Dennis the Menace (1993)

Warming hearts and entertaining households the world over with his wiser-than-his-elders attitude. Dennis The Menace (the American incarnation) is known for provoking mischief and glee for the many decades, becoming an iconic character for years. In 1993, after the acclamation of cinematic hits like the Home Alone series, John Hughes produced a big-screen adaptation of the comic strip child, should be an easy task considering his previous success, in Dennis The Menace.

Walter Matthau and Mason Gamble really capture their cartoon counterparts of George and Dennis.

Dennis Mitchell is a trying scamp, he does not mean to be a nuisance, but with his childlike curiosity, unbridled energy, and his arsenal of toys, he can be a handful for the grown-ups in his suburb. Particularly for retired neighbour Mr Wilson. Try as they might, parents Alice and Henry Mitchell cannot manage their lives and Dennis, and babysitters especially want nothing to do with him. A drastic twist of fortunes forces both Alice and Henry out of town for work means they will have to rely on the Wilson family to babysit. When a freight-hopping robber enters the charming community, Dennis’s antics might be too much for Mr Wilson to cope, and their constant arguing might put Dennis in grave danger.

Switchblade Sam is an intriguing addition, not sure if he would have worked in the comic, but he does here!

Dennis has all the hallmarks of a John Hughes film, despite not being one. Mason Gamble, looking like a long-lost Culkin sibling is the suitably selected star for a project like this. Quick-witted and adorable and the perfect protagonist for this Hughes-esque production. He plays well with Walter Matthau who is a natural in his interpretation of grumpy old George Wilson, suited for an easy retirement (if it was not for Dennis). Henry Mitchel is great as the neighbourhood liaison with Dennis and Lea Thompson’s Alice Mitchel character manages to highlight the pressures of working parents who need to manage raising a rambunctious child and the demands of work (while childless co-workers rub in the ease they find their tasks).

Alice Mitchel gets her own subplot, highlighting the challenges of working mothers

The undisclosed Anytown U.S.A., suburbs help gives the film a timeless quality, much like the comic it is based on. And I like the further exploration we get of the Wilson household, with George, a coin collecting, former postman, now turning his attention towards gardening and Martha Wilson who feels she’s neglecting her instincts by not having a child of their own but feels she can pass along a lot to young Dennis instead.  It’s not all adults, the elements we get of Dennis and his childhood friends playing together are surprisingly brief but enjoyable, instead, the film focuses more on the broader relationship, and the imposing threat by Switchblade Sam (played by Christopher Lloyd). Switchblade is an interesting addition, a new character that is frankly sinister for young and old viewers alike, as such a good threat for this family feature.

The scenes of Dennis being a kid with children his own age are film’s hidden strength, and I wish there was more of them.

In the decades that the comic has been in print, it remains a timeless scenario that generations cherish. With its modern-day adaptation enshrines all the terrific qualities. Mixing madcap mischief with a tender heart and charming wit, Just the right amount of novel ideas added to make the big-screen leap enjoyable. Capturing iconic cartoon characters can be challenging and the cast lives up to the expectations. Dennis may be a handful at times but give him a chance, and he might just be your perfect neighbour.

Images taken before disaster…

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