Dennis the Menace (film)
|Dennis the Menace|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nick Castle|
|Written by||John Hughes|
by Hank Ketcham
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Cinematography||Thomas E. Ackerman|
|Edited by||Alan Heim|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$117.2 million|
Dennis the Menace is a 1993 American family comedy film based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. The film was directed by Nick Castle and written and co-produced by John Hughes, and distributed by Warner Bros. under their Family Entertainment label. Dennis the Menace concerns the misadventures of a mischievous child (Mason Gamble) who wreaks havoc on his next door neighbor George Wilson (Walter Matthau), usually hangs out with his friends Joey (Kellen Hathaway) and Margaret Wade (Amy Sakasitz), and is followed everywhere by his dog, Ruff. The film also features a cameo appearance by Jeannie Russell who was a cast member on the original television show.
Released on June 25, 1993, Dennis the Menace was a commercial success, grossing $117.2 million on a $35 million budget despite receiving negative reviews from critics. A direct-to-video sequel called Dennis the Menace Strikes Again was later released in 1998 without the cast from this film. Another direct-to-video sequel called A Dennis the Menace Christmas was released in 2007 with different cast from both first and second films.
Five-year-old Dennis Mitchell is a constant source of mischief, especially to his retired next door neighbor, Mr. George Wilson. One morning, Mr. Wilson pretends to be asleep to avoid Dennis, who mistakes this for illness and shoots an aspirin into Mr. Wilson's mouth with a slingshot. Having learned of the incident, Dennis' parents, Henry and Alice, try to discipline him as they get ready for work, and leave him with his friend, Joey, at home of their classmate, Margaret, whom the boys dislike. As the three children fix up an abandoned treehouse in the woods, an itinerant criminal named Switchblade Sam arrives in town, burglarizing peoples' houses as well as things outdoors, and striking fear into any children he encounters.
Vacuuming up paint in the garage after inadvertently spilling it, Dennis inadvertently shoots a glob of paint onto Mr. Wilson's barbecue grill. Tasting the paint, Mr. Wilson suspects Dennis, and later that evening, against the wishes of his wife, Mrs. Martha Wilson, sneaks over to the Mitchells; to investigate further. The Mitchells leave Dennis with teenage babysitter, Polly, who invites her boyfriend Mickey over. Sneaking outside, Dennis pranks Polly and Mickey by ringing the doorbell and hiding until Mickey tapes a thumbtack to the doorbell. Mr. Wilson investigates the vacuum in the Mitchells’ garage and accidentally shoots himself with a golf ball. Hoping to confront the Mitchells, he pricks his thumb on the tack. Mistaking him for the prankster, Polly and Mickey douse him in bath water and flour, much to the amusement of Mrs. Wilson. As Switchblade Sam commits a string of robberies throughout town, he is noticed by the Chief Bennett who advises him to leave town if he wishes to avoid any trouble.
Bringing the sleeping Mr. Wilson an apology card, Dennis plays with Mr. Wilson's dentures and loses the two front teeth, replacing them with Chiclets just before Mr. Wilson has picture taken for the local newspaper. Alice and Henry have both been called away on business trips, but have trouble finding someone willing to babysit Dennis. Mrs. Wilson agrees to let Dennis stay with them, happy to treat him as the child they never had. Mr. Wilson is infuriated by slipping on Dennis' spilled bath water, ripping his pajamas and discovering Dennis, after playing "Old Faithful" with his nasal spray, replaced it with mouthwash, and then replaced his mouthwash with toilet cleaner. Dennis lets his dog Ruff inside the Wilsons’ house, leading Mr. Wilson to mistake Ruff for Martha in the dark. In the attic, Dennis' carelessness makes Mr. Wilson slip on mothballs and nearly hits his crotch with a canoe.
Mr. Wilson has been chosen to host his garden club’s “Summer Floraganza”, having spent almost forty years growing a rare orchid that will finally bloom and wither that night. Alice's flight is delayed by a thunderstorm, so Dennis has to stay with the Wilsons for the night of the Floraganza, much to Mr. Wilson's dismay. At Martha's insistence, Mr. Wilson allows Dennis to attend the party, but warns him to behave himself. During the party, Dennis initially keeps a low profile, as he doesn't enjoy the company of Mr. Wilson's guests, who pinch his cheeks. However he finds himself curiously pushing a button, which opens the garage door, and upends the entire table of refreshments. When Mr. Wilson sees the mess, he sends Dennis inside.
While the Wilsons and their guests await the flower's nocturnal display, Sam robs the house, stealing Mr. Wilson's collection of antique coins after managing to locate the safe which is home to the coins. Dennis hears him as he leaves, then goes downstairs to find the safe open and the coins missing from the safe. He alerts Mr. Wilson, distracting him and everyone else from the brief blooming of the flower, which then dies. Furious, Mr. Wilson severely and ruthlessly scolds Dennis, denouncing him as nothing but a pest and menace that he has no use for. Heartbroken, Dennis flees to the woods and is caught by Sam. Henry and Alice arrive home to learn that their son has disappeared, prompting a town-wide search, and even a guilt-ridden George sets out to find Dennis after realizing that Dennis was telling the truth about the robbery.
Sam prepares to leave town via sneaking aboard a train with Dennis as an unsuspecting hostage should he run into the authorities. Showing Sam the proper way to tie him up, Dennis had a handcuffs his captor, loses the handcuff key, and unintentionally bludgeons him and sets him on fire. Just as Dennis discovers Mr. Wilson's stolen coins and realizes Sam is a thief, Sam attempts to stab Dennis, but is snared in a rope caught by a passing train. The next morning, Dennis returns home with the captured Sam, to the relief of Mr. Wilson and the entire neighborhood. Sam is arrested, and Dennis naïvely returns his switchblade, but the police car door closes on Sam's hand (and ends up breaking his wrist) and he drops the knife down the drain before being driven away.
