Digital Access

Digital Access
Access mywebtimes.com and all Shaw Media Illinois content from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

News, features, sports, opinion and more!

Email Newsletters

Sign up for MyWebTimes email newsletters and stay in the know.
Features

THE B-LIST: The kids are all right

6 of the best pre-teen team-ups who save the day

Y'all have watched Season 3 of the Duffer Brothers' "Stranger Things" at least twice by now, yeah?

You haven't?

What are you even doing? Go pull up Netflix and binge all eight episodes — I'll wait.

... Quite the rollercoaster of action and nostalgia, wasn't it? Half the fun of "Stranger Things" is picking out the subtle nods and outright references to the sci-fi, horror and fantasy media of the '80s, from the books of Stephen King to "The Thing," "E.T." and "The Terminator."

The other half is the core bunch of characters, especially the D&D party of Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas, Max and Eleven.

Plucky bands of kids who save the day can make for darn fine entertainment, and the "Things" kids are the latest in a proud lineage. This week, let's take a look at the previous gangs of young heroes who inspired the Duffer Brothers.

6. "SUPER 8" (2011). In the summer of 1979, Joe (Joel Courtney), Alice (Elle Fanning) and their friends are filming a low-budget zombie film on a Super 8 camera when they witness a train derailment that allows an alien to escape the U.S. military.

There may not be anything especially new or unexpected in J.J. Abram's big-budget nostalgia fest, but it's extremely well done, and there are some really strong performances — particuarly from Fanning (a gal to watch; I have no doubt she'll have an Oscar on a shelf sooner rather than later) and Courtney.

NOTE: Be sure to watch through the credits, as the kids' zombie film — an obvious rip-off of George A. Romero's "Dead" series — is shown over them. It's as endearing as the movie itself.

5. "THE MONSTER SQUAD" (1987). The titular group of kids meet in a treehouse to gush over their favorite creature features — until several monsters (the Gill-Man, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster) led by Count Dracula show up in search of a magical amulet. Knowing the adults will never believe them, it's up to the Squad to stop them from plunging the world into eternal darkness.

Written by Shane Black, "Squad" is rife with quippy one-liners — "Where the hell am I supposed to find silver bullets? Kmart?" — and some impressive action for a film starring pre-teens. The Stan Winston variations on the classic Universal Monsters are AMAZING, and it's just a fun ride from start to finish.

NOTE: "Squad" has a PG-13 rating for language and a couple gnarly scenes, so it's probably not one to watch with very small kiddies.

4. "ATTACK THE BLOCK" (2011). When "gorilla wolf" aliens with black fur and luminscent fangs attack a council estate in London, a teenaged street gang led by Moses (John Boyega, in his first big role) fights back.

I know I've screamed about this movie before, but seriously: IT'S SO GOOD. Boyega is a knock-out as Moses. The rest of the young cast is almost as great. There's societal/racial commentary mixed in with really killer action and beautiful cinematography. The soundtrack from Basement Jaxx is banging. And the aliens are the coolest interstellar baddies since the Xenomorphs.

Plus, "Block" is as full of sci-fi easter eggs as "Stranger Things," and the action plays out like a video game, with the kids running up the levels of the building after each "boss" fight. It's a film that rewards multiple watches.

3. "STAND BY ME" (1986). "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?" muses a grown Gordie in this flashback tale of the summer of 1959, when he and three of his friends went in search of the body of a missing boy.

Boy, is this a bittersweet tale courtesy of Stephen King. Not only does it star River Phoenix, who died tragically young a mere seven years later, but it's full of sadness and grief, with its characters struggling with abusive parents, bullies and dead siblings. The greatest strength of "Stand" by far is the stellar dynamic of Wil Wheaton (as Gordie) and Phoenix (as Chris), who together are the heart of the story.

2. "THE SANDLOT" (1993). Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is a lonely kid when he meets the Sandlot baseball team, led by Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar). Even though Scotty is a known "dweeb," Benny takes him under his wing and mentors him in a summer full of adventures: at the pool, the fair and finally on a quest to rescue a legendary Babe Ruth ball from "The Beast" that lives behind the Sandlot.

"You're killin' me, Smalls!" Is this one of the best, most enjoyable, sweetest movies ever made? Hard YES. The characters are vibrant. The hijinks they get into are hilarious. And the core friendship between Scotty and Benny is so, so heartwarming. From start to finish — where a grown Benny steals home in an MLB game while Scotty cheers him on as a sports commentator — "The Sandlot" is a home run.

1. "THE GOONIES" (1985). "Goonies never say die!" With map in hand and the threat of foreclosure hanging over their parents' heads, the titular band of misfits set out to find the lost treasure of One-Eyed Willy, a 17th century pirate. But finding the treasure in time to save their homes isn't the only hurdle — turns out the Fratelli crime family is close on their heels, too.

There were child-focused adventure stories before "Goonies," but this one remains the gold standard in my book. Every kid is winning, but Sean Astin's wide-eyed, big-hearted Mikey and Jeff Cohen's hysterically dramatic Chunk are the standouts.

And wow, does this film have it all! Pirate ships and treasure maps! Elaborate booby- (booty!) trapped rooms! Mobsters! A lovable monster-but-not-really named Sloth! Romance! Wonderfully quotable dialogue! Cyndi Lauper songs!

Re: direct inspiration, "Stranger Things" owes a huge debt to "The Goonies." Not only do the Goonies and the D&D party share the same vibe, Astin even starred in Season 2 of the show as the heroic sweetheart Bob. Some may knock "Things" for being such a referential nostalgia-fest, but I love it. So how many days until we can binge Season 4, Duffers?

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at abarry@shawmedia.com.

Loading more