Recently I was watching an ad for an upcoming family film and questioned the reason for its creation. In my uneducated opinion this film was the sign of the beast for the Armageddon of cinema. Someone felt the need to inform me this film is not for me, but is meant for children so it shouldn’t appeal to me. To be honest that person is 100% correct. This film is not for me, and I’m sure its target audience will enjoy it. My issue is there was a time when family films were legitimately meant to appeal to families. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be films geared to children, but that it serves the world (especially parents) better if more effort is put into gear a film to a larger audience then just people under the age of eight. Pixar perhaps is the last studio alive that truly dedicates itself to making a quality film meant for all ages. (Cars 2 notwithstanding) However, instead of complaining about movies I wish to celebrate one. That film is The Sandlot. A film that is not only appealing to all ages but has also aged quite well over the years.
The Sandlot combines the best of a summer movie, coming of age tale, and a baseball film. The film follows Scotty Smalls a new kid in town hell bent on getting some friends before of the start of school. Eventually he comes across a group of kids playing baseball at the local sandlot. The leader of the group Rodriquez is more open to Smalls then the rest of the group and quickly becomes his mentor. After some early setbacks Smalls proves himself worthy and joins the gang in their daily games. The group has a number summer adventures that lead up to the final climax a showdown with “The Beast” the town’s resident living legend.
There is a large difficulty in mixing genres, but the Sandlot pulls it off well. Each piece compliments the next and the wiliness to not focus on one aspect allows the film to avoid clichés other films clamor to. For one when it comes to a sports film the focal point is too often the sport and not the characters playing it. Sure if I’m watching the Giants on Sunday I’m not going to care about what truly drives Eli Manning, but if I’m watching The Little Giants on Tuesday I want to know why Icebox continually tries to prove herself. What baseball is to the kids in the Sandlot is exactly what baseball is to the movie. It provides motivation and enjoyment and not much more. It drives the characters forward, but doesn’t leave the audience behind. You could take all the baseball out of this movie and the film still works. What is great about baseball here is that here is no big game, no bottom of the 9th with 2 outs, just kids having fun. The most climatic baseball scene is in a game that has no meaning but the moment still serves a purpose. When the rival team comes charging in you get the sense we are about to enter a familiar world. Luckily the plot doesn’t go the obvious direction. It is used more as a character moment and comic relief then an act of conflict resolution. This again goes back to the best part of this film, the characters. With Smalls being our vehicle into this world it’s easy to identify with him. The challenges he faces are ones we can all relate with; the difficulty of trying to gain new friends, lying about who and what we are in an attempt to be accepted, and simply not understanding the world we live in but being too afraid to say anything about it. As Smalls overcomes those challenges we really start to see him develop. Who he is at the start and end are completely different and you leave understanding that change. The supporting characters are strong as well and all the kids in general work well with one another. Their friendships rings true and they play off one another in a realistic manner. You’ll quickly find yourself looking back to the days of your childhood, and yearning for those carefree days that were full of wonder.
One of the best choices the film makers made was choosing the setting they did. The style, the look, and the music all lend themselves greatly to the tone of the film. Plus it was a time when baseball simply meant more. If it was placed in present day you’d wonder why these kids are actually outside and not playing video games. Also coming of age tales set in the past seem to provide filmmakers with more creative freedom. (See Stand by Me) More chances are taken and it’s clear this film is more for children of a past era then a present one. I loved this film as a child and still love today. There are many films I enjoyed as a child that make me question my sanity as well as my parents. I’m angered at myself and them for allowing me to watch something of such horrible corniness. This is one that I will no doubt watch with my kids or perhaps dog one day and force them to like.