Directed by: David Mickey Evans
Premise: Set in the summer of 1962, a shy new kid on the block falls in with a group of baseball playing neighborhood boys and gains an appreciation for the sport while getting into summer adventures.
What Works: There is a distinction to be made between children’s films and family films. Children’s films are movies that are made specifically for children; they may have an educational value but the films are designed for a specific audience and are best appreciated with the adults out of the room. Family films are designed to be viewed by parents with their children and aim to entertain both segments of the audience. Successful family films usually tell stories of a scale, complexity, and intensity that will entertain both parents and children and the narratives contain some kind of message or theme that bonds the children and the adults together as they watch it. In that respect, The Sandlot is a family film and a very good one. The premise of the story is familiar: a young outsider makes friends and finds a comfortable social space in the neighborhood. But what The Sandlot does well is to create a unique and engaging set of characters and set them upon memorable adventures. The child actors of The Sandlot are goofy but not obnoxious and the film isn’t afraid of the crass and vulgar qualities of youth. The youngsters occasionally use course language, although not too much, and they drop the expressions at the right moments and in the correct proportions so that the words still have an impact and retain their charm. Although The Sandlot is not exactly The Catcher in the Rye, it does manage to tell a coming of age story that grazes on bigger and broader themes. Located behind the baseball diamond is a junkyard that is guarded by a dog known to the kids as “The Beast” and when the boys find themselves forced into crossing that barrier and facing their fears the film manages a little bit of insight about growing up without belaboring the point. For older viewers, especially those of the baby boomer generation, The Sandlot has some added nostalgic meaning. This film takes place in the summer of 1962 and that specific time is important. Like American Graffiti, which is set in the same summer as The Sandlot, this film captures the end of the post-war period and the last moments of calm before the social upheavals of the 1960s. This is key to the nostalgic appeal of the film. “Good old days” scenarios should never be taken at face value and they can be problematic, especially when told from the point of view of predominantly white, middle class characters in the early 1960s. But the earnestness with which The Sandlot tells its story makes its wistfulness tolerable.
What Doesn’t: Admittedly, The Sandlot does not reach the levels of more impressive baseball movies like Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. Whenever the film strays from baseball, which it does in the final segment of the story, it becomes more incredulous and cartoonish. The Sandlot is an unequivocally nice and safe picture, which is partly a result of it being so nostalgic, and so its ability to be profound is hampered. The film should not be confused with The Virgin Suicides or even Stand By Me; The Sandlot comes nowhere near the depth or quality of those films. But as a picture geared toward family audiences it does work.
DVD extras: Trailers and TV spots and featurette.
Bottom Line: The Sandlot falls short of being a classic but it is the kind of light family entertainment that is very pleasant to watch on a summer evening.
Episode: #344 (June 19, 2011)