Dennis the Menace (film)
Dennis the Menace (initially released in the United Kingdom as Dennis to avoid confusion with an identically named character) is a 1993 American comedy film based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. The film was directed by Nick Castle and written and produced by John Hughes, and concerns the misadventures of a mischievous child (Mason Gamble) who wreaks havoc on his next door neighbor George Wilson (Walter Matthau), usually hangs out with his friends Joey (Kellen Hathaway) and Margaret Wade (Amy Sakasitz), and is followed everywhere by his dog, Ruff. The film also features a cameo appearance by Jeannie Russell who was a cast member on the original television show.
|Dennis the Menace|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nick Castle|
|Written by||John Hughes|
by Hank Ketcham
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Cinematography||Thomas E. Ackerman|
|Edited by||Alan Heim|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$117.2 million|
A direct-to-video sequel called Dennis the Menace Strikes Again was later released in 1998 without the cast from this film. It was also followed by a Saturday morning cartoon series called All-New Dennis the Menace. Another direct-to-video sequel called A Dennis the Menace Christmas was released in 2007 with different cast from both first and second films.
Dennis Mitchell (Mason Gamble) is a five-year-old boy who lives with his parents, Henry (Robert Stanton) and Alice (Lea Thompson) in Evanston, Illinois, and is the bane of next-door neighbor, George Wilson (Walter Matthau), and other people in his neighborhood. Though he means well, Dennis ends up causing lots of trouble for George, such as shooting an aspirin into his mouth with a slingshot. George's wife Martha (Joan Plowright) adores Dennis as if he were her own grandson, as she and George never had children, and knows that Dennis never causes trouble maliciously.
One day, Dennis accidentally spills a bucket of paint in his parents' garage and then fervently attempts to vacuum it up, but ends up spilling a glob of it which splinters onto George's barbecue grill. That night, Dennis pranks his babysitter Polly and her boyfriend Mickey with doorbell pranks causing them to stick a thumbtack on the doorbell and prepare water and flour to dump on the prankster. However, George goes over there to prove that Dennis was responsible for the paint on his chicken only to ring the doorbell, stick his thumb, and get water and flour dumped on him, much to Martha's amusement.
The next morning, Dennis goes over to the Wilsons' house to apologize for the events of the previous night but finds himself playing with Mr. Wilson's dentures, losing the two front teeth down the drain, and replacing them with Chiclets in the process. Meanwhile, a drifting thief named Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd) arrives in town and starts burglarizing people's houses, as well as stealing things outdoors and striking fear into children he meets.
When both Henry and Alice are called away on business trips at the same time, they can't find anyone to watch Dennis due to his reputation, so they end up asking George and Martha to babysit him. The Wilsons agree, George reluctantly. That night, George is further irritated by Dennis when he spills bath water on the bathroom floor, replaces George's nasal spray with mouthwash, his mouthwash with toilet cleanser, and brings Dennis's pet dog, Ruff, into the house, which George mistakes for Martha in the dark.
George has been chosen to host the Summer Floraganza, a long-awaited garden party. He has been growing and nurturing a rare night-blooming orchid for forty years especially for the occasion; the flower is famed for blooming for just a few seconds and then quickly dying. Alice’s flight is delayed due to a thunderstorm, forcing Dennis to stay with the Wilsons for the night of the garden party, much to George's dismay. At Martha's insistence, George ends up allowing Dennis to attend the party, but Dennis quickly distances himself from the guests when several women pinch his cheeks. He then finds himself pushing the garage door button, causing the garage door to knock over the dessert table and make a huge mess. Against Martha's objections, George angrily sends Dennis upstairs.
As the Wilsons and their guests await the flower's nocturnal blooming, Switchblade Sam robs the house; Dennis hears him as he is leaving. Just as the flower is about to bloom, Dennis alerts everyone of the robbery, distracting them just long enough to miss the flower's brief display. Furious about his forty year investment gone to waste and the constant mishaps Dennis has caused, George severely scolds Dennis by telling him that he is a pest, a menace and a selfish spoiled child; that the opportunity to see the flower bloom meant more to George than Dennis ever will; and that he never wants to see or know Dennis anymore. Heartbroken, Dennis breaks down in tears while apologizing and flees on his bike into the woods, where he eventually bumps into Sam. Sam abducts him, intending to flee aboard a train and use Dennis as a hostage should he encounter the police, but Dennis, not knowing what a hostage is, is happy to have met an adult.
