The 1980s were a decade where children’s entertainment and rampant consumerism went hand in hand. You may have read about how that happened in a previous article. Since the world of television was less restrained in terms of programming, Hollywood followed suit. Every popular property from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Transformers, to Masters of the Universe, to the Ninja Turtles got the Hollywood treatment.
In the 80s a lot of kids movies were just down right horrific: The Black Cauldron, The Last Unicorn, The Peanut Butter Solution, and so on. We watched our favorite toys get impaled, we saw a brave little toaster sacrifice his life for his friends, and the voice of Camp Candy was once a sex robot. However, I think one movie eclipses them all and that film is…
From the Pail to the Top of the Trash Heap
The must have toy of the 1980s was the Cabbage Patch Kids, a bunch of cherub-faced dolls that caused Hatchimal level carnage at department stores as the must-have toy of 1982. They were cute, inoffensive, and were appropriate to all ages. I had one as a kid, his name was Mikey. I remember I brought him to show and tell in kindergarten and was asked “what does he do?” and I made the doll moon the class.
Someone decided that the Cabbage Patch Kids were ripe for parody, and their target audiences were little smart-asses like me. Enter the Garbage Pail Kids. The GPK was a series of trading cards that featured parodies of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Each Garbage Pail Kid was some disgusting little troll with a gross talent and a terrible pun for a name.
In 1987, some genius decided that they needed to make a movie based on the Garbage Pail Kids.
This movie follows the misadventures of a young boy named Dodger who has a crush on a girl named Tangerine. One problem with that: Tangerine is the girlfriend of a local bully named Juice, who always terrorizes Dodger. One day, Dodger is chased into the pawn shop owned by a man named Captain Manzini and it’s during a scuffle with Juice that a strange garbage pail is knocked over. Left handcuffed in a sewer, Dodger is rescued by the Garbage Pail Kids, who were trapped in said garbage can. Dodger then befriends Manzini and his disgusting little charges.
Tangerine soon becomes sympathetic toward poor Dodger and the two start hanging out. Dodger learns that Tangerine aspires to be a fashion designer and sells her home-made gear at a local nightclub. When the Garbage Pail Kids make a jacket for Dodger, Tangerine is impressed with the workmanship. Seeing this as a way to get Tangerine to like him more, Dodger than convinces the Garbage Pail Kids to make more clothing for him. They get bored and there are wacky hijinks in a movie theater and a biker bar. Ultimately, this leads to Tangerine putting on her own fashion show where she takes credit for the Garbage Pail Kids work.
Juice shows up in the final act and turns the Garbage Pail Kids over to the State Home for the Ugly where they are slated to be killed (!!) for being too ugly for society. Dodger breaks them out, they wreck the fashion show, and Dodger learns how Tangerine took advantage of him and decides that she isn’t the girl for him. In the end, Mancini’s attempts to lure the Garbage Pail Kids back into their trash bin exile fails, and they manage to escape into the world to cause more trouble.
5 Dark Moments
For a movie that was geared toward children, it goes down some very dark roads to get to the climax. Watching this movie you have to wonder something about the writers: Were they disturbed? Where the on drugs? What other drugs were mixed in with the drugs they were doing? There are five particular moments where it seemed like the writers were trying to crush all the joy out of life.
5) The Garbage Pail Kids Themselves
All of the Garbage Pail Kids are not likable. The costumes are creepy, they all have repellent attributes, and there is something clearly wrong with all of them.
The least of the worst are Greaser Greg leather-clad tough guy, the booger-y Messy Tessie, Windy Winston who farts a lot, and Nat Nerd who has a chronic urination problem.
These are the least disturbing characters of the bunch. The next three are worse:
Valerie Vomit who pukes on command, which on top of being a horrible role model to little girls, you have to wonder if Lucifer Valentine was behind the character. Then there’s Foul Phil, a baby with bad breath who constantly asks people if they are his mother or father.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Ali Gator. Here’s one thing about Ali: He’s got a disturbing love for toes and he keeps severed toes in his lunch box. What the what!?
If all this exposition isn’t creepy enough for you, I have to point out that this movie chooses a scene where Dodger is being introduced to all these characters while soaking in a bathtub… In the middle of Mancini’s pawn shop.
