983.
In the face of this, a trading card set called the “Garbage Pail Kids” emerged to parody the Cabbage Patch craze. Reminiscent of the “Wacky Packages” cards I bought as a kid in the 70s, these substituted the adorable cherubs of the Cabbage Patch world with disgusting, deformed children.
The cards did so well that they spawned a short-lived TV series as well as a feature film. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie hit screens in the summer of 1987 and flopped. The flick received brutally bad reviews and fizzled at the box office.
And yet the good folks at Shout! Factory decided there was an audience for a “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray! I never saw Pail back in the 1980s, but armed with a copy of the legendarily bad movie, how could I resist?
Dodger (Mackenzie Astin) gets bullied by older thugs but seeks refuge in his work at Captain Manzini’s (Anthony Newley) antique store. Manzini maintains one rule: Dodger can’t touch a curious trashcan.
Eventually the can gets dislodged and reveals its inhabitants: bizarre little people called the Garbage Pail Kids. They help him solve various problems and try to get the girl, too.
Let me see if I get this straight: Captain Manzini desperately wants to keep the Kids stuck inside their garbage pail. So why does he keep this trashcan smack in the middle of his cramped, cluttered store? And then why does he move the can to a rickety shelf where it could easily fall? Heck, why does Manzini retain the can at all?
Great questions, but don’t expect any logic from the absurd and ridiculous Kids. Why does Juice (Ron MacLachlan) torment Dodger? It’s clear that the kid has no money, and it’s also obvious Dodger is a lot younger than Juice and his gang. Why would they bother with such small fish? How did the Kids learn to be such capable fashion designers? Where is this world where people are named “Dodger”, “Juice” and “Tangerine”, too?
More unanswered questions, but these avoid the most important topic of all: what moron put this atrocity into production? I’ve always regarded 1988’s Mac and Me as the worst film of its era – or at minimum the crummiest flick aimed at the so-called “family audience”. That said, at least Mac offered entertainment due to its relentless cheesiness and tackiness – it’s the veritable definition of “so bad it’s good” filmmaking.
Kids doesn’t have that going for it – it’s simply awful without even the redeeming value of some enjoyable cheese. Nothing about it amuses or entertains in any possible way.
Instead, we’re left with more of those nagging questions. The movie never attempts any kind of real “origin story” for the Kids. Sure, we see a trash can-shaped space vehicle at the start, but that’s all we get in terms of an explanation.
Who are the Kids? What brought them here? How did they end up with Manzini? Why does he hide them? And why does the story itself completely ignore any possible extraterrestrial roots and just treat the Kids like ugly urchins? Why offer the notion they’re from another planet and then act as though they’re deformed humans? Why is there an anthopomorphic alligator in there, too?
All of these lead back to the question I asked earlier: why did this movie get made? I guess I can understand it as a crass cash-in maneuver to capitalize on the success of the trading cards, but you’d think someone might’ve at least attempted to make a coherent movie.
Maybe they did. Kids does try to give us a “looks don’t matter and what’s inside is important” theme, but it fails to embrace that in any logical manner.
Instead, we find a random collection of gross-out gags mixed with odd character moments – and even a completely out of nowhere musical number. Kids feels like a bunch of movie shots plopped into a blender – it never makes sense and doesn’t feel like anyone tried to create something coherent.
Nothing about the film succeeds. Even the effects seem cheap and tacky. The Garbage Pail Kids themselves are little more than little people with nearly immobile fake heads. The animatronics seem truly awful – better work wouldn’t have saved the film, but the terrible execution of the Kids makes a bad flick even worse.
Kids isn’t even weird enough to stand out from the crowd. Maybe if the flick turned into something surreal, it’d be interesting, but given its tepid aspirations to be a “feel good” message movie for kids, it doesn’t even take advantage of its inherent bizarreness.
Cheap, crass and pointless, The Garbage Pail Kids deserves its poor reputation. It offers zero entertainment value.