If you’ve read my writing online over the past 15 years or listened to any of my many (some would say too many) podcast projects, you know that I love collecting VHS tapes. I have great nostalgia for the movies of my youth and definitely gave the family VCR a workout from 1987 until the year 2000. Suffice it to say, if my Blockbuster Video rental history had been printed out, they would likely have had to refill the paper of their noisy dot matrix printer more than once.
In looking over my home movie library recently, I realized that there are several films that I watched as a kid, which I can no longer openly praise in public without getting reactions that are “less than favorable”. There are many reasons for this. Actors have scandals, scripts have stereotypes and what was once allowed as acceptable behavior has rightfully been recognized as insensitive or inappropriate. All that being said, I still have a place in my heart for the following films and I thought it would be interesting to explore my conflicting feelings about these 5 Nostalgic Movies Ruined By Time.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
How I Felt Then: After seeing Jim Carrey on In Living Color playing his recurring character, Fire Marshall Bill or doing a parody of Vanilla Ice, I was amazed to see him on the big screen. Immediately my friends and I were quoting Ace Ventura on the playground and it was guaranteed that we would be buying a ticket for every movie this human cartoon starred in after that. I’m not saying we all started wearing Hawaiian shirts and copying his hairstyle, but screaming, “YEAH-YOU- LIKE-THAT” while doing a violent pelvic thrust was definitely a regular occurrence on the basketball court when somebody made a great shot. Jim Carrey had created a wholly original comedic character and the movie had a wacky edge, but also somehow made this weirdo “Pet Dick” cool. Why? Ace was good at his job, he didn’t take crap from anyone and as for the movie, the script was full of amazing supporting characters…or so I thought.
How I Feel Now: The difficulty I have nowadays with the first Ace Ventura film (I always liked the cartoony nature of the sequel better anyway), is the transphobic portrayal of the villain Lt. Lois Einhorn/Ray Finkle. Nowadays the idea of a person choosing to live as a different gender is more commonplace, but in the 90’s it was definitely portrayed in media as the act of an insane or deceptive person. Truth be told, I think the script uses the Finkle to Einhorn switch as a means by which the disgraced kicker for the Miami Dolphins could hide from the world in plain sight, as opposed to a gender identity statement, but it is the way that all the male characters react to the revelation of a man living as a woman that is unfortunate. Ace can’t stop throwing up when he realizes that he kissed a man and when “Captain Winky” is revealed through a public shaming, everyone else on the police force does the same. Sean Young actually gives a wonderful femme fatale performance in the movie, it’s just too bad that the mystery on which the whole movie hinges is so wrong in its nature, that you can’t praise her work in the modern day without the problematic elements being highlighted.
How I Felt Then: Bill Cosby was the most beloved and wholesome figure in entertainment. My parents had his comedy albums from the 60’s, he created Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids, The Cosby Show was the most popular show on TV until The Simpsons came along and Ghost Dad was a movie connected to a very nostalgic moment of my youth. Our homeowners association did a movie night every month for the kids in our neighborhood and I can still taste the delicious bag of neon orange cheese popcorn they would give out to us as we sat down in front of a projector screen to watch a rental tape from the video store. On one occasion we watched Ghost Dad, which amazed me because I didn’t know actors from TV could make movies and it blew my young mind. Add in my love for the supernatural thanks to Ghostbusters and it was a night to remember.
How I Feel Now: The outing of Bill Cosby for his monstrous actions perpetrated against women over decades was the greatest betrayal I had experienced from a beloved entertainment icon. It was just so hard to comprehend. My brain just couldn’t reconcile his body of work with the disgusting truth of his crimes. More than that, I had to eject from my brain a classic comedy routines that I loved and had spent many hours of my life memorizing. I recognize that I’m making it about me, when truly the victims are the ones that deserve all the consideration and sympathy, but I think that a lot of us felt like our angelic TV Dad became the Devil overnight (perhaps Cosby’s declaration of “I am Satan” in the film was a bit prophetic in that way). All the feelings came to a head when I found a VHS copy of the movie, along with the junior novelization. Nostalgia made me buy them, but reality makes me ashamed of them.
Zorro, The Gay Blade
How I Felt Then: I was introduced to this comedic take on the adventures of El Zorro through an Employee Recommendations shelf at my local Blockbuster Video. I’ll never forget how hard I laughed during that first viewing. The comedy was broad, bawdy and brilliant. Maybe that’s going too far for the sake of alliteration, but I had never seen anything like it and Ron Leibman’s over the top performance as the villainous Esteban had me me busting a gut. Since you probably haven’t seen this forgotten film, the basic premise is that Don Diego Vega has a flamboyantly gay twin brother named Bunny Wigglesworth who ends up filling in for his swashbuckling sibling after an injury sustained while fighting for justice. Instead of dark and mysterious, this new Zorro becomes flashy and flaming, but just as heroic in his own way.
