Movie review: ‘Little Giants’

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of sucker for films where the down-and-out kids or the nerdy ones come out winners in the end, such as the original “The Bad News Bears” or even a would-be tear-jerker like “Angels in the Outfield” (despite having Danny Glover as its star). In “Little Giants” you have a team of rejects that does what you expect it to do with every stereotype imaginable … and you’ll enjoy watching it. Also, it’s neat to see today what the young actors accomplished in their careers in the years since.

‘Little Giants’
(1994; 107 minutes; rated PG; directed by Duwayne Dunham and starring Rick Moranis, Ed O’Neill and Shawna Waldron)

OK, YOU KNOW THE STORY … BUT THIS ONE’S ENDEARING

(NOTE: I expanded this review with more opinion, updated links and corrected some grammar and typos on Dec. 9, 2015.)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone over, say, 5 years old that the nerds win a football game in “Little Giants.” Unlike the original “The Bad News Bears” where the outcasts lost the championship game in a heart-stopper, with reality being the heartbreaker, “Little Giants” goes for the sappy, predictable ending but still winds up being endearing and a pleasure to watch – especially for a really nice job by Ed O’Neill.

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In the film Shawna Waldron plays “Becky ‘Icebox’ O’Shea” and is the best football player in town. Her father “Danny O’Shea,” who is played by Rick Moranis, is a nerd, but her uncle “Kevin O’Shea,” who is played by O’Neill, is a former Heisman winner, big football star and local businessman. Even O’Neill’s Chevrolet dealership is a better business than Moranis’ service station. It’s a ham-handed way of the writer and director showing how the little brother still tags after the big by having him run the dilapidated gas station while the successful older one sells Corvettes.

When Waldron isn’t picked for O’Neill’s team to compete in a youth league, she has Moranis start a team of other castoffs and Moranis agrees to coach it. These are all kids who are not just good enough for the team; they’re not good enough to even be considered for the team. So, the stage is set for the outcasts to struggle to come together as a team and ultimately get into a battle of personalities between Moranis and O’Neill over the battle for the services of the new, big kid. He’s the prize player who is expected to win all by himself.

You can guess just about everything here and you have all the stereotypes spied a mile away: the fat kid who is flatulent (but a flatulence joke is always funny, so I don’t mind the farting); the smart kid who dresses up and uses computers; the athletic kid who cannot catch; and the puny runt whose mother is overly protective and (stereotype alert) wraps him in protective padding. Finally you have NFL players give the pep talk that turns the team around … and, well, they win it.

The best part here is Waldron’s coming of age. She’s at the point where she’s beginning to like boys as something other than teammates, but is also coming to realize that they don’t always like the team’s fullback. As she battles with this contradiction, O’Neill becomes the uncle you never though he’d be with her.

In the end, it all gets wrapped up neatly and to absolutely no one’s surprise everyone is a winner as the credits roll.

O’Neill, who was in the middle of his success as TV’s “Al Bundy” on “Married With Children,” really does a good job here. He’s the obnoxious winner who rubs everyone’s nose in it; he’s sexist; and it appears he’s ready to do anything to win and he makes the part really human and unlike his over-the-top “Al Bundy” work.

Still, there’s some depth that comes out in “Little Giants.” The best scene is when O’Neill and Waldron have a chat at a diner. She’s no longer ticked at him for not picking her for his team and explains to him about her dilemma with boys. His reactions and advice are completely contrary to the arrogant jerk everyone has come to know. At the end of the scene she asks him if he thinks she’s pretty. “No,” O’Neill says, giving proper dramatic pause. “You’re beautiful.” Sappy? Yes … and truly effective. He changes to being human and really sweet and the scene is well done by both actors.

O’Neill has been in a number of films including “Dutch” (click here for my review) and was particularly awful in the putrid “The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine” with Andrew Dice Clay (click here for my review). He was much better in smaller roles in “Wayne’s World” and, from the same year as “Little Giants,” “Blue Chips” (click here for my review). All of those films were pre-“Little Giants.” He is currently in the insipid dreck of a hit TV show called “Modern Family.”

Waldron, who was 11 during filming, does a good job in her first film but doesn’t elevate the role although she’s very convincing. Waldron went on the next year to play another daughter in “The American President” and has been in a string of TV roles and most recently this year in the horror film “Stitch.”

