“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass
To struggle. To vie. To endeavor. To battle. It is the human way. It has also become the human way — or at least the American human way — to claim that “my personal struggle is harder to deal with than yours,” and therefore invalidate other perspectives in life. We encapsulate ourselves in bubbles lined with our own experiences and histories, blinding us to those belonging to others. It’s only when we wipe aside the condensation of our own selfishness that we can see through the lens of empathy to glance upon the things other people have to live with, the differences therein, and how simple understanding can go an incredibly long way.
Much of the time, art emphasizes our differences and helps us to see that we aren’t always as wildly dissimilar as we perceive ourselves to be. Film, especially, allows us to experience these contrasts not only through sight and imagination, as books do, or through hearing, as music does, but by combining both and allowing us to invest ourselves in circumstances separate from our own. To empathize with struggles outside our bubbles.
In 1993, world events continued to ebb and flow along the river of history. Peace was found in one place, while unrest found another. The space shuttle Endeavour was launched, the first Pentium microprocessor was introduced, WWW (not “wiggidy-wiggidy-whack”) became an official thing, and the Slovaks gained independence from the Czechs — which causes one to wonder if the pun “Czech yourself before you wreck yourself” was ever uttered during that time. Probably not. Let’s look at some lesser known films that highlight how differences can be used as a way to bring us together:
6. Once Upon A Forest (Dir. Charles Grosvenor; Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Ben Vereen, Michael Crawford)
Anthropomorphic animals, the world will never tire of thee. The trend of movies about forest animals that emphasize how dangerous humanity is to the Earth continues with Once Upon A Forest. If it were made today, Twitter would most likely give it the hashtag #NotAllHumans, as that’s something that is very blatantly pointed out at one point in the story.
A truck carrying chlorine gas overturns on the road, accidentally polluting a nearby forest. Many of the animal families living there are severely affected, including the home of two badgers and their daughter, Michelle. Her parents couldn’t be saved, but Michelle is rescued in time to where she merely falls into a deep coma (just a coma, no big deal). Her friends, Abigail (a woodmouse), Edgar (a mole), and Russell (a hedgehog), journey to find the herbs needed to wake her from her slumber. After a cumbersome journey through the forest, the furlings (animal children) return with the medicine. But before they can help Michelle, a group of humans enter, causing a heckin’ frighten and leading to Edgar being accidentally trapped. Much to the animals’ surprise, though, a human releases him, revealing that they are actually there to help clean up the pollution and possibly undo some of the damage done to their habitat (#NotAllHumans). In the end, Michelle is cured, but now parentless. The childrens’ teacher, Cornelius (who is also Michelle’s uncle), promises to take care of her from that point forward. All the emotions, y’all.
Hanna-Barbera has always been reliable when it comes to animation. They brought many a-classic cartoon to television and helped shape Saturday mornings around the world. With that in mind it’s no surprise that Once Upon A Forest is a quality movie. The surprising thing is how criminally underrated it is. These days, we still need movies with messages like these. Perhaps not a blanket idea such as “not all (insert group here)” but for both sides of any struggle to realize that understanding can be achieved, starting on the smallest of levels.
5. Airborne! (Dir. Rob Bowman; Starring: Shane McDermott, Seth Green, Jack Black)
Being a new kid in a new town has become a modern cliche. You don’t know anyone, you have trouble fitting in, and you’re an easy target for bullies. Usually, in these cases, the new kid has some unique talent that impresses the locals, allowing them to more easily fit in. In Airborne, Mitchell (Shane McDermott) moves from California to Cincinnati and proves to his cousin Wiley (a very young Seth Green) and all the macho types at school that he can hold his own in a dangerous rollerblading race down a course known as “Devil’s Backbone”. Edie McClurg (most known for playing Ed Rooney’s secretary, Grace, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Jack Black (also very young) are the comedic cherries on top of a movie that takes itself semi-seriously, considering its hindsightedly goofy concept.
In the end, Mitchell wins the affections and respect of his peers, proving to them that he’s not just some airhead beach rat, bruh. Between the lines of a fairly black and white story such as this, stigmas still plague minds and cause rifts of distrust and isolation. We’re so prone to assuming we know so much about the world, that we resist unlearning what we think we know in order to open ourselves up to the actual truth. One thing’s for sure, having your pants pulled down in front of everyone to reveal doo doo stains will always be embarrassing.
4. Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit (Dir. Bill Duke; Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Lauryn Hill, Kathy Najimy, Maggie Smith)
If a music teacher never showed you this movie in school, then for shame. Quite possibly the only time a sequel is more well-known than the original film, Sister Act 2 is memorable, heartwarming, and fun. We’ve all tried to hit the high note that Ahmal (Ryan Toby) hits when Sister Mary Clarence finally brings him out of his quiet shell during one of the choir’s early performances. And if you don’t feel Rita’s disappointment in your heart when her mother forbids her from competing in the choir competition, you may find yourself in need of a spoonful of humanity.
For those who don’t know, this is a story of a Vegas showgi- ahem… headliner, in the witness protection program. At least, the first movie was. In the second movie, the nuns of the convent she used as her camouflage return to ask Dolores for her help with training a choir to once again win the all-state competition as it did so many times before, thereby keeping a much-needed school in a poor neighborhood from closing down.
