Feature by: Dave Macchia
Posted on: 17 July 2004
It’s no secret that half of that crap that Hollywood churns out on a weekly basis is formulaic drivel. One of the worst offending genres of the bunch has to be movies involving kids and sports. Starting all the way back in 1976 with The Bad New Bears, Hollywood has made a whole bunch of movies that are pretty much the same story, involving the same stereotypical kids, just using different sports as the backdrop. This isn’t to say that these movies aren’t entertaining… because they are.
So what is the basic recipe for success when making a movie about kids’ sports teams? Let’s take a look at the major components of the basic formula: (and I’ll add my personal favorites. I think you’ll see I’m a little biased).
One word comes to mind when it comes to the teams in these movies… ragtag. The team has to be a collection of every misfit and shitty player that the rest of the teams in the league don’t want for one reason or another. I will get into the individual players later on in the article.
The Bad News Bears. Before the genre became Disney-ized, this team was everything a team of misfits should be… crude, foul mouthed, and fun to watch.
The Mighty Ducks
The coach is the most important character because even though the movie is about kids… the underlying main plot will be about the coach’s redemption. The main issue is that the coach used to play the sport… and play it well… but something in his past has caused him to forget why he loved the game in the first place. Through the kids, the coach will learn all about himself in the process… and ultimately become a better man by the end of the movie. A must-have subplot is that the coach has to start off by not caring about the kids… then grows to really like the kids and teaches them the game is about having fun… then once the team starts winning, the coach gets too concerned with beating the other team’s coach, begins berating the kids… and eventually realizes the error of his ways… and makes amends leading into the big game. Depending on the movie… this story arc can take place throughout one movie or span across the original and a sequel.
Coach Buttermaker in The Bad News Bears. Walter Matthau gives easily one of his most comically touching performances here. The scene where he gets shitfaced and passes out while pitching batting practice is priceless.
Coach Bombay in The Mighty Ducks
There has to be a dramatic foil for the team… and these guys are it. The main rival is the total antithesis of everything the team whose name appears in the title of the movie stand for. They are the unbeatable all-stars… who are coached by the mechanical coach who has instilled his Lombardi-esque “Winning isn’t everything… it’s the only thing.” mentality onto the kids. The key element here is that the two teams have to play eachother early in the season… with the all-star team not only winning the game… but thoroughly humiliating our group of lovable losers. Later on they will play eachother in the championship game… with either the lovable losers winning the game… or losing by a small margin and earning the other team’s respect in the process.
Coach Turner and his Yankees in The Bad News Bears. Anybody who has ever played any form of Little League baseball has played against a team with a coach like this.
Coach Wolf and the evil Team Iceland (WTF!?) in D2: The Mighty Ducks.
To start off the team doesn’t even have unifroms… so they usually resort to ridiculous household items in order to play. The first turning point in the movie usually occurs when the coach surprises his team with brand new uniforms.
Chico’s Bail Bonds. ’Nuff said.
Runner up: The Anaheim style Mighty Duck jerseys in D2: The Mighty Ducks
Now let’s look at the players that comprise the team itself. What must a team have to satisfy the blueprint of a successful movie… It has to have one of or at least a variation of each of these:
Upon seeing that all of the kids assigned to his team absolutely suck… the coach goes out and recruits a kid he knows is good to be the leader of the team. A usual subplot here is that upon the coach’s orders, the ringer tries to do too much on his own, causing the rest of the team to hate him. Along the way, the coach and ringer learn that it’s more beneficial for the ringer to make the other players around him better, rather than trying to do it all on his own.
Amanda Whurlitzer in The BNB. There isn’t any guy in America who has seen this movie and hasn’t at one point felt really ashamed for thinking of a pre-teen Tatum O’Neal in that way.
What team would be complete without the obligatory fat kid for comic effect. For each sport there is only one position the fat kid can play. For baseball, the fat kid will always play catcher. In football, the fat kid will always be playing center… usually farting in the quarterback’s face at least once. In hockey and soccer, it is inevitable that the fat kid is the goalie. It’s the law.
The Fat Kid in Little Giants. The look on his face, in the scene where he lines up against former pro player Steve Emtman, wearing half of a Darth Vader helmet as a football helmet, for some reason always makes me laugh.
It’s amazing that in the PC world we live in, that the black kid will always be the speedy kid that loves to talk shit even though his team sucks. I mean, let’s face it, we all know that no African American athletes are like that. No way. No sir.
Ahmad Abdul Rahim in The BNB. This kid talked shit pretty much everytime he stepped up to the plate… and most of the time he backed it up. Great example of how Muhammed Ali influenced many young athletes back in the day.
