Problem Child (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Problem Child (1990 film))
Jump to: navigation, search
Problem Child
Problem Child.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Produced by Robert Simonds
Ron Howard (executive producer)
Brian Grazer (executive producer)
Written by Scott Alexander
Larry Karaszewski
Starring John Ritter
Jack Warden
Michael Oliver
Gilbert Gottfried
Amy Yasbeck
Michael Richards
Narrated by Michael Oliver
Music by Miles Goodman
Cinematography Peter Lyons Collister
Edited by Tom Finan
Daniel P. Hanley
Mike Hill
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates July 27, 1990 (1990-07-27)
Running time 81 minutes
93 minutes (with scenes from TV version)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million[1]
Box office $72,270,891[2]

Problem Child is a 1990 American comedy film. It stars John Ritter, Amy Yasbeck, Gilbert Gottfried, Jack Warden, Michael Richards, and Michael Oliver. The film was directed by Dennis Dugan. The film was the first of many produced by Robert Simonds.


The film opens with a woman leaving a bassinet on the porch of a fancy home; the baby, named Junior, promptly urinates on the woman who picks him up. From there, he is repeatedly discarded at various homes throughout many years by guardians who have grown tired of his destructive behavior—which includes throwing a rattle at the window, giving a cat soap to eat, using a vacuum cleaner to suck up the fish tank, and demolishing a mobile home with a bulldozer in retaliation for his favorite toys being stepped on—until he is eventually deposited at a Catholic orphanage, where he continues to wreak havoc on the strict nuns.

Ben Healy is a pleasant but brow-beaten husband working for his father, Big Ben, a tyrannical sporting goods dealer who is running for Mayor. Recently, he has discovered that his father intends to sell his store and the land to a Japanese company rather than leave it to him; when he asks why, Big Ben reveals that it is because his son "stubbornly refuses to follow [his] example" by adopting an honest work ethic instead of a ruthless drive to usurp. He would love to have a son, but his selfish, gold-digging wife, Flo, has been unable to conceive. He approaches less-than-scrupulous adoption agent Igor Peabody with his dilemma, and Igor presents them with a cute 7-year-old boy, Junior.

However, Junior is hardly a model child; apparently mean-spirited and incorrigible. He leaves a path of serious destruction in his wake, and is even pen pals with Martin Beck, a notorious serial killer called the Bow Tie Killer. He sets his room on fire by using a clown lamp and throws the family cat at Big Ben and he falls down the stairs. He messes up a camping trip with the neighbors by urinating in the campfire, and manipulating a practical joke played on the kids by their father, Roy, by luring a real black bear to the campground. He makes Ben believe a bear is attacking the campground when it is really Roy in a bear suit who gets hit with a frying pan. Hearing Junior laugh, Ben finds out the kid is responsible for making him hit Roy. Next day, at a birthday party, Lucy, the snobby birthday girl, and her friends are very cruel to him and ban him from the magic show. Seeing Junior upset, Ben gives him his most precious possession, a dried prune that belonged to his grandfather (he thought it resembled Roosevelt), telling him it signifies a bond between two people. However, Junior wants revenge and sneaks a lawn sprinkler in her room, cuts off another girl's braid with scissors, puts a frog in the punch bowl, replaces the piñata candy with pickles including the juice, throws all the presents in the pool, and replaces the birthday candles with firecrackers.

Finally, Junior displays his effective but unethical method for winning in a Little League game where he strikes rival players in the crotch with a baseball bat after they tease him. Ben is having serious doubts about Junior, and decides to take him back to the orphanage. However, upon hearing he was returned thirty times, he decides to keep and love him, something no one has ever done. However, Junior becomes upset that his parents were going to send him back and despite Ben stating that he will not, drives Flo's car into Big Ben's store, and Ben's bank account is wiped out to pay for the damage. He is on the verge of cracking until Martin (believing that Junior is the criminal J.R.) arrives at the house, posing as Junior's uncle, and decides to kidnap his faithful correspondent, along with Flo, for ransom.

While Ben first sees this as good riddance to the browbeating Flo and the trouble making Junior, he soon notices signs that Junior is not the monster he appeared. In his drawer is the prune carefully wrapped up and through a series of pictures he drew, Junior depicts Flo and Big Ben as deformed monsters with hostile surroundings, but Ben as a happy person in a pleasant background, revealing that he really did value him as a father figure all along. Realizing that Junior's behavior was simply a response to how he himself had been treated, and that it has simply been bad luck that he has dealt with too many cruel and selfish people at such a young age, Ben undertakes a rescue mission to retrieve Junior back from Martin.

He then confronts his father (who is preparing to make a TV appearance for his mayoral campaign) to loan him the ransom money. When he callously refuses, Ben activates the camera that puts Big Ben unknowingly on live TV, where he ends up revealing his true nature on the news. Afterward, Ben steals Roy's car and goes to rescue Junior.

