Just getting a little something out of the way first, it looks as though I'm definitely an odd man out on this movie. I actually kind of love it, but if I'm being completely honest, this could have qualified as a "Film Negative" (also known as my "Bad Movie Reviews") based on my guidelines, and its Rotten Tomato average of a mere 32.5%. The main reason seems simple enough in that it's a John Hughes film that follows his own 'Home Alone' formula far too closely.
Apart from that, however, there's a fair amount of low-brow toilet humour, and to be fair, I'm not the biggest fan either. But I feel like there's much more to like about it, and it's pretty easy for me to see past this movie's flaws and see its charm. For starters, from my perspective, following a 'Home Alone' formula is something I feel lends itself to 'Dennis the Menace'. I get that it's Hughes repeating himself, and it's hard to overlook that criticism in a way. But in another way, personally, I feel that formula just works for something like 'Dennis the Menace'. I grew up with the 1986 cartoon series, and I felt like they more or less nailed it when I saw it.
The film features everyone's favourite pre-Bart Simpson trouble-maker, Dennis Mitchell (Mason Gamble), an ongoing source of curiosity and mischief, namely to Mr. George Wilson (Walter Matthau), his next-door neighbour. While Dennis is out of school for the summer, his parents, Henry and Alice (Robert Stanton and Lea Thompson, respectively) each have to work, leaving Dennis and his best friend Joey (Kellen Hathaway) to stay at the Wade's house, where a bossy girl named Margaret (Amy Sakasitz) lives, and neither boy looks forward to seeing her. However, the trio do find an abandoned treehouse in the woods they decide to fix up and make their own.
Soon, the Mitchells have to both leave town on business and need a place for Dennis to stay, which leads to Dennis staying right next door with Mr. Wilson and his wife, the ever so sweet Martha (Joan Plowright). In the meantime, a dark figure rolls into town by the name of Swtchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd), thieving throughout the neighbourhood and, admittedly, providing a pretty disturbing figure. This guy could be Harry and Marv's boss from 'Home Alone', if they ever had one. He's creepy to look at, but has this odd smoothness about him all while acting quite animalistic at the same time. Of course, as one can easily predict, he will have to face off against Dennis at some point.
Anyway, perhaps it's a bit low-brow, perhaps a bit formulaic, and perhaps predictable. But there are some sweet moments here, namely involving Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. There's a nice moment here where Mrs. Wilson recites a poem for Dennis she remembers from her mother, and it leads to a discussion about missing out on having children. It's funny, I would consider up a quintessential "granfather/grandson" movie (in other words, it speaks to each extreme generation more than the middle) and I might say this is right there with it. Grandparents can relate to the Wilsons, and kids can relate to Dennis. I think that's where I find the real charm of the movie. It's something I feel I could have shared with my grandparents and they would have had as much fun as I did.
I'd also like to point out that this does not follow the age-old formula of a kid being upset with their parents for having to work all the time. Short of a brief discussion in a car ride between Dennis and Alice, there's nothing to it. Dennis just goes with the flow, and it's not really brought up. I also love the way he's got these kids talking; the conversation they have about where babies come from is actually pretty funny. There are some comments about what it means to be a boy or a girl that might not sit too well with some, but I beg you to consider that these are established 5-year-old kids who simply don't know any better. I'm sorry, but when kids don't know what they're saying, I think it's a great source of comedy. And this is was Hughes was an expert at - he understood how kids thought, be they teens or adolescents.
If you've seen it, and your mind is made up on it being a bad movie, I'm not here to try to convince you otherwise. As I said, I'm an odd man out on this one. But at the same time, I did want to say my piece in defence of the film, seeing as it falls under the category of "movies I like that others hate". Over the years, this has actually become a bit of a comfort food movie for me, and the warm suburban summer atmosphere it has really helps with that. This is a movie that reminds me what it was to be a kid, and really reflects childhood innocence much more than it does destruction of any kind, as one might expect. It manages to hold a place in my heart, despite the negativity towards it, and I might even recommend checking it out with a new perspective if you ever have the inkling to do so.