'90s kids love to remember the fun movies of their childhood, but looking back on them with an adult perspective almost inevitably reveals some unspeakably dumb stuff. Although these kids movies from the '90s will likely always have a place in the hearts of millions of millenials, the truth is that most have aged like a lukewarm wad of Gak. Many of these so-called classics are actually twisted, dark, and messed up kids movies.
From criminally irresponsible adults to kids who regularly put themselves in mortal danger, sometimes these "classics" are secretly just nightmarish realities from which these characters may never recover. As a species, we're predisposed to view things from our childhood with rose-colored glasses. But now it's time to dig out your old VHS tapes, and take a hard look at these unsettling '90s kids movies with fresh eyes.
Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) abusing the fat kids at Camp Hope is definitely illegal and terrible, but that's only the most obvious problem with Heavyweights. The relationship Camp Hope has with their rival, Camp MVP, is far worse. The neighboring camp is full of jerk athletic kids, sure, but it's also run by an incredibly aggressive and abusive staff. Who’s in charge there, professional bullies?
The adults at Camp MVP must be on a healthy diet of steroids and cocaine, otherwise they would never drive a boat full of children across a lake just so they can yell ”You stink! You stink! You stink! You stink!” to a bunch of overweight kids who could actually be struggling with glandular issues. Bullying is always bad, but that kind of adult-on-child sanctioned verbal attack is next-level cruel.
By now, you've seen the documentary Blackfish, or your some kind of heartless monster (or maybe you just have a deep Netlix queue, whichever). But public awareness of the negligent treatment of orcas in captivity turns this feel-good family flick into a haunting tribute. If you haven't yet, maybe don't. Once you see it, you can't unsee the atrocities experienced by orcas in water parks across the globe.
And, of course, they had to train a real whale play Willy. Tragically, and predictably, he didn't have a great life. Keiko, the orca who played Willy, was also freed into the wild, but he died within a year. Knowing what we know now, the classic scene where Willy leaps over the sea wall plays more like a funeral dirge.
Actors: Danielle Harris, Michael Madsen, Michael Ironside, Mykelti Williamson, Richard Riehle, + more
Initial Release: 1993
Directed by: Simon Wincer
#51 on The Best Movies for Tweens
#44 on The Best Movies of 1993
Kazaam (Shaquille O'Neal) is a weird, mean genie who manipulates a kid just so he can free himself and start a rap career. To clarify: that is literally the plot of Kazaam. Kazaam barely helps Max (Francis Capra), and he mostly goofs around while Max is in danger. Oh, and he signs a record contract.
Kazaam is a horrible rapper, even by '90s standards, and he's a worse friend. Max just needed a role model, but sure Shaq, go ahead and promote your rap career as a genie (and, on a more meta level, as an actual terrible rapper).
Actors: Shaquille O'Neal, Ally Walker, Wade Robson, Francis Capra, Marshall Manesh, + more
Initial Release: 1996
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Is this a prequel to The Wolf of Wall Street? Preston Waters (Brian Bonsall) is a spoiled brat who doesn't even deserve an allowance, and he acts like a jerk every chance he gets. This kid should have gone to jail immediately. Instead, you have to watch a kid who already lives in a house nicer than yours buy a mansion and a limo driver/servant as his best friend. Preston is a monster, and he's going to grow up to support mandatory background checks for welfare recipients.
Actors: Brian Bonsall, Debbie Allen, Tone-Lōc, James Rebhorn, Karen Duffy, + more
Initial Release: 1994
Directed by: Rupert Wainwright