Trumpterpiece Theater: The Little Rascals

Trumpterpiece theater is an occasional column on the film cameos of crazy haired TV clown and current United States President Donald Trump

The worst President money can buy! 

The worst President money can buy! 

Penelope Spheeris’ 1994 feature film adaptation of The Little Rascals makes the perverse but apparently commercial sound decision (the film did quite well commercially, and is revered today by millennials with abysmal taste) to update the FDR-era antics of the Our Gang bunch for a new generation. This leads to a movie that inhabits a curious time warp where half the children are dolled up like their 1930s counterparts, while the other half look like they should be auditioning for a white version of Another Bad Creation.

Buckwheat is back, of course. You can’t have a Little Rascals with Buckwheat. But in a bid to make Buckwheat less of a racially problematic relic of a bygone era they’ve removed much of what makes Buckwheat Buckwheat. The update made him seem less like the actual Buckwheat than a cast-off third member of Kriss Kross, one who was kicked out for arguing that, contrary to the group’s own lyrics and ideology, it’s actually backwards that’s wiggedy, wiggedy, wiggedy wack. Gone is Buckwheat’s trademark hair, replaced by hip, modern braids, as is much of his speech impediment. 

Petey, the gang’s dog sidekick is back, and I suppose we should just be grateful they did not go the Poochie route and make him a talking skateboarder with a coke habit (yes Poochie had a cocaine problem, go back and watch the episode). The vibe is Hal Roach directing an early 1990s Nickelodeon sketch comedy show but the film illustrates, to a painful degree, that comedy shorts and feature films are two very different beasts, particularly where pacing is concerned. The Little Rascals feels less like an actual movie than a succession of painfully amateurish remakes of the original shorts so dire that you want to shut them off before the first one’s ever finished. 

The Little Rascals never feels like the Little Rascals, or Our Gang. It feels like an adaptation of fan fiction brought to life by someone whose reverence for the material quickly becomes a problem because Spheeris assumes that what amused pencil-peddlers between newsreels and cartoons and Wallace Beery wrestling pictures would amuse the hip, sophisticated audiences of 1994, whose comic minds had been opened by the likes of the Jerky Boys, Mama’s Family and Yahoo Serious. 

The result is like trying to understand “Who’s on first” from hearing your drunk uncles mangle it during a Thanksgiving dinner. I was never much of a fan of The Little Rascals or Our Gang but Spheeris’ film feels like a bad simulacrum of something that wasn’t particularly inspired in the first place, and certainly didn’t need to be updated. 

Astonishingly, The Little Rascals features a cameo from Donald Trump and revolves around the antics of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club yet these two developments are somehow unrelated. In fact, the child of Trump’s character (this marks one of the few times that Trump actually plays a character who is not explicitly Donald Trump) is actually one of the few children in this waking nightmare who does not belong to the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club.

Waldo, the snooty, rich-kid hellspawn of Donald Trump’s character (known here only as “Waldo’s Dad”), is actually more of a lover than a fighter when it comes to the prepubescent pre-ladies. In that respect, he’s like Trump, who is both a lover of women (with his penis) and a hater of woman (with his words, and ideas, and awful brain). 

The film’s thin plot involves Alfalfa (Bug Hall), the tune-warbling lady’s man of this assemblage of youthful rapscallions violating the sacred tenants of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club and the dictates of Snoop Dogg’s early work by falling in love with girlfriend Darla (Brittany Ashton Holmes). 

The most sacred commandment of the He-Man’s Woman Hater’s Club is to never love a woman or be nice to them, or treat them with respect. This is actually one of the more contemporary elements of the film, although in today’s society, the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club is known alternately as “The Men’s Rights movement”, the “Alt-Right”, “The Republican Party” and “Donald Trump’s cabinet.”

The rift between girl-loving Alfalfa and his girl-maligning associates provides a rickety springboard for an endless series of vignettes, many, if not most taken directly from the original Our Gang and Little Rascals shorts. These never stood much of a chance of being funny in a contemporary context but they are absolutely slaughtered by a cast whose gifts as comedic performers begin and end with an ability to recite their lines as written. 

The Little Rascals is a powerful rebuke to the notion that children are naturally, inherently funny. The film’s pacing is hopelessly off. Forget about the intricacies and nuances of comic timing and delivery. Here it’s all just about getting those goddamned kids to stop crying and freaking out and Jesus, did that kid just piss himself, so they can get their shots in the can and finally go home. 

That poor woman. I can't even imagine how much pee she had to deal with 

That poor woman. I can't even imagine how much pee she had to deal with 

Sorry, I was just putting myself in Spheeris’ place and imagining how excruciating it must have been to try to make a funny, satisfying comedy with a huge cast that only recently stopped wearing diapers and is somehow even less mature and professional than Spheeris’ Wayne’s World leading man Mike Myers. 

The child actors in The Little Rascals are so consistently, universally awful that their acting constitutes adult abuse. The film similarly disproves the old adage about never working with dogs or kids or babies. Kids are natural scene-stealers, in real life and in movies but The Little Rascals is so utterly devoid of laughter and life that Donald Trump briefly livens up the proceedings as the dad of the bad guy, who shows up in the stands to the climactic go-kart race and boasts, “Waldo, you’re the best son money can buy.”

It’s a joke that, on closer inspection, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Is he bragging about how his money can buy his son anything, or is he admitting, darkly, that he purchased his son on the black market, through some manner of white slavery? It’s hard to say but there is something weirdly reassuring about seeing Trump in this context. Trump was a joke, then and now. But now that joke is too terrifying to be funny. 

Trump’s dialogue in its entirety: “Waldo, you’re the best son money can buy”

Support Nathan Rabin's Happy Place at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace