Oh, what could have been.
The Garbage Pail Kids movie based on the trading cards of the same name came out in 1987 and is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.
Instead of a clever approach at a unique idea, we instead got one of the worst movies ever made. A lot of this may be due to the fact they had to get something out quickly to take advantage of popularity, but I don’t think this approach has ever worked before in movies.
This blog will look at the Garbage Pail Kids movie and why it could have been something so much more than what we got.
Where Did The Garbage Pail Kids Come From?
Let’s take a quick look at the history of the Garbage Pail Kids. If you want the full in-depth look at this, you need to check out my blog that covers their whole history here.
Before all this, we need to start with the Cabbage Patch Kids. The Cabbage Patch Kids are one of the most successful toys of not only the 80s but of all time. They started out as a simple soft toy created by a lady named Martha Nelson Thomas. This idea was “borrowed” by Xavier Roberts who took them mainstream and allowed them to become one of the hottest toys of all time.
The next part of the story has to do with Topps Trading cards. Among sports cards, Topps had some other styles of trading cards including one called Wacky Packages. The Wacky Package cards would produce spoofs of popular consumer items such as cereals and or household cleaners etc.
So when the Cabbage Patch Kids became a massive hit in 1983, Topps thought it was a good idea to put out a line of Cabbage Patch Kids trading cards. This idea was nixed by the Cabbage Patch Kid people so Topps figured they would take a page from Wacky Packages and put out a parody line of the Cabbage Patch Kids.
They played around with different names to call this parody set of trading cards and one of those names was “Garbage Pail Kids.” It started out as a single card but the people at Topps thought this might make a good spin-off series and the Garbage Pail Kids were born.
The Success Of The Garbage Pail Kids
I don’t know where and when you grew up, but these things were huge when I was a kid. There is something about gross-out humor that will always appeal to kids and the Garbage Pail Kids were a massive hit almost immediately.
The more popular the Garbage Pail Kids become, the more opposition started to happen. Parents hated them, teachers hated them, and they would end up being banned in many schools. I remember my school not having an official ban but we had to keep them pretty low-key and hid them in our desks.
There was so much negative press around the Garbage Pail Kids but all this did was help drive up sales. The Cabbage Patch Kids people really didn’t like this either and the inevitable lawsuits started rolling in. Even though Topps claimed this was a parody, the judge involved saw it more as piracy because they were making money based on another creation – Garbage Pail Kids could not exist if it wasn’t for the Cabbage Patch Kids.
Topps would deal with this problem by changing the aesthetic look of the Garbage Pail Kids along with the fonts and logos used on the cards.
Riding The Wave Of Success Of The Garbage Pail Kids Into The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
Like any successful property, you want to strike when the iron is hot and milk this thing for all it is worth. In the 80s, there were so many iconic toys and shows that standing out became quite difficult. You were up against juggernauts such as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Transformers, He-Man, The Smurfs, and the list just goes on and on.
If you were going to make a dent in that market you had to make quick work at getting as much content out there as possible. And that’s what brings us to the Garbage Pail Kids movie.
This is now getting into the later part of the 80s and the interest in Garbage Pail Kids is starting to wane a bit. They were looking into creating a cartoon show – which we’ll get to later – and, of course, the smart move seemed to be to put out a movie.
Movies based on intellectual properties in the 80s could be pretty hit or miss. You had successful ones like the Transformers Movie and My Little Pony, but also some flops like the He-Man movie and the Gobots spinoff – The Rock Lords.
So, in combination with Atlantic Entertainment Group, Topps would produce a Garbage Pail Kids Movie.
Putting The Garbage Pail Kids Movie Together
Since this was seen as the final push for the Garbage Pail Kids, Topps and Atlantic Entertainment Group did not want to put a lot of money in this movie. It’s kind of like they were aware this was going to be a flop and they didn’t want to invest too much.
On a budget of only $1 million, they were going to produce an entire live-action feature film. Today, $1 million wouldn’t even cover the catering on most movies.
Rod Amateau was brought in to direct the Garbage Pail Kids movie and he had been a part of a lot of cool productions over the years including:
- The Dukes of Hazzard
- Gilligan’s Island
- My Mother The Car (this was a real show…)
- Mister Ed
- The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
It would end up being the last thing he directed before retiring in 1989…He took the job as simply a paycheck and seemed to know nothing about the Garbage Pail Kids. He had one meeting with the people from Topps which apparently was very awkward. He didn’t seem to care about any vision they may have had and would just make whatever he wanted.
It’s kind of interesting that they didn’t go with the cartoon series first before launching the movie, as it seems like these things were both supposed to go hand-in-hand together. But that didn’t really work out.
