Fourteen-year-old Dodger’s life has hit a rough spot. He’s tormented daily by an older gang who jumps him for his lunch money, and the girl he’s crushing on happens to be a part of the gang and is dating its leader. But hey, at least he’s employed at the local antique shop down the street. Nevermind the fact that his employer is an eccentric British man who calls himself Captain Manzini, thinks he has magical powers and keeps an ugly-ass garbage can in the middle of the store that he forbids Dodger to ever touch. Unfortunately for the dear Captain, Dodger’s bullies never got the “Do Not Touch” memo, and in the midst of trying to kick Dodger’s ass, they knock over the can and unknowingly release The Garbage Pail Kids from their garbage pail prison. The seven monstrosities that emerge waste little time in establishing themselves as the grossest, cruddest, most ruinous little miscreants that they can.
While the poor Captain tries to come up with a magic spell to shove the little snots back into their garbage can cage, the tiny delinquents take it upon themselves to help Dodger woo his lady love by sewing together some clothes to make her think he’s a fashionista. In return, they ask him to help them find the other Garbage Pail Kids. Surely nothing bad can come from this bizarre arrangement.
What!? You mean there are more of you?! NOOOOOOooooooo….
The Garbage Pail Kids has the reputation of being one of the worst movies of all time, illustrated by the fact that it holds an impressive 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Having watched quite a few duds in my time, I’m not 100% sure it deserves that distinction, but by god does it try its damnedest to earn it.
Let’s start with the ugly elephant in the room: The Garbage Pail Kids themselves. The Garbage Pail Kids are not puppets, as one might assume based on screenshots. Instead they are played by tiny actors with animatronic heads. Now, normally I’m a big proponent of practical effects. But it should go without saying that that preference only comes into play when the practical effects are actually good. In Garbage Pail Kids, they are not good.
WTF is going on with your hand.
For starters, they are ugly and creepy as sin. There’s just no way to sugar-coat that. Their clothing and movements are fine, thanks to the actual actors in those suites. But the oversized heads…. Oi. You see, the eyes and mouths are where the animatronics come in. They are meant to move, they are meant to show signs of life. But they rarely seem to function properly, so you often wind up with disembodied voices coming out of characters despite their mouths remaining steadfastly shut. They seemed to think that having the actors nod a lot would somehow help. It does not. The frequent dead-eyed stares don’t do them any favors either. Unfortunately, when their faces do manage to work they don’t move at all like a normal humans would, so you end up with mouths that move without any rhyme or reason. It almost makes the disembodied voices preferable. For a movie that’s trying to be whimsical, the main characters somehow manage to come across as equally terrifying and lifeless. It’s a sad state of affairs when the trading cards the movie was based on end up being more colorful and full of life than the characters from the actual movie.
Even in 2D he’s still better animated than in the film.
Then you have the joy of trying to decipher the film’s plot, which really doesn’t make a lick of sense. The Cabbage Patch knock-offs are apparently aliens (?) who arrive on Earth in a rusty (yet standard sized) trash-can spaceship, and are basically trapped by the antique guy for an unknown period of time. Why they wind up in his shop in the first place is unclear, we’re just given the impression that he seems to know them.
Cut to after their escape and we learn from them, in what really amounts to little more than a throwaway line, that they’ve come looking for their friends. But the audience (and the film) quickly forgets that, because then the movie focuses all it’s attention either on the dirty munchkins stealing a snack-food truck, harassing movie-goers, and getting drunk at a biker bar, or on the bits in between of them becoming sweatshop workers for Dodger in his doomed attempt to get fashion fiend Tangerine’s attention. (That’s really her name by the way. This film nonchalantly throws out names like Juice and Tangerine without the slightest hint of embarrassment. That’s how little they cared.) About 2/3rds of the way through the movie we learn that this film is apparently taking place in some alternate dimension, because the ‘kids’ get picked up by The State Home For The Ugly, which is apparently a state run organization that locks up and executes people deemed too ugly for society. Their cellmates include Santa (?), Gandi (because he’s bald, not because he blew up your country in Civilization), and a clown (…I was surprised there was only one). So Dodger and the Captain/Magician/Antique guy have to go and save them. There’s also a fashion show thrown into the mix because…. Well, I honestly don’t know.
There’s just so much to unpack here it’s not even funny. For starters, the kid who plays Dodger looks like he’s 12. Meanwhile, Tangerine and company look like they’re much closer to 18/20. Which 1) begs the question of why the hell are seniors in High School picking on Middleschoolers and 2) makes Dodger’s obsession with Tangerine hella creepy. With those seven abominations running around the film didn’t need any more creepy. I really don’t need to see this kid try to awkwardly flirt and smell this chick’s hair, and I don’t need to see her sensually kiss his cheek either. Scenes like that almost make me wish the creatures from hell had more screen time. Almost.
