Tuesday, February 20, 2024

You're Mine, Pom-Pom: A Look Back at LITTLE GIANTS

 by Joel Edmiston

There’s a story from my childhood that’s often told by my mother. I was perhaps 3 or 4 years old. A sweet, old lady said hello to me at a store, and I looked up at her and said in an aggressive and antagonistic tone, “You’re mine, Pom-Pom”. That’s a line I learned from Spike, a secondary antagonist in the 1994 film, Little Giants, my first ever favourite movie.

I don’t remember the first time I watched Little Giants. By the time I was conscious and making memories, Little Giants was part of my veins. I knew every line and inflection. I remember the VHS box was always on top of the VCR and never on the shelf, because we knew if we weren’t watching it currently, we’d be watching it soon.

Watching it as an adult, it’s very difficult to be critical of it, even though it is extremely formulaic and at times saccharine in a way that I cannot stand in other movies. As a matter of fact, I found that, after all these years, it still speaks to me personally, and I have a lot to say about it.

Since this movie is so ingrained in me, I often talk about it to people as if everyone’s seen it, much like The Godfather, but usually people aren’t even aware that it exists, so I’ll give a brief summary of Little Giants to catch everyone up to speed.
Rick Moranis plays Danny O’Shea, a clumsy gas-station owner with an athletic daughter, Becky, nick-named “Icebox” (Not sure why to be honest). Danny is often in the shadow of his brother, Kevin, a football star and coach of the local peewee team. After Kevin cuts Icebox and her misfit friends from the team, Danny decides to start a team with them to take on Kevin’s team in one big showdown.

(Just as an aside, I think it’s awesome Mark Holton is in this as a dad, because he of course plays Francis in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and of course this movie’s all about peewee football -- guy loves anything pee-wee related).

There were a lot of underdog, kids-sports movies that came out in the '90s. You know how it goes: A bunch of scrappy outcasts and misfits prove their worth via sports. What I think sets Little Giants apart is how sharply observant it is beyond the tropes. Director Duwayne Dunham gives Kevin and his team far more screen time than the villains usually get in these movies. It’s in these scenes where the knife really digs into the machismo and toxicity that exists in sports, football especially. As a guy who had a lot of trouble with sports growing up, I appreciate the criticism. The players on Kevin’s team, the Cowboys, are bullies. They’re children, of course, but they’re still purposefully making life hell for Danny’s team, the Little Giants. But when we see them privately, they’re not plotting or being villainous in the traditional way. They’re training in a pretty real-to-life way, hitting each other, and being yelled at by men who they look up to. They’re encouraged by the adults around them to be the way they are. These scenes often have a button where someone gets hit in the nuts, but I still catch what they’re throwing.
In this movie, like it is in real life sometimes, characters gain social status by how much they excel in athletics. The further they excel, the more they look down on people who aren’t as skilled physically, leaving those people to feel worthless. It’s not the athletic people’s fault. It’s the system’s fault for rewarding this kind of attitude in children. I believe that competitiveness can poison people’s brains. Maybe this sounds like it’s tipping toward the personal. Let’s just say I was on a football team once and it was horrible.

A lot of it came up recently at a Super Bowl party, where a couple people were asking me about my time in football and I really had nothing good to say about it all. I realized I have an inherent distrust of jocks. Nothing against anyone who enjoys watching and playing sports. This is simply my own hang-ups and experiences clogging my judgment. Maybe that’s why I felt so compelled to revisit this movie. I sometimes wonder why I even wanted to play football. Maybe it was because I loved this movie so much.

But I do think my weird little aside about competitiveness does seep its way into this movie. Even Danny, who as a child was always picked last, becomes poisoned by the prospect of beating his brother in the big game, to the point where he fails to see his daughter struggling. This storyline with Icebox is also compelling. She battles with the pressures to be more feminine, after reacting negatively to masculinity that’s so malignant in the sport she loves.
I’m kind of talking about this movie like it’s a deeply meaningful drama, which is a bizarre thing for a 30-year old man to do about a children's comedy movie in which there is a scene where a kid gets tackled so hard that he starts talking out his ass. Scenes like this are certainly what thrilled me the most as a child and honestly still make me laugh.

Here’s the thing… My real-life experience didn’t end in a triumphant game where the misfits get a W, but listen, I didn’t write this thing to be cynical about how movies aren’t like real life. Even though it’s not what happens in reality, there’s something so joyful about when the Little Giants start getting touchdowns in the second half of the game.

It comes after a speech by Rick Moranis in the locker room, where he talks about the one time he beat his brother in a bicycle race growing up. Then the kids go around and all tell a story about the one time where they achieved something growing up. It catches me off guard by how gentle Rick Moranis is in this scene. He’s a guy that is usually pretty over-the-top (in a good way of course; he’s hilarious...and Canadian like me -- that’s why I spelled favourite that way at the beginning of this article), but he’s very understated in this scene. “If they beat us 99 times out of 100, that still leaves… 1 time.” I’m about to admit something. It makes me cry every time. At this moment, these kids stop feeling worthless for having never won anything. Now they’re hopeful that they could do something one day, whether it’s this game or some time else, and that’s worth enough for them to feel good about themselves.

And I’ll admit, my tears don’t stop at that speech. As the second half of the game goes on and each kid on the Giants gets a little moment of triumph, it cuts to their parents cheering in the crowd, so surprised and proud of their kid. It breaks me. When the littlest of all the Giants runs down the field with the ball, about to win the game for his team, screaming, “I’m gonna score a touchdown! I’m gonna score a touchdown,” I fucking sob. Not joking.

Some of the stuff I’m describing may sound familiar to a lot of movies, and maybe it is, but it doesn’t affect me in those other movies like it does in this one. It’s probably a nostalgia thing, but I do think this movie’s heart is after mine in a specific way. Maybe I was an outcast like these guys. I mean, I don’t think I was fully outcasted, but I have come to terms with the fact that I did feel bad about myself growing up because I wasn’t good at sports. Seeing these guys feel good makes me feel good.

I am honestly surprised with myself by how much I had to say about a children’s film. I am sometimes resistant to getting in touch with my inner child. Maybe I am afraid to be the type of 30-year old man who cries at Rick Moranis being a softie, but here I am writing about it, so that definitely shows some growth I think.

Anyway, sometimes I do wonder about that old lady at the store. What was she thinking when this toddler told her she was “mine” and called her “Pom-Pom”? Was she afraid? Had she seen Little Giants? Did she take my “recommendation” to go home and watch it? I hope so.

1 comment:

  1. Ed O'Neill flying through the window is one of my all-time favorite movie moments.