The Life Lessons of Kindergarten Cop

There are profound messages to be discovered in Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1990 comedy vehicle Kindergarten Cop. Really. Ahem.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This article contains spoilers for Kindergarten Cop.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up with director Ivan Reitman for the first time, the pair struck box office gold. The project that brought them together? Twins, the ultimate high concept movie, that paired Arnie with Danny DeVito. Much money was made, and Twins is one of the films that Arnie is now trying to get a sequel moving to as he attempts to pump life into his box office powers. Not much has been heard there for a long time, though.

Reitman and Schwarzenegger would team up for two more comedies, to which Schwarzenegger appears less interested in resurrecting. Junior would follow in 1994, but it’s 1990’s Kindergarten Cop that we’re focusing on here.

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Now Kindergarten Cop wasn’t quite the box office triumph that Twins was, but it wasn’t far off. Twins took $216 million worldwide in 1988 (inflation adjusted, that’s about six trillion dollars or something). Kindergarten Cop, meanwhile, had to settle for $201 million. This in a way was surprising, as on paper at least, Kindergarten Cop had a great potential for a broader family audience.

What I learned from rewatching Kindergarten Cop, though, is just what a harsh piece of work it is. It opens with a solid 20 minute Arnie film, where he’s tracking down a drugs baron and sporting facial hair. He holds a big gun and declares, after destroying a serene get-together, that he is “da party pooper,” in one particularly memorable early moment. Encouraged by the family-friendly poster, parents at the time must have wondered what they’d walked into. Not to worry though: Batman Returns was but two years away if they really wanted to put fear into their offspring.

Once it’s over its generic, entertaining Arnie movie opening, Kindergarten Cop settles into the film that everyone was sold (right from the moment the 1990 equivalent of the Comic Sans font appears in the credits). It’s Arnie! Teaching little kids! His toughest battle ever! Haw haw! Then the film goes all harsh again, then the credits role, and the cutesy font returns. Then you have to try and make some sense out of it.

Actually, who am I kidding? You don’t at all. Kindergarten Cop was and is a hoot, and I shamelessly like it. But it didn’t strike me until my latest rewatch that it teaches some pertinent lessons, from which we can all benefit. Such as these…

Teacher training is unnecessary when you have a ferret and whistle

For all the japes of Kindergarten Cop a film that, of course, sees Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Detective Kimble going undercover in a classroom – there must have been an army of trainee teachers watching in apparent despair.

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In the UK, a teacher training qualification involves lots of classroom time, to give students a flavor as to what to expect. As such, techniques are taught, experience is picked up, and after many hours of intensive training, a new recruit is finally in a position to teach a class. Thus, when faced with troublesome children, new teachers don’t go in unprepared. Assuming they’ve passed the police checks.

Predictably, John Kimble’s first days in the classroom do not go well. But don’t worry. Rather than spending his evenings deep in books trying to learn more, or consulting his partner, O’Hara, who does have experience, he comes up with a plan that revolutionises the teaching profession. He deploys a whistle and a ferret.

The ferret, we learn, goes with him everywhere, and thus we must assume that the critter managed to get through airport security for a start. Furthermore, the ferret appears to be shot later in the film, yet survives. This invincible ferret, and this is not a well known fact, would go on to influence Arnie’s performance in the film Eraser (Eraser being the movie where Arnie takes lots of damage – including a grenade wrapped in nails at one stage – and brushes it all off).

Within ten minutes of what has become known on the teaching syllabus as “the whistle and ferret method,” an unruly classroom is tamed. Good work. But the ferret isn’t done yet, because…

The best behaved children even get to hold Arnold’s ferret.

In a fire alarm situation, one member of the class has to take personal responsibility for the ferret. Much to the chagrin of the one who badly wanted the job, but didn’t get it. In a different Arnie movie, this could all take a more violent turn. So let’s turn back to this one, and see if there’s a moment where Arnie wears a silly hat.

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When Arnie wears a silly hat, nobody comments on it

Well, if you’re going to let the Terminator into your school, you’re hardly likely to impose a dress code on him…

When there’s a dangerous criminal potentially heading to the school, it is unnecessary to tell the headteacher

There are lots of leaps of faith you’re, not unreasonably, asked to take when watching Kindergarten Cop. Perhaps the hardest one is when Crisp, the bad guy, turns up at the school near the end of the film and has a meeting with Linda Hunt’s headteacher, Miss Schlowski.

