Little giant: It's time to appreciate Rick Moranis for the comedy and cinematic legend he is
25 years after his semi-retirement, we're long overdue for a Rick renaissance
Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the '90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).
In fifth grade, my parents were gifted the task of looking after my best friend and her siblings when their mom and dad went away. I couldn't be more excited. But there was one hitch: their family had recently purchased The Flintstones movie on VHS, and my pal wanted to watch it. I relented, reminding myself that it was only Saturday night and that we still had the entirety of Sunday to execute my plan of playing Barbies while discussing in detail whether or not I had a shot with JTT. I'd never been a big Flintstones fan, wasn't obsessed with any actors in the movie and felt condescended to since I was fully aware that none of it was real, especially the dinosaurs. (Unlike, say, Jurassic Park, which was obviously a documentary.) And then I was turned.
To be clear, the now-25-year-old Flintstones isn't an extraordinary film. Yes, it features a cast of movie and television mainstays (Elizabeth Perkins, John Goodman, Kyle MacLachlan, Rosie O'Donnell, Halle Berry and Elizabeth-fucking-Taylor, thank you very much), but the plot is oddly grown-up for a movie geared toward children. Fred is framed for embezzling, Barney and Betty face financial ruin in the wake of Fred's promotion and the Flintstones jollily abandon the working class for a lifestyle amidst the one percent. It's a lot. But it's also funny and pretty entertaining, not to mention that it features a song and performance by the B-52s with choreography that my friend and I mastered over our repeated screenings across Sunday afternoon. Plus, it gives us Rick Moranis — who, I must remind you, is a national treasure.
Of course, you likely know this. You know that he got his start on SCTV and from there delivered unto us Strange Brew, which is the only traditionally satirical take on Canadian culture I'm willing to embrace. He was the Keymaster in Ghostbusters, Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, Dark Helmet in Spaceballs, and he both shrunk and blew up the kids. Then, in 1994, he appeared in Little Giants and The Flintstones — two movies my elementary school felt sanctioned in showing whenever teachers didn't want to work, and two movies that featured the actor in roles where he so brilliantly plays the underdog. As Barney Rubble, Moranis was a smart, under-appreciated, kind-hearted person who gets dealt a bad hand after trying to save Fred's job. And as Danny O'Shea in Little Giants, he was the football coach who assembled a team of misfits and helped them realize they were just as good as anybody else.
Rick Moranis, in each of his roles, has consistently flown the flag of someone whose trajectory gets messed with — even if he's the one messing it up himself. But that's what reality is.- Anne T. Donahue
To an adult reading this, you may not care. Children's films may not interest you in the same way as the cult fan favourites of the 1980s Moranis is better known for, and that's totally fine. But at the same time — especially since 1994 was the last year he acted as frequently as he did over the previous decade — Moranis's legacy as someone who played characters simply trying their best (with mixed results) was an incredible gift. His characters were ones that made you feel safe and ones that made you feel seen. Few of us are Fred Flintstone, completely oblivious to our own idiocy while steamrolling over the true friends who've championed us (at least I hope so). And few of us are legendary football coaches who basically have the championship in the bag. Most of us are just trying to get through the day, and that can be an act of heroism in and of itself.
Rick Moranis, in each of his roles, has consistently flown the flag of someone whose trajectory gets messed with — even if he's the one messing it up himself. But that's what reality is, even when that reality is set amongst the backdrop of the prehistoric era. Functioning in the world is the living, breathing experience of doing something and then realizing it's somehow gone to shit and now you have to fix it.
And ok, fine: maybe no one else reads into Rick Moranis's filmography this much, but that's not my problem. Rick Moranis is an underappreciated comedy and cinematic legend, and it took me far too long to realize it. Finally, I see Dark Helmet as less of a villain and more of a guy who would come into work one day and tell everybody his name was Kylo Ren now (but unlike real Kylo, it wouldn't stick). Finally, I see Ghostbusters' Louis Tully as someone I fear I constantly act like — someone who's so desperate for people to come to their party that they'll lock themselves out of it. (Although take a hint, Louis: Sigourney Weaver wasn't interested.) And finally, I recognize the cursed god complex of Wayne in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; the need to flex your smarts and talent, only to put the people you love in direct peril in the process. (This is why I stay away from science, and stick to writing about Rick Moranis.) I think that I'm coming around at last to the realization that the movies of my youth were better because Rick Moranis was in them, and I'm ready for a renaissance because we could use his humour and warmth right now.
And even if Rick Moranis never decides to make the comeback I'm clearly begging him to, I want us to begin recognizing his important place in family-friendly films. I want us to celebrate how willing he's always been to make us laugh, and make us feel, and make us — for a very brief moment — hate John Goodman. (That takes real skill.) And then, selfishly, I want to remind all of you to re-watch The Flintstones because the Bedrock Twist is a dance I can't believe none of you know.