Rated: PG Reviewed by: Chris Release date: June 25, 1993 Released by: Warner Brothers
From the opening minutes when you see a tricycle barreling down the sidewalk pulling a wagon full of jars of grasshoppers, snakes, a homemade slingshot and other assorted little boy things, you know that grumpy ole Mr. Wilson is in for a really bad time.
George Wilson (Walter Matthau) lives next door to five-year-old Dennis Mitchell (Mason Gamble) on a quiet little tree-lined street, dotted with neat houses. It's a neighborhood where children enjoy games of hide-and-seek or climb backyard tree houses and adults sip coffee on their front porches after supper. The setting is very nostalgic and 1950s looking.
The story is updated by having Mrs. Mitchell work (Lea Thompson plays her as a young, crisply dressed career woman). When Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell have to go out of town on business they leave Dennis in the care of George and Martha (Joan Plowright) for the night, which gives Dennis a chance to torture Mr. Wilson for 24 hours, nonstop.
To disturb all of this picturesque tranquility, an ugly, dirty robber (Christopher Llloyd) leaps off a passing freight train and targets Mr. Wilson's prized coin collection, but not if Dennis has anything to say about it!
Writer/producer John Hughes has an uncanny talent for tapping a child's funny bone. With Gamble, he has quite a find. The child doesn't seem as if he's memorized his lines, he's adorable, impish and totally natural.
There are some similarities to Hughes' other smash hit "Home Alone," in that they both star little blonde boys who take on the bad guy, but whereas Macauley's attack was calculated and well planned, Mason's is innocent and the product of a young boy's curiosity.
Dennis isn't a bad kid, just inquisitive. One of the funniest scenes had Dennis prodding and probing Mr. Wilson's puttylike face while he pretends to be sleeping. He sticks a small flashlight up his nostril and after diagnosing a fever, slingshots an aspirin into the unsuspecting patient's open mouth - all to the delight of the audience.
I have one criticism of the film. For some reason the writer has a very scary-looking Lloyd brandishing his jackknife at Dennis, and although no harm ever comes to him, it's an unnecessary threat and frightening to young children. Other wise, the scenes between Dennis and the long-suffering Mr. Wilson are priceless.
Dennis the Menace is a funny, lighthearted experience that both children and adults can relate to and have a great time watching together.
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