“Ewww… a girl!!”. That is how most of the players usually react (and subsequently how most X-Entertainment forum dwellers behave in the presence of the opposite sex)…. but after the girl proves herself to be an integral part of the team, she is usually accepted with open arms. The fact that seeing a girl in the commercial might convince a movie bound father to take his daughter along to see the movie, has nothing to do with her presence in the film. Nope. No way. Uh-uh.
Becky “The Icebox” O’Shea in Little Giants. C’mon… nicknaming a tomboy, “The Icebox”,… that’s some evil comic genius at work on the writer’s part.
Every team always has the one kid that can’t play the game for the life of him… but knows every stat and type of play like the back of his hand. He acts as assistant coach and usually designs a play that no professional or college coach before him has ever thought of. These are the types of kids that grow up to become sportscasters. Most of the time, these kids are portrayed as Jewish. Go figure.
Ogilvie in The BNB. The fact that Buttermaker takes everything Ogilvie says at face value is hysterical… because half the time he’s just making shit up.
Coach Buttermaker: [handing out cups and supporters to the boys] “There is one thing I forgot to tell you guys. It’s a legal rule: cups and supporters. [Everyone complains] Gotta be worn at all times. [More complaints] Either you wear ’em or either you don’t wear ’em and you don’t play.”
Jose Agilar: “¡Yo no me voy a poner esto! ¡Esto duele!” [“I’m not going to wear this! It hurts!”]
Coach Buttermaker: “What? What are you saying?”
Ogilvie: “I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish of late, and I think he is saying something about, you know, his being Catholic, and it’s a sin.”
Now the key to the character of the bad boy is that he doesn’t originally start out as a member of the team. Usually he is seen hanging around where the team practices causing trouble. Someone on the team has heard through the grapevine that the Bad Boy is a good athlete… which prompts the coach into talking him into joining the team. The Bad Boy joining the team is what usually gives the team the change in attitude that preceds their eventual winning streak that propels them into the championship game. Also, sometimes the Bad Boy also serves as the Ringer in that he tries to do it all by himself and must learn to make his teammates around him better instead, in order to help the team win.
Kelly Leak in The BNB. Smoking cigarettes, ripping up the baseball field with his motorcycle and hitting home runs. It doesn’t get much better than Kelly Leak.
Each team must have the one kid who despite his lack in size has a chip on his shoulder the size of Rosie O’Donnell’s head. He doesn’t take shit from anybody… and is not afraid of the best team in the league, even during their first humiliating loss early in the season.
Tanner Boyle in The BNB. This kid dominates every scene he’s in. Whether it’s going toe-to-toe with Coach Buttermaker or sticking up for Timmy Lupus… Tanner is the shit.
The quintessential Tanner quote: “All we got on this team are a buncha Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eatin’ moron!!”.
Could you imagine something like that coming out of a child’s mouth in a movie today?!?! Nope… cause we all know that nowadays kids that come from troubled homes or have alcoholic, racist fathers… speak politically correct just like the rest of society. God, the era we live in is such a façade of bullshit.
This is a kid that is so bad, that he sticks out like a sore thumb, despite being on a team that is terrible. The kids pick on him unmercifully but at the end he shocks everybody, by usually making the play that wins or helps win the game. In the end he becomes a hero.
The aforementioned Timmy Lupus. If a smile doesn’t come across your face when “The Looper” makes the catch in right field in the last inning… you aren’t human.
and last but not least…
This is usually a gentle natured kid who is an average player… but his main concern is trying to set the coach up with his single mother.
Charlie Conway in The Mighty Ducks. C’mon, he was played by Joshua Jackson… and we all know that Joshua Jackson is dreamy.
So there it is… your basic formula. To all of you aspiring screenwriters out there, just pick a sport that hasn’t been covered yet, and add a majority of these key ingredients… and chances are your movie will be made someday.
Right now I’m working on writing Wacky Tracky, starring Michael J. Fox as Coach Parkinson… who is forced by his old high school buddy, who is now the mayor, to coach the local youth track team. Hilarity will ensue as a fat kid will try to pole vault; a girl will become the star shot-putter; a black kid who calls himself, Carl Lewis Jr., will be the star sprinter; and the high hurdler will try and set Coach Parkinson up with his mom… who will be played by Courtney Thorne-Smith.
I think I have a hit on my hands.
In all seriousness… to all of the younger readers out there who have never seen The Bad News Bears… or only have seen the edited version on television… go out and rent it and it’s sequel The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training… I think you’ll be pleasantly shocked as to what passed for a rated PG kids’ movie back in 70’s.
Article courtesy Dave Macchia www.whatever-dude.com