As for the little hellspawn, the purpose of the Garbage Pail Kids themselves is kind of mind boggling. The movie continuously calls them ‘kids,’ but they act like drunken adults most of the time (yes, drinking included.) I’m still not sure if they’re supposed to be heroes or villains in this story. In one scene they’re trying to give Dodger dating advice and offering to help him, and in the next they’re threatening him with knives and trying to eat his toes, and yet the film still tries to pass them off as lovable and sympathetic. I’m not sure if the movie knew what to do with them quite honestly, other than trying to have them be as gross as possible and causing the occasional bout of mayhem (including a horrible musical number). They just seem to be there with no real purpose. And the friends they mention in that initial throwaway line? The missing ones they’re ‘looking for’ that apparently made them come to Earth in the first place? Well, they seem to forget about them about five seconds after they mention them. But fear not, you do get some closure to that slim plot thread, in the form of another throwaway line. Spoiler: They’re all dead. You know who cares? No one. Not the remaining Garbage Pail Kids, not Dodger, not Magic Dude, not even the audience. I don’t know why they even brought them up in the first place.
Perhaps they were trying to turn this into a horror movie by scaring us into thinking we’d have to put up with more of them.
Then there’s the ‘magician’ guy. I don’t know why this guy keeps bringing up magic. At no point does he do anything remotely magical. The closest he comes is when he traps the Kids in the trashcan at the beginning of the film, but all he really did was place a heavy diving mask on the lid so they couldn’t get out. Hell, I can do that. No magic required. You think you’re going to get magic by the end of the film, but that turns out to be a bust, so really he ends up being less a ‘magician’ and more a crazy loon in a fancy coat with very oddball associates. Though, on the plus side, he does seem to be one of the few adults in the film who isn’t trying to lock up all the ugly people and kill them.
Wait, do what now? I thought this was a kids film?
Speaking of which, I have no idea what to make of The State Home for the Ugly. It seems to be run by two guys driving a dog-catchers truck and the ‘Home’ appears to be a warehouse with vertical cells of chain link fence that looks like they require a forklift to get into. It’s terribly slapdash and impractical. On top of that, the guards talk about ‘doctors’ running ‘tests’ on the inmates before pantomiming them being crushed, presumably by a garbage truck. I mean, it is amusing to see that even Santa doesn’t live up to this worlds facist-like devotion to ‘normalcy’, but, like, seriously? Did the filmmakers idolize Dr. Mengele? What the hell.
Someone’s getting rocks in their stocking for Christmas.
There’s also just some really bizarre additions the film throws in for unknown reasons. For instance, there’s a very disturbing bath scene that involves all the dead-eyed Garbage Pail Kids, the old man, a clawfoot tub and a very naked Dodger. But the most notable is the shoehorned musical number. When the greasy little aliens agree to help Dodger make a bunch of outfits to impress Tangerine they spend the next three minutes awkwardly singing (and by that I mean partially mouthing) about how they can do anything together. And by ‘anything’ the film means how they can collectively break into a sweatshop and steal a bunch of shit, because how the fuck else are penniless aliens supposed to get supplies to sew a couple dozen gaudy outfits?
I bet you thought I was kidding about the whole ‘sweat shop’ thing, didn’t you?
Remember, multiple people green-lit this script.
So, is Garbage Pail Kids any goo–…No. No it is not, and anyone trying to tell you otherwise is lying to you. The plot is nonsensical and dull, the effects are almost painful to look at, the music stinks (I may never get that song out of my head) and the characters are boring, wooden, or just completely unlikable. The film tries to make the Garbage Pail Kids sympathetic towards the end, yet makes no attempt leading up to that to warrant those kinds of feelings. When Dodger finds out they’ve been captured he lets out a (clearly forced) wail of agony as if he’d just lost a dear friend, yet the film made no attempt up to that point to show how they’d earned such devotion. It also tries to shove the prerequisite ‘lesson’ into the ‘kids’ film about how you shouldn’t judge people by appearances. But the film is so inept that instead of being poignant, Dodger’s final realization comes across as shallow and self-centered. The only thing I liked about the film, was that they made the muscle of the gang that tormented Dodger a woman. And she was good at her job, too, so Huzza! for breaking gender stereotypes, I suppose, but that’s it, that’s all I’ve got.
If you like watching horrible movies, are just morbidly curious, or are absolutely drenched in card collecting nostalgia, than Garbage Pail Kids is not to be missed. I’ll admit I’ve seen worse, but I can see now why it’s earned the reputation it has.
The Garbage Pail Kids is listed, but currently unavailable on Amazon.
It is, however, available on DVD and a Collector’s Edition Bluray from Shout! Factory (why?!)
I has also aired on Comet TV.