Now: I can just about buy that Miss Schlowski would cede to the request to allow an undercover cop in her school in the first place if it meant protecting the life of one of the children within it. But given that everyone seems to know who the father of said child is, and that he may be coming to kidnap his son, why did nobody think to even show Miss Schlowski a picture of him? Thus, Crisp sits in her office, gets a guided tour and finds his child, all whilst she’s standing by his side. We could have all saved ourselves half an hour. But then we’d have missed that…

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Kindergarten Cop is an influence on the work of David Cronenberg

Think about it. That shoot out at the end of Kindergarten Cop, where Arnie gets shot in the bogs (so to speak)? David Cronenberg does a wonderful homage to it in Eastern Promises‘ shower fight. Surely.

Er, moving on.

Teacher rights needed some work back in 1990

We were talking about leaps of faith before, so how about this one. The oft-overlooked element of Kindergarten Cop is that Kimble takes over a class that’s already got – as we’re told – a very good teacher. Not only that, a very good teacher with extensive experience. We are told this in a manner that convinces us it is important. Said teacher is so good that she’s suddenly sent away to “visit people” for a few weeks, in favor of Arnie’s undercover operation. Hmmm.

So then: Once Arnie’s operation is complete, where does she go? The ending basically implies that Arnie goes back to work at the school. So he’s taken back into the classroom, where there is a teacher at work (very efficiently too, given how the whole class DOESN’T NOTICE ARNIE WALKING BACK INTO THE ROOM). Arnie announces “I’m back,” which hardly suggests he’s there for a fleeting visit. Everybody celebrates – including, er, the teacher in the corner of the room. Is she the original teacher? A substitute? Either way, it looks like her job is basically buggered.

Arnie likes to hold a whistle when he kisses a lady

It’s true, look.

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We bet he doesn’t take his manly socks off in bed either.

America takes the facial hair of its youth seriously

As a British man, I take no pleasure in ceding the crown of the finest facial hair on the planet to another country. But you have to tip your hat and acknowledge how seriously America takes this stuff. Not only, therefore, is Kindergarten Cop one of the few films where Arnie sports facial foliage himself (it’s true), but he also manages to get a bunch of under fives to don fake beards, all in the spirit of education. Top hats too…

If children are to be entertained, it is right they are confronted with a corpse near the end

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop is a film with an obvious split. The first 20 minutes are for the ’80s Arnie fan, the remainder for a family audience. But at second glance? Yikes. 75 minutes into the film, just as Miss Schlowski has told Arnie that he’s a “very good teacher,” the mood is spoiled somewhat by Ivan Reitman cutting suddenly – with not a jot of warning – to the following shot.

Yay! It’s that lady we saw earlier in the film, who witnessed a murder! Now she’s taken an overdose and she’s dead! As foretold, incidentally, by one of Kimble’s young students, who is insistent that everyone dies. Not everyone even gets to the 90 minute mark though, it seems.

By the end of the film, more dead bodies appear. It is right that children get the appropriate schooling in Schwarzenegger, after all. Before Batman & Robin would get them seven years later.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a happy, falling in love face

This was a revelation. In Twins, Arnie plays the goofy, innocent one. But he’s a more hardened character in Kindergarten Cop, which makes his softening all the more heartwarming. What woman on planet Earth, after all, could fail to fall into his arms when he looks at them like this…

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Sometimes, award winning movie directors pop up when you least expect them

Juno was still many years away at this point.

“Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina”

Finally, the most crucial revelation of all.

A lot of the educational points made in Kindergarten Cop aren’t directly addressed at the very young, but there is one crucial biology lesson that the film is very keen to put across. Lest you be in any doubt, the movie gets this message across twice…

With all these valuable lessons, if you ask us, Arnie is making a sequel to the wrong comedy. Although the Dolph Lundgren-headlined Kindergarten Cop 2 isn’t awful…

This article originally appeared in 2014 and has been updated.

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