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Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Adventures in Babysitting (1987 Original and 2016 Remake)

Three Babysitters in Two Adventures Almost Thirty Years Apart

By Chris Sabga

"Adventures in Babysitting" sits comfortably among the pantheon of 1980s movies not as a classic necessarily but certainly as a warmly-remembered time capsule of a sillier cinematic era. When the 2016 Disney Channel remake was announced, fans of the original expressed doubts. Surely it would be toned down and more childish than the "edgier" PG-13 original. What many people may not realize is that the 1987 version was also from Disney; it was released through Touchstone Pictures, which was Disney's label for films aimed at the teen and adult markets.

The premise of both versions is the same: A harried babysitter (Elisabeth Shue in 1987; Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson in 2016) are forced to drag several children along (Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, and Maia Brewton in '87; Nikki Hahn, Mallory James Mahoney, Madison Horcher, and Jet Jurgensmeyer in '16) to rescue someone stranded in the big city (the hilarious Penelope Ann Miller in '87 and the much younger Max Gecowets in '16). Throughout the night, they're chased by bad guys. Wacky misadventures ensue. Can they get back home before Mom and Dad realize anything is amiss?

The Babysitters

Elisabeth Shue is radiant as babysitter Chris Parker in the 1987 original. Her facial expressions and reactions alone are classic. It is almost unfair to expect Sabrina Carpenter (or Sofia Carson) to live up to that. But Carpenter has a bright future ahead of her and will be a star. Her role in the 2016 film as the prim and proper Jenny Parker (a distant relative of Shue's Chris Parker, perhaps?) is a nice contrast to the wild child with a heart of gold she plays on "Girl Meets World."

It helps that Shue was legitimately an adult at the time compared to her younger co-stars (Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, and Maia Brewton). In the film, she's 17 and the two boys are 15, but their age gap was considerably wider in real-life (Shue was almost 24 at the time of the film's release). That made her seem so much more mature and worldly. She came across as a woman in charge of children.

In the remake, one of the babysitters (Carpenter) is the same age in real-life as one of the kids (Max Gecowets, who plays Trey). While there is an age difference between the characters in the movie, and it can be argued that the boy playing Trey probably looks slightly younger than he really is, the contrast between the babysitter and the "baby" isn't nearly as strong.

It also works in Shue's favor that she was already a major movie star in the '80s because of "The Karate Kid." That made her seem larger-than-life at the time, compared to Carpenter and Carson now, who are known primarily for their work on the small screen.

The Babies

The remake has double the cast – two battling babysitters and twice the amount of "babies" being "sat" – but less is more.

Of the new children, Jet Jurgensmeyer (what a name!) as budding chef Bobby – obsessed with culinary perfection and perpetually frustrated until he gets the right result – is easily the comic standout. On the other hand, while Mallory James Mahoney does a good job as the junior "fashionista" Katy, the character's costuming and makeup reminded me uncomfortably of JonBenĂ©t Ramsey – the little girl who competed in beauty pageants and was tragically found murdered in her own home. I realize Katy is probably meant to be a spoof of the ridiculous "Toddlers & Tiaras" reality show, but most reasonable people don't find much humor in that bizarre subculture.

In addition to that, it's a bit absurd that the 14-year-old boy in the 2016 version, Trey (Gecowets), still needs a babysitter and barely anyone acts like this is abnormal – other than one scene-stealing scene where a friend of the teenager's (Joshua Morettin) says breathlessly, "You have a babysitter?! I want a babysitter! She's hot." I laughed. At least in the 1987 original, the babysitter wasn't for the older boy (Keith Coogan's character was actually leaving the house for a sleepover with Anthony Rapp).

With only three kids in the 1987 version, there was ample room for all of them to stand out and shine. Coogan and Rapp are superb as the little teenage freshmen with a crush on the babysitter, but everyone who saw the original "Adventures in Babysitting" will instantly and fondly recall Maia Brewton's role as the little girl obsessed with the comic book hero Thor and her excitement when she finally gets to "meet him."


After rewatching the movie for the first time in years, I was shocked to discover that "Thor" is only in one scene. In my memory, Vincent D'Onofrio's role (credited as Vincent Phillip D'Onofrio) was so much bigger. That shows the power of his performance.

(By the way, in case anyone still doesn't realize this: Thor from "Adventures in Babysitting" and Private Pyle from "Full Metal Jacket" are portrayed by the same actor. I didn't realize that for twenty years. Yes, I saw "Full Metal Jacket" a child. When it finally dawned on me in the late-'90s or thereabouts that D'Onofrio played both roles, my mind was blown. Other future stars to look out for: Bradley Whitford, George Newbern, and Lolita Davidovich all make appearances.)

When the remake was announced, everyone was nervous to see how the "Thor" aspect of the story would be replicated. Well, as it turns out, the little girl this time (Madison Horcher) is a major roller derby fanatic. With the incredible cast of characters Disney owns, this was the best they could do?! The scene involving quarreling roller derby rivals in a police station is mildly amusing, but the poor kid isn't given much to work with this time around. No one is going to remember her character or obsession fondly two decades from now.

The Nightclub Scene

The big scene shared by both "Adventures" involves the babysitter(s) and kids being chased into a nightclub. In 1987, it's a jazz club and they're forced to sing the blues – "the Babysitting Blues" – in one of the movie's most memorable moments. The 2016 version pits the warring sitters against each other in a "battle rap." I prefer the original version of the concept, but the update is a clever enough modernization.

The remake features a few other scenes, lines, and nods to the original – such as a reference to going out for ice cream and the children's reactions to similar situations.

The City

In both films, the big bad "city" functions as a character of its own – a place where anything can (and does) go wrong, and danger lurks around every dark corner. Whether either movie is an accurate representation of Chicago, I wouldn't know, but they are accurate representations of each other. (The original was filmed in Chicago and Toronto while the remake was shot in Vancouver but is once again supposed to be set in Chicago.)

The Bad Guys

The villains in the 1987 incarnation were bumbling buffoons (after all, only an idiot is going to write important business information on a Playboy Magazine centerfold), but they still had an air of menace. The new bad guys are walking, talking, slipping, falling Disney cartoons. It is ironic that the original was directed by "Home Alone's" Chris Columbus, because it's the remake that's overrun with those types of juvenile gags. It's too goofy at times, even with the ridiculous standards set by the '80s version.

1987 vs. 2016

The original "Adventures in Babysitting" is remembered almost thirty years later for a reason: it's terrific escapist entertainment. The remake will get criticized for being too toned down and "Disney-fied." But let's face it: no "kids' movie" today would get away with the outdated gay and rape jokes that were in the '87 version. Plus, no one reads Playboy anymore. The modern equivalent of that – a kid looking up grown-up material on his iPad – would never fly in a Disney Channel flick, and it would probably bump any other studio's movie up to an "R" rating.

Look, the remake is certainly no classic and likely won't have the long shelf life its predecessor did, but there is still a lot to like about it. It's a fun and serviceable replica. It's more innocent, but the '80s were a tougher time with tougher kids.

1 comment:

  1. Great article my friend. I love, love, loved the original movie. I will not see the remake.


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