The Plot Of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
Ok, bear with me here. Our movie starts with a garbage can that is speeding toward earth. We never see it land but it somehow ends up in an antique shop. While this is going on, we meet our main character Dodger who is being chased by people in their twenties which no one seemed to look into.
Dodger works at the antique shop and one day the bullies track him down there ready to do bully stuff because they are broken inside, hate themselves, and project this on to other people as all deadbeat bullies do.
A tussle begins in the shop and in the middle of this, the garbage can is knocked over spilling a green ooze out of it – Make your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle connections here…
Before he gets the crap kicked out of him some mysterious little people emerge thwarting the attack. After this, we meet the Garbage Pail Kids! They are disgusting, misshapen little humanoids with various flatulence issues – like my prom date.
Like the Ninja Turtles, the kids are forbidden to go out in public as it’s feared they will be attacked by the “normies” aka normal people. It turns out there are other Garbage Pail Kids out there and the bunch we meet are still searching for them.
We then get into this whole thing how the Garbage Pail Kids are adept at sewing clothes and are producing them to be sold? The kids eventually venture outside in disguise and they end up in a bar drinking like the Gremlins do on Christmas Eve.
This brings us to a fashion show! (fashion show, fashion show, fashion show at lunch!). The main clothes designer has finally met the kids, is repulsed by them but realizes she can use their talents. She locks them in the basement of the antique shop but they get captured by the bullies who take them to – and I’m not making this up – “The State Home For The Ugly”. This is a prison where those deemed too unattractive for society are locked up to be executed.
What in God’s name is going on in this movie?
Dodger helps them escape and brings them to the fashion show which they end up trashing. The bullies end up being locked up and they try to recapture the kids into their garbage can but the kids bust out on ATVs into the night to wreak more havoc.
Who Was In This Movie?
Let’s take a look at some of our contestants!
- Captain Manzini was played by Anthony Newley – He was a musician and singer who was once nominated for an Academy Award and has been in dozens of movies.
- Dodger was played by Mackenzie Astin – Astin was son of John Astin who played Gomez on the Addams Family. He apparently never told his dad he was auditioning. His dad read the script and thought it was so bad he tried to get his son out of it but he had already signed a contract.
- Tangerine was played by Katie Barberie – She was on Kids Incorporated, appeared in Ferrie Bueller’s Day Off, and Silver Spoons.
- Juice was played by Ron MacLachlan – he was also in the movie Silk Stockings
Who Played The Garbage Pail Kids?
The kids were played by little people actors with a few notable ones who have been in a lot of amazing movies:
Phil Fondacaro played Greaser Greg and he appeared in Willow, The Black Cauldron, Troll, and was an Ewok in Return of the Jedi. You’ll remember him because he is the only Ewok that we see get killed in the battle.
Debbie Lee Carrington played Violet Vomit. Carrington has done some AMAZING stuff. She was also an Ewok in Return of the Jedi, but also appeared in the Polar Express, Howard the Duck, and was a martian rebel in Total Recall. You might also remember her from Seinfeld where she played Tammy in the episode “The Stand-In” where they find out Mickey is using shoe lifts to look taller.
She also played little Bigfoot in the Harry in the Hendersons movie, was in Men in Black, and performed stunts in Titanic.
So that was a few of the physical performers but the kids in the Garbage Pail Kids movie were brought to life by various voice actors. Most notable is Winnie the Pooh himself Jim Cummings who provided voices for Greaser Greg and Nat Nerd. Cummings was also the voice of Tigger and the Tasmanian Devil and later said it was the only thing he ever regretted making.
Why This Movie Did Have Some Great Intent To it
Obviously no studio or production company wants to put out a flop and lose money and The Garbage Pail Kids movie was no different. Topps saw some possibilities in this unique movie idea and the actual creators of the original Garbage Pail Kids trading cards had some creative ideas to make this thing work.
But it comes back to director Amateaus intent to just get something made and take the payday from it. In an interview with MentalFloss, Garbage Pail Kids creator Mark Newgarden stayed that He (Amateau) didn’t want Topps getting in the way of anything he came up with and it didn’t help that he knew nothing about what made The Garbage Pail Kids tick.
Amateau cared so little about this film that the people at Topps thought it wouldn’t even get made – which might have been the best approach based on what got released. When the Topps people saw the first images of makeup tests and characters designed they were horrified. It’s not that the Garbage Pail Kids necessarily lend themselves to cinematic mastery, but what Amateau was coming up with didn’t even attempt to create quality.
The story of the movie was written by Bill Tennant who was in charge of the distribution of the movie – not exactly who you want to take creative control of your story. The story was written on a single sheet of paper and then turned into a script less than 60 days before shooting started. The Garbage Pail Kids creators were hoping to be involved in the scriptwriting as they are not only very creative people but had specific ideas that would work well for a movie.
