Funny and saccharine-free, Tony Cookson’s family caper is a winner Matty doth declare.
It’s always struck me as odd that the measure of a good kids’ film generally rests upon the idea that it should appeal to grown ups too. Really, a better metric is whether it’s on the same level as its young audience or not. As viewers, children are a lot more sophisticated than they’re often given credit for and they can tell when their intelligence is being insulted. Thus, it’s important to treat them as equals — something that AND YOU THOUGHT YOUR PARENTS WERE WEIRD! does very well. Though stricken with a couple of risible bits that even an undemanding moppet will roll their eyes at, and though lumbered with a strangely leery foot massage scene that veers close to inappropriate, by and large Tony Cookson’s picture is a moving and engaging entertainment for the eight to twelve crowd.
Cribbing from genre standouts E.T. (1982), Short Circuit (1986), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), and, of course, Home Alone (1990), what this occasionally patchy and ever-so-slightly convoluted little romp lacks in rounded plotting it more than makes up for in chuckles and verisimilitude. Particularly impressive is how Cookson completely avoids the sort of schmaltz that sullies something like Jack Frost (1997) — a big studio flick that shares And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird!’s central conceit of a father coming back from the dead in another form to help his kid(s) process their grief. Working from his own screenplay, it’s tempting to ascribe a degree of autobiography to the film. The son of actors Beatrice Straight and Peter Cookson, Cookson’s father had passed away the year before And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird entered production and his feelings surrounding the loss appear to be woven into the fabric of its characters and narrative. While ultimately joyous and uplifting — attributes bolstered by the film’s airy, easy-on-the-eye aesthetic and its ‘everything will be alright/time is a healer’ message — Cookson isn’t afraid to get dark and melancholic. He refuses to sugar coat such topics as suicide and step parents. Instead, he presents them in a frank yet reassuring and age appropriate way that encourages conversation and reflection. The helmer drops a mark for his overly simplistic insistence of there being an afterlife, mind.
Finding a nice balance between the madcap and the heartfelt, Cookson’s story concerns a pair of wunderkind sibling inventors (Near Dark’s (1987) Joshua Miller, and Edan Gross) who cobble together a homemade robot that ends up becoming possessed by the wise-cracking spirit of their dearly departed poppa (a fun vocal performance from Alan Thicke), after Miller and his kooky-cute love interest (A.J. Langer, The People Under the Stairs (1991)) faff about with a Ouija board at a Halloween party. A wonderfully gurn-y John Quade, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Armin Shimerman, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ Marcia Strassman fill up the rest of the cast — but, as you’d expect, it’s FX designer Rick Lazzarini’s adorable, junk-y, pedal bin-looking ‘bot, Newman, that’s the star of the show.
Also known as ‘RoboDad’ — a much more fitting and digestible title if you ask me.
USA ● 1991 ● Family, Comedy ● 92mins
Marcia Strassman, Joshua Miller, Edan Gross, Alan Thicke (voice) ● Dir./Wri. Tony Cookson