In 2011, the family film is a staple of the standard Cineplex experience. From anthropomorphic animals and objects to low-brow live-action lessons in caring and sharing, Hollywood can churn out the kiddie chum with shocking regularity. Every week, a new affront to taste and future therapist’s visits. Perhaps even more astonishing is the public’s – or make that, parents’ – lack of consideration in making choices for their wee ones. They will literally buy almost anything, just as long as it has the requisite amount of slapstick and stupidity to keep their offspring out of their hair for a while.
As an ersatz babysitter, PG to G-rated silver screen entertainment has gone from being amiable to merely available. As a result, picking ten examples of cinema’s worst is like shuffling CG penguins around a ritzy Manhattan apartment – possible, but not a very pleasant experience.
In creating our list, we had to apply a few caveats. For one, we didn’t consider the animated film when compiling this list. Noxious cartoons are their own stagnant slice of Hell. Similarly, we didn’t scour the shelves for knock-offs or clear copyright infringements like Ratatoing or The Little Panda Fighter, which leads to another category we tried to avoid. Bless them for their advances in style and concept, but the foreign film community can surely stink up the joint with their jaded, often harsh family fare. From the aforementioned Mr. Popper and his pooping waterfowl (in theaters now!) to something like Thunderpants (about a kid gifted with the ability to fart really well), there are plenty of regular choices to choose from. In this case, we guarantee that all ten of these horrible Hollywood family movies will challenge your view of viable kid vid material – and your will to live.
10. Sidney Poitier’s Ghost Dad (1990)
In the ’90s, comedian turned ultimate TV dad Bill Cosby was seen as capable of doing absolutely no wrong. Granted, his last movie was the equally god-awful Leonard, Part 6, but this uniformly terrible family film was – hard to believe – much worse. The tale of a workaholic widower desperate to make sure his kids are cared for, even after a fatalistic cab ride banishes him to the afterlife, Ghost Dad is a cloying combination of heart-tugging and sour slapstick. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this supernatural comedy is that Sydney Poitier was sitting in the director’s chair. Horror!
9. John Murlowski’s Santa with Muscles (1996)
Unlike many famous athletes who really have no business being up on the big screen, a wrestler like Hulk Hogan should have been a cinematic natural. After all, his entire career was built on successfully selling a grateful, gullible audience on the ‘fact’ that his sport was ‘real’. However, his efforts in front of the camera, including the atrocious Mr. Nanny and Suburban Commando argued for a stilted, steroid-ed stiff. Naturally, the next step was the stupid, saccharine seasonal fare Santa with Muscles with the Hulkster playing amnesiac to a group of orphans needing Christmas spirit. The kids didn’t deserve this steamy, stinking bag of coal.
8. Rod Amateau’s The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)
How do you celebrate a ripe kid’s fad just waiting to be translated to the silver screen? Why, you turn the property over to a guy who’d done little of significance since The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and then hire has-been Anthony Newley as your leading man. Then, waste most of your limited budget on creepy costumes that barely resemble the famed collector’s card characters, and add a bullied human boy to really up the ick factor. Aside from the often surreal visage of little people playing oversized cartoon caricatures, the real revelation comes from the movie’s rude and crude single-digit IQ messages.
7. Paul Michael Glaser’s Kazaam (1996)
Speaking of athletes who shouldn’t be allowed in front of craft services table… When he abandoned Orlando for the sunny celebrity climes of Los Angeles, Shaquille O’Neal wanted to be more than an NBA superstar. Aside from an attempt at rapping, movies seemed another natural outlet. Sadly, O’Neal had all the presence of LeBron James during a decisive Game 6. Playing a genie who wants to help an obnoxious little brat reconnect with his dad, he’s about as believable as the Miami Heat’s Big Three’s chances at multiple championships. Even the less-than-special effects argue for something that should have been quickly folded up and forgotten.
6. Peter Hastings’ The Country Bears (2002)
You can’t talk about lousy family films and not send a little karmic creosote Disney’s way, right? After all, the House of Mouse more or less invented the crappy kids’ movie during those depressing dog days of the 1970s (Super Dad? Gus?). In this case, the company tried to parlay its famed theme park rides into substantial film franchises. In the case of the moronic costumed creature feature The Country Bears, nothing worked. The suits looks stupid. The casting was questionable, and, worse of all, the actual attraction was cast aside for more formulaic flotsam. The animatronic characters used at Disney World/Land had more nuance and acting ability than the stiffs here.
5. Mark Lewis’ Gordy (1995)
Call it Babe for Believers. Some conservative Christians love to claim a more wholesome and moral moviemaking dynamic. Apparently, those two words stand for “stupid” and “boring” in standard mainstream cinema terms. This tale of a talking pig was supposed to be the sacrosanct alternative to Hogget’s demonic hog. Instead, Gordy recycled gags that Arnold Ziffel thought were corny back in the Green Acres days while doing its manipulative best to tug on the audience’s already raw sentiments. Heck, they didn’t even bother to sync up the swine’s mouth to its dialogue. As an exercise in suspending disbelief, Gordy requires something akin to Hercules’ mythic tasks.
4. Stewart Raffill’s MAC and Me (1988)
ET phone… a lawyer. Rip-offs don’t come any riper than this ridiculous attempt to cash in on Steven Spielberg’s box office phenomenon. The unique angle applied by the filmmakers here? The lead actor is an actual handicapped child in a wheelchair. Oh, and the massive amount of product placement, from Coca-Cola to the famed Golden Arches, inferred from the title, MAC and Me. The rest is a dreadful combination of cutesy and craven, the mannequin-like attributes of the facially inert extraterrestrial entity (the name MAC is short for ‘Mysterious Alien Creature’… clever, right?) matched only by the equally wooden cast surrounding it. Just terrible.
3. Roger Kumble’s Furry Vengeance (2010)
Skunks endlessly spray a puffy, overpaid actor in the face, white clouds of comic stench replace the animal’s actual abilities. Quick-witted wilderness beasts bedeviling evolution using complicated engineering and technological tenets for their petty revenge. These are just a few of the many affronts to taste and talent that Furry Vengeance heaps upon unsuspecting viewers. But it’s not just the animals that turn tail and run. Famous faces such as Brendan Fraser, Brooke Shields, and Ken Jeong drop their dignity to jump around like idiots, all in the service of a script that offers absolutely nothing original or inventive.
2. Andrew Stevens’ Tommy and the Cool Mule (2009)
Dr. Dolittle, the non-urban one, often sang of his desire to talk to the animals. If this is what critters sound like when given the ability of speech, we’d rather remain at anthropological odds. The story in Tommy and the Cool Mule has your typical “farm on the brink” set up and a little boy desperate to help his family save the homestead. Lucky for the lad, he encounters “Jackie A.” (one assumes for Jack Ass???), a street-savvy burro with all the racially insensitive affectations the idea could muster, including the voice of Coco-T’s favorite meal ticket. The result is a comic clash of cultures that plays out like a hate crime.
1. Bo Welche’s The Cat in the Hat (2003)
Dr. Seuss definitely didn’t deserve this. After the baffling box office success of the Jim Carrey junk take on the infamous Christmas Grinch, studios were clamoring for more Theodor Geisel. What better way to celebrate his legacy than by letting former comedian Mike Myers scat all over it? Art director turned director Bo Welch gave The Cat in the Hat a perfect cartoony canvas upon which the appalling script and equally awful performances could spew their often rudimentary and obnoxious concept of wit. This adaptation was so bad, so misguided in what the good Doctor meant for his many readers, that his estate has since banned any future live-action translations of Seuss for the big screen.