Let’s back up here for a second: By this point in the movie, Dodger has been beaten up twice and left to die handcuffed in a sewer. His rescuers (one of them an elderly man), then insist that he take a bath in front of him and learn about all of their character flaws. On top of this, ON TOP OF THIS, the one with the cannibalistic toe fetish TRIES TO EAT HIS DAMN TOES.
4) Child Labor
The central plot of this story is around making fashions, something apparently every kid in America wanted to do at the time. Granted Tangerine wants to be a fashion designer, that’s a pretty normal goal to have. However, things take a turn when Dodger gets the Garbage Pail Kids to design more clothing for him.
For all intents and purposes, the GPKs are children, all be it gross and morally reprehensible children. This doesn’t stop the writers from putting a sweatshop scene into the plot. I’m not kidding. The Kids literally go to a clothing manufacturer called “NON-UNION SWEATSHOP” and make clothes for Dodger to impress his little girlfriend. The scene also has a musical number attached to it.
Good luck getting that song out of your head.
The Garbage Pail Kids are also working for no benefit to themselves. They’re basically working for exposure dollars which Dodger takes the credit for. Is this movie trying to tell me that exploiting children to make clothing for my personal gain is okay?
3) This World is Depressing
The world of the Garbage Pail Kids Movie is quite wretched, there is almost no adult supervision. Children are allowed to run amok in the streets with little to no opposition. The only role model poor Dodger can find is a creepy pawn shop owner and the mutant children he keeps in a refuse bin.
Anywhere there are adults in this movie, it’s a downright dark and depressing place to be, and the adults DGAF. Take for example early on in the film, Tangerine is selling her fashions in a nightclub. A nightclub full of under aged kids. There’s even a bouncer at the door and he just doesn’t care that the establishment is full of unsupervised minors.
Then when the Garbage Pail Kids go to the movies, it’s full of tweaked out drug addicts and drunks watching an old Three Stooges reel. To make it extra depressing it’s an episode that features Shemp instead of Curly because there is no joy in this world.
The only other place in this town is a biker bar called the “Toughest Bar in the World”. There Ali Gator starts a bar fight by trying to grope women and eat their toes!
There are no positive adult role models in this whole movie. I think the main reason is beacuse…
2) They Are Executing All the “Ugly” People
I can’t make this clear enough: The whole point of the State Home for the Ugly is to kill people that society deems too ugly. Its staff basically goes around town like dog catchers trained by Hitler and catch anyone who doesn’t meet their very stringent criteria.
One could argue that the Garbage Pail Kids are incredibly ugly. I agree. However, you know who else they have in the ugly people death house?
For starts: Santa Claus, because he’s apparently too fat. Santa Claus, you know the guy who gives presents to all the good boys and girls? The guy who once a year spreads joy and love to children the world over? Yeah, he’s off to the glue factory.
Next, we have Ghandi. Mahatma Freaking Ghandi. The guy who was known for passive resistance a man whose name is synonymous with civil rights and world peace. Whose only crime was being too bald, so off to the stump grinder for him.
Last but not least we have Abraham Lincoln. Yes, one of the most important American politicians this side of the Founding Fathers. The guy who saw America through the Civil War and abolished slavery. The Home For the Ugly are saying sic semper tyrannus to him for being too tall!
1) Dodger is a Hypocrite
During the course of this movie, Dodger spends his entire time trying to win over Tangerine because he has a crush on her. His infatuation goes to some pretty dark places, from sniffing her hair from behind….
… To unabashedly peeping through her window….
The kid has got it bad and this is what makes it so easy for the girl to exploit the poor boy. At the end of the film, he realizes that Tangerine was only using him to further her own career and comes to the conclusion that she isn’t the woman he thought she was.
Which, all right, that seems like a pretty fair message, except for the fact that Dodger is a hypocrite. If Dodger was just some hapless victim of Tangerine’s greed, then certainly he’d be an empathetic character. However, he’s just as much of a garbage person as everyone else in this movie. The thing he’s judging Tangerine for is the exact same thing that Dodger has done to the Garbage Pail Kids.
Dodger coerces them into making clothes to impress her when he has no skill in making clothing himself. He’s also worse human being than Tangerine because he was mass producing his clothing in a freaking sweatshop.
So there you have it, one of the most repellant movies of the 1980s. If you want to see this glorious trainwreck on your own, you can see it on high definition Blu-Ray thanks to the insane lunatics at Shout! Factory.