Henry and Alice arrive home soon after only to learn from Martha and the police of Dennis's disappearance, prompting a town-wide search. Having discovered that Dennis was telling the truth about the burglary, a guilt-ridden George reflects on all the harsh things he has said to Dennis and carries out his own search for him. Meanwhile, Dennis unintentionally but effectively defeats Sam by tying him up with a rope, torching him twice, accidentally bludgeoning him several times, and handcuffing him and losing the handcuff key in a pot of baked beans, among other things. He also discovers that Sam was the one who stole Mr. Wilson's gold. He returns home the next morning with an injured Sam in tow, having also recovered George's gold coins. Before long, Sam is taken into police custody by the amused police chief (Paul Winfield), who had advised him earlier to leave town.
Dennis and George make amends and the Mitchells and Wilsons become close friends on better terms. That night, Alice tells the Wilsons that she no longer has to travel out of town and will stay to work on local projects, and that Dennis can go to work with her since they now have a daycare center. George scoffs at this, saying he and Martha will be happy to continue watching Dennis, explaining that he's learned some new things about children. Just as George finishes his revelation, Dennis accidentally flings a flaming marshmallow onto George's forehead.
As the closing credits start to roll, Andrea, Alice's egotistical coworker, finds Dennis sitting near the copy machine as she comes in to use it. He asks if he can push the button on it, but she arrogantly tells him no. He then pushes the "PRINT" one, causing the paper feeder to suck up Andrea's scarf, pinning her face-down on the scanner bed, and the machine starts copying her terrified face.
- Mason Gamble as Dennis Mitchell, an accident-prone 5-year-old boy
- Walter Matthau as George Wilson, a neighbor and Martha's husband who is usually annoyed by Dennis antics.
- Joan Plowright as Martha Wilson, George's wife
- Christopher Lloyd as Switchblade Sam, a drifting burglar
- Robert Stanton as Henry Mitchell, Alice's husband and Dennis' father
- Lea Thompson as Alice Mitchell, Henry's wife and Dennis' mother
- Amy Sakasitz as Margaret Wade, Dennis' friend
- Kellen Hathaway as Joey McDonald, Dennis' friend
- Paul Winfield as the Chief of Police
- Ben Stein as Boss (only as a cameo shot at a meeting)
- Natasha Lyonne as Polly
- Devin Ratray as Mickey
- Hank Johnston as Gunther Beckman
- Melinda Mullins as Andrea
- Billie Bird as Edith Butterwell
- Bill Erwin as Edward Little
- Arnold Stang as the Photographer
- Jeannie Russell as Neighbor
Mason Gamble won the role of Dennis Mitchell after beating out a reported 20,000 other children who had auditioned for it. The script was written to use certain references from both Back to the Future (also starring Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson) and Home Alone (also written and produced by John Hughes and co-starring Devin Ratray).
The shortlived Big Screen Records label released an album of Goldsmith's score alongside the film in July 1993; La-La Land Records issued the complete score in April 2014 as part of their Expanded Archival Collection on Warner Bros. titles.
Additionally, three old-time pop hits were featured in the film: "Don't Hang Up" by The Orlons, "Whatcha Know Joe" by Jo Stafford (from the 1963 album, Getting Sentimental over Tommy Dorsey), and "A String of Pearls" by Glenn Miller.
The film was a success at the box office. Against a $35 million budget, it grossed $51.3 million domestically and a further $66 million overseas to a total of $117.3 million worldwide, despite generally negative reviews from film critics.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 27%, based on 26 reviews with an average rating of 3.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Walter Matthau does a nice job as Mr. Wilson, but Dennis the Menace follows the Home Alone formula far too closely".
Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "There's a lot to like in Dennis the Menace. But Switchblade Sam prevents me from recommending it.". Mason Gamble received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst New Star but also won "Best Youth Actor Leading Role in a Motion Picture: Comedy" at the 15th Youth in Film Awards.
- TV Guide September 17-23, 1994. pg. 23.
- "Weekend Box Office : 'Park' Paces Summer Moviegoing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "July Fourth Weekend Sets Off Box-Office Boom : Movies: 'The Firm,' with $31.5 million for the weekend, leads the way. Total movie receipts for the four-day holiday are an estimated $120 million". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "Review/Film; Dennis, Mr. Wilson, Slow Burns And Cats". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "MOVIE REVIEW : No Menace, but No Macaulay Either : In the Era of 'Home Alone,' 'Dennis' Is Agreeably Low-Key". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "Dennis the Menace (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- Ebert, Roger (June 25, 1993). "Dennis the Menace". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 9, 2018.