Looking back at Adventures In Babysitting

Ahead of Thor’s arrival in cinemas, we take a fond look back at an 80s movie that saw Vincent D’Onofrio star as the mighty hero. Well, sort of...

With the release of Thor imminent, I thought it would be an ideal time to revisit one of my favourite films from my childhood, which just so happens to be the finest film to date to feature the God of Thunder, Adventures In Babysitting.

The film was also known as A Night On The Town around its original release in 1987, but now carries the title Adventures In Babysitting on all copies that I’ve seen lately. The story follows Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue), a high school senior who’s set to go on a dream date in the city with her boyfriend, Mike Todwell (Bradley Whitford), who’s pretty much the boy of Chris’ dreams and drives a red Camaro with the un-cool licence plate of “SO-COOL”. (The actor’s own car and licence plate, no less.)

Sadly, though, Mike can’t make the date, leaving Chris free to babysit for the Anderson’s on short notice. The kids are a bit of a handful. Fifteen-year-old Brad (Keith Coogan) has a massive crush on Chris and 8-year-old, Thor-obsessed, Sara (Maia Brewton) insists on roller kating around the house.

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Not how she had envisioned her night ,but still its easy money, that is until Chris’ friend, Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), calls, as she has run away from home and got as far as the downtown bus station before running out of money. Surrounded by various vagrants and undesirables, Brenda pleads with Chris to come and pick her up. So, Chris, Sara, Brad and Brad’s friend and sexual deviant in the making, Daryl (Anthony Rapp, head into the city to rescue Brenda.

What seems like a simple journey soon escalates out of control, starting with a blown tyre on the interstate, at which point Chris realises she doesn’t have her purse. All seems well when a kindly pickup driver offers to help them out, but when he gets a call that his wife is cheating, they find themselves caught in a domestic row that soon leads to them hiding in a car that is stolen by a car thief working for a chop shop.

When they escape from the chop shop, they’re pursued through Chicago by the crime syndicate, as they’ve taken something valuable to them. If that wasn’t enough, they have to get Brenda, get their car back and get home before 1am, so that the Andersons don’t realise that their kids have spent their night in the city, when they should have been safe at home.

For a film that was released in the late 80s, it’s amazing to think that the idea was originally conceived in the 1960s for Jane Fonda, but was scrapped in the 70s, and it was Chris Columbus who was responsible for getting things started. It also marked his directorial debut.

Fans of Columbus’ work such as Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Goonies and Gremlins, should get a lot out of this and find a number of familiar themes that run through all of his beloved pieces of work, namely a sense of fun and adventure. And whilst on the surface they seem like fairly safe family films, there are subversive elements in them and they certainly don’t pander to, or indeed, patronise their audiences. The Goonies and Gremlins were, of course, directed by Richard Donner and Joe Dante, respectively, but Columbus’ touch is clearly evident in both of those films.

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As well as being Columbus’ directorial debut, the film was also the first PG-13 project released by Disney, after the certificate was given to the film as a result of a couple of F-bombs being dropped in quick succession. Apparently, a third was cut, despite everyone loving the line.

I can remember the film leaving quite the impression on me as a youngster, and it’s one that I watched so many times that even still to this day, when I see the Touchstone Pictures logo before films, I expect to hear Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals, which partly explains my obsession with songs that carry the Spector sound. Its use in the opening and closing of the film is absolutely brilliant and is up there with my favourite opening songs ever. Elisabeth Shue dancing and lip-syncing along for the duration of the song as she’s waiting for her date is such a great scene. Also how the film closes,(I won’t ruin it here) provides a nice contrast to the events depicted in the opening.

It’s questionable as to whether or not Thor is actually in Adventures In Babysitting. Sure, Vincent D’Onofrio’s mechanic Dawson bears some resemblance to the God of Thunder, partly due to a silly wig, and is mistaken for him by Maia Brewton’s Sara, who needs to believe that her hero is real. The spirit of Thor is captured in this young girl, who despite the situations she encounters, manages to show great bravery. Certainly, it’s played up for comedic effect, but it’s incredibly well handled. Plus, the beginning of the film sees its fair share of Thor iconography.

A remake/sequel is apparently currently in the planning stages, with the lead role being offered to a number of actresses affiliated with Disney, but no concrete information on the project is available at this point. An attempt at a TV spin-off stalled after a lacklustre pilot back in 1989, so they clearly wanted to build on the relative success of the film some time ago.

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The original is far from perfect, but it’s still hard to see how a contemporary take on it would be worthwhile. It’s a film that is very much of its time and, as such, possibly won’t be viewed fondly by those coming to it new, without the benefit of nostalgia.

But for those, like me, who caught it around its release and grew up with it, no doubt, it’s remembered as fondly as some of the other projects Christopher Columbus was involved in the 80s and early-90s. Films that represented quality family entertainment with an edge, something that has sadly been lacking in recent times, save for a few exceptions such as Joe Dante’s terrific The Hole.

The film crams a lot into its runtime and there are very few dull moments. Rewatching it recently, there were moments that were cringe worthy, but when watching films like this, you kind of have to appreciate that they’re a product of their time. And for overall fun factor, it certainly rivals some of the other great films Columbus was involved in. Gremlins and The Goonies are, without question, better films, but if you like those kinds of films from this era, you should get a lot out of Adventures In Babysitting.

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