Fox // 1993 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // April 19th, 2013
"Remember kid. There are heroes and there are legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."
There couldn't be a better time for The Sandlot to have its 20th anniversary. As it was back in 1993, April means the beginning of a new baseball season, the first whiff of Spring, and the kind of weather that makes folks feel nostalgic for days gone by. For plenty of folks, that includes director David Evans' feature film debut, which celebrates two decades with updated packaging for the 2011 Blu-ray, including a new slipcover and 10 character baseball cards.
It's the summer of 1962, and young Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry, The Black Donnellys) has moved to a new town with his mother (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and stepfather (Denis Leary, Rescue Me). Looking to make new friends he stakes out a rundown field nicknamed the Sandlot by neighborhood boys who gather there every day to play baseball: Benny (Mike Vitar, D2: The Mighty Ducks), "Ham" (Patrick Renna, Son In Law), "Squints" (Chauncey Leopardi, Freaks and Geeks), "Yeah-Yeah" (Marty York, Boy Meets World), Bertram (Grant Gelt, Avalon), Kenny (Brandon Adams, The People Under the Stairs), and brothers Tommy (Shane Obedzinski, Matinee) and Timmy (Victor DiMattia, Turner & Hooch).
Scotty tries to join in but he's a disaster on the diamond. While the others mock him, Benny takes Smalls under his wing and teaches him how to play. Soon, he's one of the guys, playing ball, sleeping out in a treehouse, and heading to the neighborhood pool so Squints can ogle a pretty older lifeguard (Marley Shelton, Grindhouse). Scotty's baseball naiveté catches up with him, however, when it turns out the baseball he borrowed from his stepdad's trophy room is a priceless heirloom signed by Babe Ruth -- the significance of which he learns only after belting the ball over the lot fence into a junkyard guarded by a legendary monster dog the boys call The Beast.
Comparisons between The Sandlot and other coming-of-age movies like Stand By Me begin and end with a young ensemble cast, and oldies soundtrack. The movie is set in 1962 but it might as well take place on Mars. Its sparkling clean suburbia is all surface, with no hint of the cultural conflict that defined the decade. The Sandlot exists in an endless summer free from dead bodies, abusive fathers, and fear for the future. This is a movie where kids have no responsibilities off the baseball diamond, and troubling situations never rank higher than "pickle" status. Although the clothes and cars are right, the film isn't trying to recreate a bygone era. The Sandlot is a family friendly fantasy designed to make adults feel nostalgia for a simpler time.
The film is partly about baseball, although there isn't as much ball-playing as you might expect. Evans clearly loves the game, but he is more interested in the way kids see the world. The lot is a place where playground rumors become indisputable fact, and fear of the unknown turns something as harmless as a drooling dog into a man-eating creature the size of a dump truck. Benny and the gang play ball and get into some trouble at the local pool and fairground, but most of the story focuses on the story of the Babe and the Beast. Smalls losing his stepdad's priceless baseball is something out of a sitcom, but at least it allows Evans to go full fantasy for the final act. Because the boys believe the junkyard is guarded by the canine equivalent of Jaws, that's what we see during their many inventive attempts to take back the ball from a giant dog puppet.
The Sandlot is a movie helped by nostalgia. Those who loved it as kids will probably still love it. Removed from those lingering good feelings, it's a shallow feel-good flick that doesn't have much to say. Joe Dante's Matinee, which came out the same year, used B-movies to explore the effect of the Cold War on kids growing up in the '60s. The Sandlot doesn't use its story to explore much of anything. Saving the ball from the Beast isn't a metaphor for some larger problem outside the boys' control. It doesn't even have a satisfying resolution. All of Scotty's problems are solved thanks to the intervention of the most unfortunate movie trope: the magical black man -- played here by baseball movie mainstay James Earl Jones as a blind ex-ballplayer who just happens to have an even rarer baseball than the one Scotty stole. Family movie or not, that's just lazy.
The Sandlot: 20th Anniversary returns to Blu-ray with a mostly impressive 2.35:1 1080p transfer. It's a bright, sharp, colorful picture that's unspoiled by occasional edge enhancement. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track keeps most of the action up front, using the surround speakers to fill out the soundtrack of obvious '60s pop selections like "Tequila," "Wipe Out," and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
If studios are going to bother putting out an anniversary edition of a movie, they should make sure it has more bonus features than this. Besides Blu-ray and DVD copies of the movie, The Sandlot limps in with a 6-minute promotional featurette, seven 30-second TV spots, and the trailer -- all in standard def. The one new extra is a collection of 10 character baseball cards, each with a photo and movie quote on the front and the Sandlot 20th anniversary artwork on the back. They do nothing for me; your collectible mileage may vary.
I understand a lot of people really like The Sandlot. I assume that's because they watched it when they were young. The movie is drenched in nostalgia, for real things like baseball and childhood friends and not-so-real things like this sanitized version of the '60s. There is fun to be had with The Sandlot, but it's all on the surface. Every choice David Evans made was the easiest one possible, from the predictable soundtrack picks, to the "missing baseball" plot, to having the boys worship the most famous of baseball player of all time. Despite all its problems the film is fun and very watchable, thanks largely to its charming young cast. Evans understands the way kids view the world, blurring fantasy and reality in scenes that show the Beast as big and ferocious as the boys imagine it to be. It's too bad that idea isn't in a better movie.
A lazy pop fly.
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* TV Spots
* Baseball Cards
* DVD Copy