Here we have a group of misfits coming together in the face of adversity while working their asses off to quite literally not let the man get them down. The headmaster of the school is under the impression that the school is doomed. So much so, that he doesn’t allow the choir to compete, causing them to do so behind his back. In the end, he comes around and understands why they did what they did. Meanwhile, it is revealed to the students that Dolores, AKA Sister Mary Clarence, is a Las Vegas entertainer, which they think is actually really awesome. They all embrace their differences and use them as strengths to hold each other up in hard times.
3. Coneheads (Dir. Steve Barron; Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Chris Farley)
Saturday Night Live has blessed our television screens since it first aired in 1975. Creating unforgettable skits, launching the careers of countless comedians, and spawning dozens of memorable spin-off movies, it’s still going strong 40+ years later and no one is tired of it. Well, except a certain orange fellow, but that’s beside the point. In ’93, they were given the green light for a feature film based on their skit featuring a family of aliens known as the Coneheads. And, while many are aware of the existence of this movie, most haven’t actually seen it all the way through or remember it well enough to catch clever references made in regards to it. Sad.
In the movie, the Conehead family crash lands on Earth and are forced to try and blend in while making a life for themselves. Eventually, Mrs. Conehead gets pregnant and they raise little Connie as a normal human child. Much to their dismay, Connie grows up all too fast and falls in love with a doofy mechanic, Ronnie (Chris Farley). Meanwhile, two agents from the immigration department (David Spade and Michael McKean) are following the trail that Beldar and Prymatt Conehead have left during their tenure on Earth, in hopes of finding these elusive illegal “aliens.”
Much of the ridiculousness about humanity seen through the eyes of aliens is exaggerated hilariously here, such as condoms being mistaken as chewing gum, and how good pop songs can get stuck in anyone’s head. With a weighted cast of comedians of the past 30 years, Coneheads shows that even the most staunchly xenophobic people can be shown that other cultures can be equally as amazing as theirs. It’s either that, or you’re forced to gnarfle the Garthok. Your choice.
2. We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (Dir. Phil Nibbelink, Simon Wells; Starring: John Goodman, Rhea Perlman, Walter Cronkite)
Jeff Goldblum said it in Jurassic Park and it bears repeating: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Enter: We’re Back! A story about dinosaurs made intelligent and brought to the present by a benevolent adventurer named Captain Neweyes (Walter Cronkite). Among them are Rex (John Goodman), Woog (Rene Le Vant), Elsa (Felicity Kendal), and Dweeb (Charles Fleischer). Disguising themselves as floats in a parade, the dinos meet two children, Louie and Cecelia (the latter of whom is played by Yeardley Smith who voices Lisa Simpson), and are drawn to a circus headed by the evil Professor Screweyes (Kenneth Mars), brother to Captain Neweyes.
The terrifying professor tricks the dinosaurs into signing a contract whereupon their newly gained intelligence is ripped away from them and they’re put on display as the savage creatures they once were. Louie and Cecelia, along with a clown named Stubbs (Martin Short), save the day by bringing the dinosaurs’ compassion out from beneath their unbridled natures. Foiled, Screweyes meets a grisly demise in which the only thing left of him is his fake eye.
At the beginning of the film, both Louie and Cecelia are runaways who never wanted to see their families again, and, in the end, they come to understand just how important family is, even if they may not always get along. Anger is a perfectly valid response to unfortunate circumstances in life and to unfair treatment from the people around you. Just try not to let it consume you.
1. Super Mario Bros. (Dir. Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton; Starring: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper)
Ah, the infamous flop that is the Super Mario Bros. movie. The script that went through so many rewrites that the actors were getting new lines just before delivering them and which caused a game about a mushroom kingdom to be warped into a glorious, campy, cyber/steampunk mess.
Mario and Luigi, two brother plumbers, stumble through a portal leading them to the Mushroom Kingdom; a slimy, grimy underground community filled with lizards, punks, and crooked politicians. Thinking back, it’s not so different from the world today. In search of the beautiful Daisy, Mario and Luigi track her to Koopa’s tower, where she’s being held prisoner. Little do our heroes know that Daisy is actually the heir to the throne that was stolen by Koopa when he “de-evolved” the king into the dense fungus which clings to every surface of the city.
A classic case of “so bad it’s great,” Super Mario Bros. caused Dennis Hopper’s son to question why he decided to take on the role of King Koopa. Candidly, he responded saying, “I did that so you could have shoes,” to which his son, Henry, replied, “Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.” Aside from the classic outfits donned by the famous plumbers (and maybe the bob-omb), nothing about this movie is recognizable as the classic Nintendo series we’ve known for more than 30 years now. But, somehow, it’s way more enjoyable to watch than other well-known film adaptations that completely missed the mark (lookin’ at you, Dragonball: Evolution…). For example, seeing the Goomba’s (one of which is Toad??) dance together in an elevator is highly entertaining, as is the scene when the brothers are arrested and asked their names. “How many ‘Marios’ are there between the two o’yuh?”
The understanding in this film, though, falls on the audience, in which we’re forced to try and understand how the most well-known video game character on Earth found himself in a movie with an aesthetic that is so far from the source material that it hardly makes sense. It’s tough, but once you convince yourself that this movie is actually so insane that it’s cool, it becomes worth watching every so often. If only the whole movie was as great as the Japanese poster…