The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is rotten to the core. I wish it wasn’t. I wish the messages they bombard you with at the end of the film regarding unrequited love, standing up for yourself and your friends, workers’ rights and sweatshops, inner beauty versus outer beauty, greed and others came from a pure place. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t.
A quick summary – Garbage Pail Kids is a movie made by Topps Trading Cards to advertise and sell a card series by the same name. It follows the adventures of a twelve-year-old named “Dodger” and his quest for the love of a high school girl named “Tangerine.” One day he knocks over a garbage can in an antique store which (naturally) releases the Garbage Pail Kids. The way they are described before they escape is as a chaotic and uncontrollable force, and after they’re out, they spend the rest of the movie remaining subservient to the twelve-year-old who demands they make an absurd number of fashionable (by 80’s standards) outfits within three days’ time. The reason they make these fashion forward garments is because of Dodger, because Tangerine has dreams of becoming an owner of her very own fashion label, and Dodger is willing to push his new found friends to do the hard work of impressing a lady for him where he lacks the natural ability to do so himself (like most middle schoolers). Anyway, things happen, madness ensues.
Somewhere in there, the movie changes course from “protect the world from the chaos of the Garbage Pail Kids” to “Protect the GPK from the world.” After this, Dodger’s love, Tangerine, learns about the GPK. She betrays Dodger’s GPKs to her boyfriend, who kidnaps them to a place reserved only for ugly people. After rescuing The GPK, Dodger confronts Tangerine and tells her he doesn’t like her anymore. End.
Metaphorically, the audience is not represented by anyone in this movie, with the closest relatable character being Dodger (even more relatable if you have people locked in your basement turned sweatshop). If you can forgive him his faults, however, Dodger is to the audience as the film itself is to the love interest, Tangerine. The comparisons of the characters in the movie to the execution of the filming of it are complementary to one another, and that is where the true art of this film lies.
First, the movie is an advertisement, plain and simple. It was treated as one (though admittedly many advertisements are more entertaining and contain a billion times more emotional content) by director Rod Amateau, who claimed it as nothing more than a “payday.” I can’t fault him for this as he openly admits to it (indeed, it seems to be his philosophy), and to making only one film that he felt had any artistic integrity. In his words, he recognized early on that he could not give a lot of himself to film as an art, but he still liked making a living in film. This movie, thanks to that mentality, is an interesting insight into the business side of Hollywood filmmaking. I think it’s also noteworthy that this was the last film he ever worked on.
Garbage Pail Kids took sixty days from inception to completion. That means that in sixty days they had the idea for the film, wrote it, cast it, had sets and costumes made, filmed, edited and released it in two months’ time. All this was accomplished on a “measly” budget of $30 million dollars, though in an interview, Rod contends that it was made for about a million, but he may have confused the word “budget” with “box office gross.” That’s some fast business.
Remember those puppets in the movie, the Garbage Pail Kids ones? They were not puppets. Rod recounted, “I don’t remember puppets… they (puppeteers) are very talented and enormously expensive,” he went on, “we got dwarves—there’s plenty of them—we got dwarves and you know, put heads on’em, and found out how long they could survive in there without breathing, and it turned out to be about five, seven minutes.” For those of you wondering how this is even allowed, he says he got someone in an HR/OSHA-esque position to time it and sign off on it. At least they were humane about it.
It’s almost like the filmmakers are to Tangerine as the movie is to Tangerine’s clothes (which she sews, and buys thrift shop stuff to sell at night clubs around the city). The main difference being that people wanted Tangerine’s clothes. The ones she was selling I mean. Wait! Nope! I forgot about the part where she literally takes her shirt off and sells it.
I’m simply trying to say that the fact that this movie exists is a prime example of art imitating life (horrifying), and life imitating art. I don’t know which is sadder in this case. The decision to make the movie, and the film itself, are as devoid of emotional content as any sociopath trying to get from you what they want most. It’s scary to think about, but that’s kind of an art of its own, unintentional though it may be. So sit down, and take in the accidentally artful ugliness that is The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Or survive it. Or endure it. Whatever.
Ameteau, Rod. Interview by Jon Olsen. "An Interview with Rod Amateau, director of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie." Angry Monkey Reader. 26 10 2002. 10 . Print. http://www.normalpeoplelikeyou.com/article_assets/garbagepailkidsinterview.htm