They were kept completely out of the loop but the idea was they were needed to keep making new series of the trading cards. To the people who write the cheques, once they had a deal it was a “take the money and run” situation.
Production On The Garbage Pail Kids Movie & Why It Should Have Been Different
When asked about thoughts on the story for the film, Amateau replied: “why would I think about it?” This was clearly one of the biggest problems facing the movie as he would go on to say, “It’s not a picture you think about, it’s a picture you shoot.”
The other big problem facing the movie was the original intent. The idea was that this was going to lend itself better to an animated movie instead of a live-action one. But they just didn’t have the budget for it as animation was much more expensive in those days.
The idea that could have made this movie great was a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (check out my blog on that amazing movie here) approach where it would be a combination of animation and live-action. To me, this would have been the approach that could have made this movie something pretty good. But, again, the cost was just too much.
So they were forced to go with the cheapest option which was obviously to put costumes and heads onto little people and hope this would translate well on the big screen. Unfortunately, the costumes were so cheaply made that the actors could barely breathe in them. They would have to rush the scenes before anyone would pass out due to lack of oxygen,
The actually would use stopwatches with paramedics nearby knowing they could only go a certain length of time before there would be trouble for the actor. The budget was also so low that they could only afford to make one heard per character. If the head got damaged then too bad; you were stuck with it!
So you add these crappy costumes that the actors can’t breathe in and you mix it to having to shoot in a warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. With no air conditioning, shooting the movie became a nightmare. Besides the discomfort for the actors, the metal roof of the warehouse was interfering with the radio signals controlling the facial expression on the heads.
Releasing The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
Here’s another issue: It was always thought that this would be better-intended fas a TV movie and I think you can see it reflected in the film. I don’t know if there’s ever been any good “made for TV” movie. At the very least, this should have been a “straight to video” type production.
Either way, this movie was rushed and finished in just two months. There was no screening and no feedback to make improvements or changes to the film. Pretty much everyone who worked on the movie wouldn’t see it until it was released in theatres on August 21, 1987.
Not having a pre-screener was probably a good idea as it cut down on the amount of possible negative reviews that would come out before the movie debuted.
It didn’t matter.
Critics trashed the movie with many calling it one of the worst movies ever made. Kevin Thomas in a review for the L.A. Times in 1987 stated that” They should have kept a lid on the Garbage Pail Kids movie”. Today, it has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It also opened around the same time as “Dirty Dancing”, “The Big Easy”, and still out for kids: “The Care Bears Adventures In Wonderland”. The Garbage Pail Kids movie made a paltry $600,000 its first weekend and would only end up making around $1.5 million by the end of its run. Even though it was made for just $1 million it was still financial flop due to all the money that went into advertising and marketing.
How The Garbage Pail Kids Movie SHOULD Have Went
This movie did have the chance to be something unique. Even though the concept of the kids is gross, it is still somewhat intriguing and it would have lent itself very well to some sort of horror movie. It’s hard to look at the Child’s Play movies and think about how they missed an opportunity to go that route.
Not only did the people at Topps think it would have suited a horror movie better, but the actors and others involved with the film thought they were missing the mark with what was produced. If they were going to stick to their wacky premise, they should have gone the live-action/comedy route like Roger Rabbit and bite the bullet on the cost.
I guess you only get out of a movie what you put into it, but animated characters over a live-action would have allowed for much more creativity instead of the hindrances that came from cheap costumes.
But overall, the movie should have had a more evil approach because that’s what these characters are at their core. They had the opportunity to potentially make a horror classic and it would have appealed to a wider range of audiences. I think the problem is no one knew exactly who this movie was intended for. It was thought that no one over the age of 5 was going to see it – but it still had a PG-13 rating.
By telling a horror story, they would have attracted an audience of teenagers and adults. They would have already have been familiar with the trading cards so it wouldn’t have been another generic horror movie but one with a pop culture twists.
The horror movie genre is a pretty good money maker – especially in the 80s – and people tend to go to these movies site unseen just due to the fact it is a horror movie. Tying in this with a known franchise like the Garbage Pail Kids could have made for that great Chucky/Child’s Play type creation.
The Garbage Pail Kids movie still does have a bit of a cult following and they were even planning a sequel while the first one was being made. That obviously didn’t happen. The cartoon show that was supposed to be released alongside it ended up being thwarted by parental and religious groups and never saw the light of day even though they had made 13 episodes.
They eventually came out on DVD but the whole issues was that all things Garbage Pail Kids had run its course going later into the decade. They still have a legacy as the trading cards continue to release new series’, but the movie itself remains a stain on the history of cinema when it could have been something unique.