Moranis is OK here, but doesn’t stretch himself the way O’Neill managed to accomplish. Moranis is good and his character is similar in manner and disposition to the FBI agent he played in “My Blue Heaven” (click here for my review). He is a steadying influence here and has been in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” “Ghostbusters” and “Parenthood” (click here for my review).

Here’s a look at the young actors who played on the “Little Giants” team and what they’ve been up to (all do a respectable job here):

  • Michael Zweiner played the flatulent “Rudy Zoltek” and has been in three other films (“Little Giants” was his first) and his last was in 2001.
  • Todd Bosley played “Jake Berman,” who was the brainy kid. “Little Giants” was Bosley’s first credit and first movie and he has gone on to a somewhat prolific career and has had roles in films such as “Jack” and TV appearances on shows diverse as “Seinfeld,” “Scrubs” and “House M.D.
  • Troy Simmons played the receiver who couldn’t catch (“Rashid ‘Hot Hands’ Hanon”) and “Little Giants” was also his first and only film. He had credits of three TV movies and a TV series role before his acting resume stopped in 1997.
  • Danny Pritchett played “’Rad’ Tad Simpson,” who was the scrawny nerd with the overprotective mother). “Little Giants” was his second role (after an episode of TV’s “In Living Color”) and his first film. His acting resume ends in 1996’s “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review).
  • Devon Sawa played dreamboat quarterback “Junior Floyd,” who was the object of Waldron’s desire and the son of the woman Moranis used to have a crush on. Sawa, who was in his first film here after three TV appearances, went on to do “Wild America” and “Slackers” and is a very active actor today.
  • Sam Horrigan played “Spike,” who is the beast among boys and the player that will make the difference (maybe!). He is in his second film here and has since done most of his work in TV including “Desperate Housewives” and “Holiday Engagement.”
  • Marcus Toji played “Marcus ‘The Toe,’” who was the team’s incompetent place kicker (except at the end – of course). Toji was also in “Jingle All the Way” as well as “Corrina, Corrina” and is very active today with mostly TV roles.

Of course what kids football film would be without some NFL stars and there are a few here (they give a pep talk after their bus driver stops for directions at Moranis’ service station). They are: John Madden as the coach and real life Cowboy Emmitt Smith and other stars Steve Emtman, Bruce Smith and Tim Brown. The real players who appear here are stars, but nowhere near the elite crew that appeared in “Necessary Roughness” (click here for my review and list of players).

Little Giants” was a bomb at the box office and with investors as it was the 73rd ranked film at the box office in 1994 with $19.3 million in revenue, according to Box Office Mojo. Since “Little Giants” had a budget of $20 million, according to Wiki, that makes it a loser for investors. The No. 1 film was “Forrest Gump” with $329.6 million (for the life of me, I’ll absolutely never understand the country’s fascination with that overrated film) and the No. 2 film was Disney’s “The Lion King” with $312.8 million. Also that year was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “True Lies” with Jamie Lee Curtis and it came in third with $146.2 million (click here for my review). Another release that year was the college basketball film “Blue Chips” with Nick Nolte (click here for my review).

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Susanna Thompson plays “Patty Floyd” as the love interest with Moranis, but the character is a bit lost in the background of the kids and their issues. Too bad this wasn’t a TV series where she could get meatier scenes later. She was also in a variety of TV shows including “Arrow.”
  • If you are ever glad that original ideas in film are not set in stone, please rejoice that you got O’Neill and Moranis here instead of the pair originally sought for the roles: Gary Busey and Randy Quaid. I’d say that Quaid would have made an interesting choice, but whomever thought Busey would fit in here had to be crazier than the actor himself.
  • The title of the film comes from O’Neill’s team being the “Cowboys” and so Moranis’ squad becomes the “Giants” off the rivalry of the NFL teams of the same names.
  • Plans for a sequel never came to fruition, but it might be nice to have a reunion film … hmmmm?
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “This movie was inspired by an early 1990s McDonald’s ad about Pee-Wee Football that ran during the Super Bowl. The day after it aired, Steven Spielberg liked it so much that he called up the ad’s creator, James Ferguson, and hired him to write the script for what became ‘Little Giants.’”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2015.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples
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