Some movies just stick with you. The nostalgia makes each viewing greater. David Mickey Evans' 1993 film The Sandlot is one of those, made even better by the fact that it is actually about nostalgia.
In it, a boy of about 12 named Scott Smalls moves to a suburban neighborhood in Southern California. It's 1962, and he is about to start junior high in the fall. He needs desperately to make a few new friends before the school year and, luckily, catches the eye of the town's junior legend, Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez or Benny "The Jet" as they call him. He will no doubt become the kid who makes it all the way to the bigs, a leader who gathers a team of neighborhood kids and enlists them in a constant practice session, even wanting to play when it's far too hot for the rest of the boys.
Narrated by an aged protagonist (Arliss Howard) in voiceover in the style of Rob Reiner's Stand by Me or TV's The Wonder Years, which had just finished its highly praised run on television, it plays as a remembrance of a simpler time full of long days and adventures and a never-ending baseball game as well as a classic 90s kids movie. It is also a sports movie but one about a love of America's greatest pastime and how it has shaped so many of us more than it is about winning anything.
Here is a film that has lasted, most likely due to its nature as a striking period piece. The script by director Evans and Robert Gunter is not particularly deep or game-changing, but it's always and forever fun. And it gave audiences of my generation some of its finest movie lines. And it's certainly not a bad looking movie either. Director of photography Anthony B. Richmond creates frames filled with the fun and humor of youth as well as the sentimentality of how wee see it all looking back.
"How do I catch it?" - Scottie Smalls
In this small moment of triumph, perhaps the greatest one of the film, we remember what it was like to make a great catch. For Scottie, it is the start of something that will last his whole life. With this catch, he is given a future and a best friend.
"You're killing me, Smalls!" - Hamilton "Ham" Porter
In this moment, the performance of young actor Patrick Renna as "Ham" matches the genius move of the screenwriters in delivering one of the great lines of the 90s. There are t-shirts with this line on it. I know. I have one. It gets compliments left and right.
"For-ev-er, for-ev-er, for-ev-er..." - Michael "Squints" Palledorous
In this moment, childhood exaggeration is taken to the highest of highs, as The Legend of the Beast emerges. I remember watching this with my Dad when I was a kid. He horse laughed at this scene. He must have related to it. Oh, yeah. He grew up in the 60s. In small town America. And loved baseball.
"Aww, man, he's in deep shit!" - Timmy Timmons
In "This Magic Moment," Squints has finally (and sneakily) conquered the older woman of his dreams, the lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn. The work of director Evans and his editor here is perfectly timed comedy. And this scene also serves as a reminder that 12-year-old boys have sharp tongues and aren't afraid to throw a cuss word around. It's The Goonies effect. This is why kids love this movie. It treats them in a real way, even if the events are outlandish and exaggerated.
"I guess we all felt like the big leaguers under the lights of some great stadium. Benny felt like that all the time." - Narrator
In this moment, neighborhood streets of a bygone era are given new life. The use of Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful" solidifies the 4th of July setting, the patriotism of a youth in the pre-Vietnam era, and a love of the most American of games.
"You play ball like a girl!" - Hamilton "Ham" Porter
In this sequence, we have the boys from the school team in a showdown with our sandlot boys, and we have another example of the stellar blend of images, great lines, including the mother of all insults, perfectly timed edits into brilliant reactions coaxed out of this young cast. It is laugh-out-loud funny. I literally watched this scene in full 10 times for this post. It is expertly put together and all the funnier and more memorable because of that skill. If only all kids movies were made with such care.
"Big Chief...the best!" - Bertram Grover Weeks
In this moment, a group of young men make a helluva stupid decision. Let us chew some tobacco for the first time and then get on the Trabant (now commonly known as the Wipeout) at the county fair. The inevitable vomiting wouldn't normally work for me. I usually hate those scenes. This one just rings so true.
"Who is she?" - Scottie Smalls
In this moment, the obsession with Babe Ruth gets real (and is finally understood) for Scottie. This is a priceless chunk of history all kids idealize in their heads, even kids of my generation. The feeling of what happens when Dad finds out, the anticipation, the fear. It's real here.
"I take that back. You're not in trouble. You're dead where you stand." - Mr. Mertle
In this moment, the lengthy final chase to save a priceless baseball has concluded. The love of baseball is evident on another level entirely with James Earl Jones' cameo as a former Negro League slugger, who knew Babe Ruth. He just wants to talk baseball. This is another triumph of this screenplay. So rich a character with such a lasting effect in only a few minutes of screen time.
"Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you'll never go wrong." - The Babe
The final moments, the prologue, serving to bookend the opening scene, is a bit sappy, overly-sentimental, but it works. At this point, we have been so invested in the fun of this movie, that the finale simply serves to underscore the feeling that we will miss these characters, as we miss our childhood.
Such is why this movie has lasted. It never dies because it knows how people remember their childhoods, and it allows us to relive only the good stuff over and over and over, which is something that is hard to do inside our own memories.
A Note on this Post
The List is a new series of essays in quotes and screen caps covering re-watches of my all-time favorite movies. It is named after an actual list I once made of all the movies I wanted to show my girlfriend (now wife) when we first started dating. It is now an ever-growing list of movies we've both seen and love and that I, particularly, find important enough to recommend as essential viewing for any movie lover.
So, why did I start with such a minor film like The Sandlot? One reason. It's the one that gave me this idea. I love it. It's a well-made movie, the kind that just doesn't get made anymore. SERIOUSLY! Where are the great live-action kids' movies? The ones that treat kids like real actual kids. They are so few and far between.