So I watched the movie Gremlins for the first time in about 20 years. Largely because nothing else was on and I had forgotten that Phoebe Cates was in it. Phoebe Cates makes my heart go pitter patter. I don’t really remember enjoying the film the first time I saw it, and its still disappointing. Director Joe Dante’s best work is in The ‘burbs and Innerspace, not here. Most of the movie is given over to the puppetry and animatronics of the Mogwai. We get explosions, we have evil gremlins drinking, one smoking, one doing a hard boiled detective impersonation. What could have saved this movie for me?
How does Gremlins stack up, if I use the Children Now Educational Quality standards? See here, I’m following up on a pledge to review film and television through their critical eye and find lessons for our troubled youth.
Clarity: How directly or explicitly is the primary lesson presented?
There is no ancient evil involved here, but any person with a brain should know that when an elderly Chinese guy with a curio shop warns you away from something, you should listen. Also when a ten year old apprentice is selling you a bizarre animal at the back door of the shop-think twice about that transaction. The lesson is to follow directions.
Integration: How often is the primary lesson repeated or incorporated in the program?
Maybe three times in the course of the movie do we hear: Don’t shine light on them. Don’t get them wet. Don’t feed them after midnight. The problem is that only the first rule comes with a consequence. If they get too much light they die. The other two rules are not explained. If we knew that getting them wet would cause some creepy furry Tribble like asexual reproduction, then Zach Galligan wouldn’t leave glasses of water lying around. If he knew that feeding them after midnight made them turn from furry little cuties into murderous scaly buggers with claws-he would get a Timex.
Involvement: How connected is the primary lesson to the real world?
Hmm, connection to the real world. Again, not following directions will put you in a world of hurt or at the very least result in the destruction of your town and the murder of innocent townspeople. Additionally, animals are smarter than you think. In the film Zach sets things right and blows up a theater full of gremlins and has a final battle with Stripe in the garden/hardware section of Sears. The real world lesson- clean up your messes.
Importance: How valuable or useful is the primary lesson to children’s development?
It is extremely valuable. Following directions will allow you to assemble Ikea furniture. Usually, get you from point A to point B. If you have mastered the directions well, you can defeat Ricardo Montalban when heading into the Mutara Nebula.
Positive Reinforcement: To what extent is learning, including effort and mastery, rewarded?
The reward? At the end of the movie Zach Galligan ends up with Phoebe Cates. Even though she might be damaged goods after the creepy conversation about why she hates Christmas. Apparently, when she was little her dad went missing on Christmas Eve. Weeks pass by with no word. Then there is a funky smell coming from the chimney. Her mom thinks it’s a dead animal. Nope. Turns out its Dad in a Santa Claus suit, he broke his neck going down the chimney and has been stuck there for weeks. This is in a “kids” movie?!
Chris Columbus wrote this in the script. The man must have issues with Christmas. He likes projects that revolve around the idea of a broken holiday season. He wrote Gremlins and Christmas with the Kranks. He directed Home Alone and Home Alone 2. He produced the Arnold Schwarzenegger gem, Jingle All The Way.
But I digress. What score do I give this film, for educational quality? I give it a 7, for being moderately educational. The scale being zero for no educational value and 12 for having the highest educational value. Uwe Boll movies are automatically zero (In the Name of The King, BloodRayne). For examples of 10s and 12s see Kill Bill or Jackie Brown.