How I Feel Now: I don’t know if this film has been embraced or shunned by the gay community, but I can certainly see where it would be considered problematic. Bunny is a giggling, hooting stereotype of gay men that is far from three-dimensional. He first arrives on the scene astride a horse, wearing a Navy uniform with a parasol and declares, “They say the Navy makes men. I’m living proof, they made me!” When trying to determine the identity of Zorro, Esteban forces Diego to lisp and prance around in a fey manner, hoping to match him to the vigilante who’s been opposing his rule while dressed in vibrant multicolored outfits made of shimmering satin. It’s not a “good look”, as they say. There’s also the fact that all the main characters are caucasian actors playing Mexicans with makeup to darken their complexions, while putting on thick accents. Personally, I laugh at the silliness of the wordplay and line delivery by over the top characters, not at the “funny voices” or flouncing hero, but given all the strikes against it, this movie is a cult classic that I can never share with anybody.
How I Felt Then: What young, heterosexual boy did not dream of having a cool, older, attractive woman to guide him through the confusing world of puberty and dating? Now imagine she also had magic powers to make any non-hormone driven dream come true too. Weird Science is truly every insecure teen boy’s fantasy presented to the extreme, with a wicked sense of humor and cartoonish energy. I always loved how Kelly LeBrock’s Lisa stood up for Wyatt and Gary in the face of jerky older brothers and overprotective parents, while trying to give them a sense of confidence that could take the pair of nerds to the next stage of their lives. Of course I also liked how she looked in a leotard in the final moments of the film.
How I Feel Now: Guys are gross, aren’t we? This movie basically teaches all the wrong lessons about how men should expect to have their fantasies fulfilled by a woman and one who’s a sexy mommy figure to boot. Calling Dr. Freud! But seriously, the idea of creating a woman who is the male ideal of femininity is just wrong and sad. I do like that the script gives Lisa autonomy over her choices and actually makes her the brains behind the operation, but the way Lisa is initially objectified by the horny teen boys at the center of the story can send the wrong message very easily. Then there’s the scene of Lisa taking Gary and Wyatt to a Jazz club populated by African-American characters, who are forced to act like they are okay with a little white boy talking at them using the world’s most offensive Black stereotype voice. It is the very definition of cringeworthy and it puts me on edge just thinking about watching it with any of my African-American family members. Luckily the syndicated 90’s TV series inspired by the movie discarded these problematic elements of the original.
Short Circuit 2
How I Felt Then: Johnny 5 is one of the icons of my childhood. He had the youthful comedic enthusiasm of Pee-wee Herman and the fish out of water energy of Crocodile Dundee, all while being the world’s most lovable robot. The original Short Circuit was boring to me, but teaming Johnny 5 with the kindly Ben Jahveri in a more energetic sequel was the perfect formula to entertain my young brain. The love story between Ben and Sandy warmed my young romantic heart. Meanwhile seeing Number 5 getting mixed up with the street gangs and thieves of New York City while spouting pop culture catchphrases I recognized from all my hours spent in front of the TV had me giggling. Plus, Johnny 5 upgraded himself with so many cool gadgets, including a hang glider! Our former rental copy of Short Circuit 2 was in constant rotation during my elementary school summers and I love it so much.
How I Feel Now: This one breaks my heart. It’s the “Apu” of it all, right? While Fisher Stevens in brown face is unfortunate, it’s the accent which makes it undeniable that the comedy hook for the character is that he’s a “funny foreigner” who has a hard time with English. I think the character of Ben as written is very sympathetic and endearing, with no real jabs at Indian culture, but at the same time, there’s a good reason I never suggested a viewing to my longtime school friends, Ranu and Akash. Ben was hardly the focus of the first film and if they had just cast another actor to play a meek and neurotic character without any broad ethnic characteristics, the story would have played just as well. There’s also the fact that this movie had me loudly reciting the Los Locos gang’s battle cry on the playground in 2nd grade, which surely didn’t endear me to any of my Hispanic classmates who were in earshot.
So yeah, that’s the way it goes. Some nostalgic movies just don’t stand the test of time and for very valid reasons. While I can’t say I won’t ever watch these films again (OK, Ghost Dad is just not gonna happen), the oblivious enjoyment I had as a kid cannot be replicated and my future viewings will definitely be tinged with an awareness that hopefully makes me consider how I can avoid perpetuating any of these problematic elements in the entertainment I create or celebrate. But I want to hear from you, what’s a film you loved growing up that you would now think twice about bringing up in water cooler conversation at work or showing to your kids?