The Sandlot – 1993
Directed by David M. Evans
Written by David M. Evans & Robert Gunter
You're killin' me Smalls!
Little Scotty Smalls has just moved into town with his mother and stepfather. All of the local kids play baseball every day at the sandlot and they need an extra guy. Unfortunately, Smalls doesn't have the skills to play ball, much to the chagrin of the other kids and his rather cold stepfather. Luckily, the kids' de facto leader Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, takes Smalls under his wing and teaches him how to play. What follows is a summer of adventures that all of the boys will never forget.
(Man, I really should be writing the fawning ad copy on the back of those DVD boxes!)
The Sandlot is my personal favorite baseball movie of all-time (I HATE Field of Dreams!), and my favorite kids movie too, outside of A Christmas Story. In fact, The Sandlot and A Christmas Story have a lot in common: Both are about awkward young boys trying to survive the absurdities of childhood. Both try to bring to the screen our memory's ability to exaggerate how we remember things. Even the narration by writer/director David Evans evokes the same sense of quirky nostalgia that Jean Shepard brought to his Christmas memories.
This is not your standard kids movie. There are no poop and fart jokes. No cheesy "ragtag bunch of misfits must win the big game" plotline. The plot meanders along like the days of summer and we are treated to several vignettes about the boys' adventures (a game against the local snotty Little League team, the night game played during the 4th of July, the nerdy kid Squints figuring out how to kiss sexy pool lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn (one of my favorite film moments ever)) before the main plotline even begins to take hold.
It is when we finally reach the main plot that the great sense of exaggeration the film has begins to take shape. Smalls borrows his stepfather's baseball signed by Babe Ruth, not knowing how much it's worth, and brings it to the guys so they have a ball to play with. Unfortunately, Smalls hits his first home run and the ball falls into the yard of The Beast, the biggest most evil dog that ever lived. We only see glimpses of the animal, such as its massive paw clamping down on the ball, or its huge teeth growling through the slats in the fence. The dog seems as big as an elephant, and to the kids it probably is. Of course the kids can't go ask The Beast's owner to get the ball for them, he's the meanest man in town! This results in a series of plans to get the ball back that grow more and more complex, such as Squints building a impossibly intricate robotic catapult out of an erector set.
In the end The Sandlot is a movie about how we make our own legends, and how the wonderment of childhood is filled with them. Where knocking the cover off a baseball becomes a dire omen, where dogs become child-eating monsters, and where doing something no other kid thought was possible will make you immortal.
Remember this: Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart kid, and you'll never go wrong.
Note: Normally this wouldn't make much difference in a little kids movie, but the pan & scan version shown on television is terrible. The framing is totally off and you lose some of the "epic" portrayal of the events that happen. Catch the widescreen DVD if you can.