15 May 2007

Yer killin' me, Smalls!

I didn't realize until quite recently what a iconic film The Sandlot was to a lot of kids my age (though mostly younger, and mostly male). Even though I'd seen it twice, and I've heard the above line many times from people my age, I couldn't remember that one begat the other. So I had to rent it for nostalgia purposes to see what all the excitement was about.

Two things that struck me while trying to understand a kids' movie as an adult. Firstly, this movie is a great example of a memorable picture coming about more by luck than skill. All the ingredients are of a hokey, made-for-TV dozer, and how they avoided instant Dollar-Theater disaster can mostly be attributed to picking a particularly inspired group of kid actors.

Of course, one way to save your movie is by having James Earl Jones in it, which is the subject of my second point. Jones' character Mr Mertle, we find out near the end of the movie, was once a great player in his own right and contemporary of Babe Ruth who might have challenged the Babe's records if not for some unfortunate circumstances. So far, so good, right? Except those unfortunate circumstances are not what you're expecting. Apparently the quite-dark-skinned Mr. Mertle had his career cut short by going blind.

Oh dear.

Now, perhaps your excuse here is that you don't want to talk about a "heavy" issue like segregation in a children's movie, and, while I think kids can accept and understand a fictional character intervening in history, having him do something he couldn't possibly have done is insulting their intelligence. I was hoping, at the very least, for an explanation that perhaps Mertle played in the Negro League, but it wasn't to be.