Dennis and Mr. Wilson make amends, and Alice mentions that she can bring Dennis to work with her as her office now has a daycare center. Mr. Wilson insists he and Martha would be happy to watch Dennis themselves, just as Dennis accidentally flings a flaming marshmallow onto George's forehead. During the credits, Dennis gets his mother's condescending coworker, Andrea, caught in the office photocopier.
- Mason Gamble as Dennis Mitchell
- Walter Matthau as Mr. George Wilson
- Joan Plowright as Martha Wilson
- Christopher Lloyd as Switchblade Sam
- Lea Thompson as Alice Mitchell
- Robert Stanton as Henry Mitchell
- Amy Sakasitz as Margaret Wade
- Kellen Hathaway as Joey
- Paul Winfield as Chief Bennett
- Natasha Lyonne as Polly
- Devin Ratray as Mickey
- Hank Johnston as Gunther Beckman
- Melinda Mullins as Andrea
- Billie Bird as Edith Butterwell
- Bill Erwin as Edward Little
- Arnold Stang as Photographer
- Ben Stein as Boss (only cameo shot at meeting)
- Jeannie Russell as Neighbor
Mason Gamble won the role of Dennis Mitchell after beating out a reported 20,000 other children who had auditioned for it.
The film premiered on June 25, 1993. It was known simply as Dennis in the United Kingdom in order to avoid confusion with an unrelated British comic strip, also called "Dennis the Menace", which also debuted in 1951.
The film's music was composed by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith, who was John Hughes's first and only choice to write the score for it. The short-lived Big Screen Records label released an album of Goldsmith's score alongside the film in July 1993; La-La Land Records issued the complete score in April 2014 as part of their Expanded Archival Collection on Warner Bros. titles.
Additionally, three old-time pop hits were featured in the film: "Don't Hang Up" by The Orlons, "Whatcha Know Joe" by Jo Stafford (from the 1963 album, Getting Sentimental over Tommy Dorsey) and "A String of Pearls" by Glenn Miller.
On November 16, 1993, Warner Home Video released the film on VHS and LaserDisc. It was released on DVD January 28, 2003, and was re-released on a double feature DVD with Dennis the Menace Strikes Again on August 30, 2005.
The film was a success at the box office. Against a $35 million budget, it grossed $51.3 million domestically and a further $66 million overseas to a total of $117.3 million worldwide, despite generally mixed reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 27%, based on 26 reviews with an average rating of 3.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Walter Matthau does a nice job as Mr. Wilson, but Dennis the Menace follows the Home Alone formula far too closely."
Vincent Canby, in what would become one of his final reviews for The New York Times, remarked that "this 'Dennis the Menace' isn't a comic strip, but then it's not really a movie, certainly not one in the same giddy league with the two 'Home Alone' movies," adding that "Mr. Hughes and Mr. Castle try hard to re-create a kind of timeless, idealized comic-strip atmosphere, but except for the performances of Lea Thompson and Robert Stanton, who play Dennis's parents, nobody in the movie seems in touch with the nature of the comedy" and that the film "simply looks bland, unrooted in any reality." Of the other performances, Canby stated that Gamble was "a handsome boy, but [that] he displays none of the spontaneity that initially made [Macaulay] Culkin so refreshing".
A mixed review came from Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times, who praised Matthau's performance enormously, yet called the film "pretty tepid tomfoolery but [...] not assaultive in the way that most kids’ films are nowadays":
The “Dennis” comic strip, early ‘60s TV show and currently syndicated animated series all opt for an Everytown U.S.A. blandness—pipsqueak rebellion in a ‘50s time warp. The movie, directed by Nick Castle from Hughes’ script, is still caught up in that warp (with a few concessions, like the fact that both of Dennis’ parents now work). This means that Dennis doesn’t get into any high-tech shenanigans. No computers, no video games, no laser guns. The film pretty much sticks to the old-fashioned basics [and] since this Dennis is only 5 years old, perhaps the decision was made to keep things slapstick-simple. Or could it be that the filmmakers regard Dennis as a “classic"—like, say, Huck Finn or Penrod?
This sort of misplaced reverence probably won’t do much for young audiences accustomed to a little more zap and bounce in their heroes. Parents might be grateful, though. The shenanigans in “Dennis the Menace” are mostly so mildly conceived and executed that kids aren’t likely to try them out on their families when they get home from the theater. Mom and Dad won’t have to lock up the frying pans.
If Hughes was expecting this film to create another pipsqueak franchise for him, he may have miscalculated. “Dennis the Menace” seems more like a rest period in between Culkin-ized tantrums. It’s not much—just one goofy little foul-up after another—but its lack of crassness is rather sweet.
Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "There's a lot to like in Dennis the Menace. But Switchblade Sam prevents me from recommending it." Mason Gamble received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst New Star but also won "Best Youth Actor Leading Role in a Motion Picture: Comedy" at the 15th Youth in Film Awards.
- TV Guide September 17–23, 1994. pg. 23.
- "Weekend Box Office : 'Park' Paces Summer Moviegoing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "July Fourth Weekend Sets Off Box-Office Boom : Movies: 'The Firm,' with $31.5 million for the weekend, leads the way. Total movie receipts for the four-day holiday are an estimated $120 million". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "Dennis the Menace (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- "Review/Film; Dennis, Mr. Wilson, Slow Burns And Cats". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "MOVIE REVIEW : No Menace, but No Macaulay Either : In the Era of 'Home Alone,' 'Dennis' Is Agreeably Low-Key". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- Ebert, Roger (June 25, 1993). "Dennis the Menace". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 9, 2018.