The best part about going to a children's movie is that the audience cheers when it starts. Certainly it did when I saw The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (hereinafter referred to as BNB II). Now BNB II is not up to BNB I, but then, in movies, sports, kissing and most other endeavors, sequels never live up to originals. To be fair we must also look at BNB II this way: it is far superior to Benji II, and I liked Benji I better than BNB I. BNB II is also infinitely better than any of the silly muck that the simulated adult minds at Disney have been foisting on children for a generation.
In any event, the Bears have been turned into a regular, uh, species. BNB III, starring the former Tony Curtis, has begun production in Japan, and BNB IV is already in the old think tank. I'm sure we can confidently expect, soon, The Bad News Bears Meet Jaws, starring Jerry Lewis and Tuesday Weld.
The Bears were created by Bill Lancaster, Burt's son. I have wondered how much the comic strip Peanuts must have subconsciously inspired him; a lot, I suppose. With Charlie Brown, Charles Schulz pioneered bringing sports—baseball especially—into the forefront of adult representations of popular children's culture. Previously, sports played only a small part in the lives of young cartoon characters, and show business appeared almost completely ignorant of how prominent games are in the lives of children. In the Our Gang shorts and the Andy Hardy films, right on through The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch on TV, the young principals devoted little of their energies to sports and much more to clubs and theatricals ("Hey, gang, we can put the show on right here in the barn!"). Certainly one reason why the Bears have been so popular is that they more accurately reflect the competitive nature of childhood while maintaining the mischievousness.
And yet, it is significant that in both BNB I and II the Bears are abject failures until they are transformed by an adult (Walter Matthau in I, William De-vane in II). Traditionally in children's films the kids did it themselves. To Hollywood a child's imagination was equivalent, say, to a woman's intuition, and children could pull things off that grownups wouldn't dare try. But in the Bears' world of the 1970s, in which children are growing up with atrophied imaginations before a TV set that does all the creating for them, the kids have to depend upon grown-ups to guide them with stylized, old grown-up thinking. And this is peculiar to the Bears' movies, just as it seems, sadly, to be accurate.
September 11, 1977
Still, in some contradiction, the Bears' principal opponents are adults, not the other kids' teams. Kids loved all the dirty words in BNB I, not so much because they were forbidden fruit, but because the movie kids said them to adults, to the actors on the screen and—even better—to the grown-ups watching in the theater. There is little vulgarity in BNB II, but the same result is obtained in an early scene in which Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley), the loner, revs up his motorcycle every time a bad grown-up tries to talk. Or in the devil-may-care attitudes struck by the team's obligatory fat kid, Jeffrey Louis Starr, shown above. The kids I took to see BNB II delighted in this, for they get the same vicarious thrill by shutting up a grown-up as by cursing him.
In the same way, every kid's favorite scene is not when the Bears finally beat the fancier team, but when little Tanner (Chris Barnes) eludes two grown-ups who chase him about the infield. That is the real victory—over the real generational enemy. The subsequent win over the other team is largely incidental. I trust Tony Curtis will have his charges go easy on the poor Japanese elders.