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'The Adventures in Babysitting' Model: Why 'Fun Size' Gets It Right While Others Have Failed

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Oct 22, 2012 | 9:52am EDT

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Adventures in BabysittingFor many of us, babysitting was either one of our earliest occupations or a compensation-free family obligation. The natural order dictates that older children are mandated to care for their younger siblings. Even if you’re an only child, it’s safe to say, that you were likely saddled with the task of supervising younger cousins, neighbors, etc. The worst-case scenario, of course, was when you’d be charged with babysitting detail when you had already made other, more socially rewarding plans.

One of the greatest things about comedies in the 1980s was how well they tapped into the universal youth experience. Even when the specific plot elements ventured to the absurd or the hilariously over-the-top, the films were still rooted in an insightful grasp of what it meant to be a teenager during that cinematically seminal decade. John Hughes was the undisputed king of filmic youth culture in the '80s, but another filmmaker vital to the era was Chris Columbus. His first directorial effort, Adventures in Babysitting, is one of the prime examples of this youthful understanding.

Adventures in Babysitting, its self-evident title notwithstanding, is the story of teenage girl Chris (Elisabeth Shue), whose plans for a big date run aground, and instead she ends up getting hired to watch a couple of kids. Unfortunately, Chris’ friend Brenda gets stranded downtown. Chris must now pile the kids in the car and head into the city, which sets in motion a series of incredibly unfortunate events that seriously threaten the likelihood of her getting paid for this babysitting gig. It is an absolute classic, and not just because it stars the astronomically adorable Shue.

The movie is a classic style single-evening comedy with a plot full of out-of-control hijinks, and plenty of wonderful decade flavoring; like an '80s-set, teenaged It Happened One Night. It has genuine characters, a great cast, and even an appearance by Thor… sort of. But more than all of that, it keeps its protagonist likable even as she basically endangers the lives of three children. She’s not ferrying the kids in her care into peril for selfish reasons. She’s trapped between a rock and a hard place, and makes the tough decision. The stakes are appropriately established to reasonably absolve Chris of taking the kids she’s watching into the city at night.

This seemingly small facet of Adventures in Babysitting is actually the most crucial component to its success, as evidenced by the 2011 comedy The Sitter, starring Jonah Hill. The Sitter could not be a more desperate attempt to recapture the spark of Adventures in Babysitting if it were an actual sanctioned remake of Adventures in Babysitting. The problem with the film, however, is that it misunderstands this fundamental detail. fun sizeWhen Hill makes the irresponsible decision to take the kids in his care into the city, it’s for the far less altruistic motivation of getting laid. It is for this reason that his character is wholly unlikable, and the film’s tone is woefully muddled. The other issue with The Sitter is that, unlike Adventures in Babysitting, its lineup of babysat stars is crude and abusive the point that the audience cares little whether they make it back home.

Can the Adventures in Babysitting formula ever be recreated? Enter Fun Size. If you blink, you may miss the advertising for this upcoming Nickelodeon comedy, but Fun Size is a surprisingly charming and sincere Halloween romp. The story follows a young girl named Wren (Victoria Justice), whose plans to attend the hottest All Hallows Eve party are derailed when she’s forced to take her little brother trick-or-treating. The younger sibling in question is a strange, mute troublemaker dressed like a one-armed Spider-Man. He manages to elude his big sis, and the evening becomes a wild hunt to retrieve this pint-sized terror.

Here again, our put-upon teen protagonist does not invite chaos into her evening, nor is her brother’s predicament the result of any selfish choice on her part. We’re therefore able to enjoy the steadily escalating lunacy of the movie while remaining empathetic to the heroine. Also similar to Adventures in Babysitting is that, while a bit of a maniac, the crud tyke in Wren’s charge has a pronounced measure of sweetness. He manages to stay lovable, even as he causes the most bedlam.

While Fun Size doesn’t feel as much a direct riff on Adventures in Babysitting as did The Sitter, it nevertheless speaks to the endearing qualities contained therein. It’s no leap to suggest that if, like this writer, you harbor an affinity for Columbus’ 1987 classic, Fun Size will prove a full-size treat.

[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures, Touchstone Films]

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