Ben catches up with Martin and Junior at the circus. Junior is rescued after escaping from Martin through a trapeze act and calls Ben "Dad" for the first time. Martin drives away, but the Healys are now on his trail. After a collision, Flo (who was stuffed in a suitcase) is thrown into the air and lands in the back of a farm truck loaded with pigs. Martin is arrested, but while being led away, he grabs an officer's sidearm and fires at Junior, but Ben shields him and takes the shot. Thinking Ben is dead, Junior apologizes for all the bad things he did and tells him he will never be naughty again and he loves him. Ben wakes up and tells Junior he loves him, too, and realizes the bullet ricocheted off the good-luck prune he was holding in his pocket. Junior asks Ben if he really believed that he was going to stop misbehaving, but Ben tells Junior he wants him to be himself. Junior then removes his bow tie and throws it over the bridge, perhaps as a sign that he has changed his ways not to be like Martin, but be himself. Junior is then carried home by his new father. The film ends with Flo in the truck looking out from the suitcase, only to be met by the rump of a pig.

The title track to the film, performed by The Beach Boys, plays over the end credits.


  • John Ritter as Ben Healy
    He is a caring person and wants to have a kid. He adopts Junior and bonds with him. He is hated by his wife, neighbors and father.
  • Michael Oliver as Junior
    The main protagonist and the mischievous prankster in the titular film. He was returned to the orphanage 30 times as he always causes trouble wherever he goes. He is often surrounded by selfish and mean people which gives him the need to punish them with his pranks, thus making himself hated by those around him. He has a devious but inventive mind and is also good with electricity and machinery. He desires to have a family and he eventually meets Ben, who he develops a bond with as Ben is the only one who is ever nice to him.
  • Jack Warden as Big Ben Healy
    Ben's rich, but selfish father. He hates Junior, having called him the devil upon their first meeting. He runs for Mayor of Cold River but lost the election due to insulting the citizens on TV (the result of Ben purposely turning the camera on when Big Ben refuses to help him rescue Junior).
  • Gilbert Gottfried as Igor Peabody
    He works with the orphanage and thinks that Junior at first is an angel but turns out he is wrong and cons Ben and Flo into taking Junior. Later he reveals that Junior was returned 30 times to the orphanage.
  • Amy Yasbeck as Flo Healy
    She is Ben's wife and hates Junior. The only reason she wanted to adopt was so she could get invited to neighbors' parties and dinners. She is quite selfish and unfaithful to Ben as she makes love to Martin in the kitchen.
  • Michael Richards as Martin "The Bow Tie Killer" Beck
    He is an escaped convict and wears a bow tie and says he is just misunderstood. He has cravings for a clown-themed snack called 'Smiley Pies', even though he (like Junior) hates clowns. He serves as the antagonist in the film.
  • Peter Jurasik as Roy
    Ben and Flo's neighbor. He thinks that he is a Super Dad due to his wife being pregnant with their 6th child. He scared the kids with a bear costume and was mistaken for a real bear by Ben and is hit with a frying pan.
  • Dennis Dugan as Father in the store (cameo)
  • Colby Kline as Lucy
    The neighbor's selfish, mean, and spoiled 6-year-old daughter. She begrudgingly invites Junior to her birthday party at her mother's insistence. She tells him that he is not allowed to watch the magic show for touching her presents, but he get his revenge by ruining the party.


The movie was filmed on location in the state of Texas, from October to November 1989. The cities that were used for filming were Dallas, Farmers Branch, Fort Worth, Irving, and Mesquite.

During a 2014 interview on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski revealed that they initially conceived of this film as a dark, adult satire of the then-popular genre of cute kids changing adults' lives such as Baby Boom, Kindergarten Cop and 3 Men and a Baby. Universal insisted upon turning it into a children's film and, after a difficult shoot, were so disappointed with the results that all involved expected it to bomb. Problem Child went on to become Universal's most profitable film of the year but was so embarrassing for Alexander and Karaszewski, with Alexander crying at the first screening, that they tried to distance themselves from it in the immediate future. Over time, they would work with studio executives who were young when the film came out, grew up watching it and were impressed to be meeting the writers of Problem Child. Looking back, they still feel the film is "a mess," but take pride in being involved with one of the darkest PG children's comedies ever made (citing the scene where Flo cheats on Ben with an escaped serial killer while he is catatonic and contemplating murdering his seven year old son as an example), adding "and it's funny."[3]


Problem Child received negative reviews upon its release. On the film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, it received a critics' rating of 4% based on 28 reviews, and an audience rating of 41%.[4] Although the film was rated PG, it is still heavily censored when shown on television due to the remarks made about adoption, which critics saw as insensitive.[5] Problem Child was not screened for critics prior to its release.[6]

Hal Hinson, writing for the Washington Post, noted "Dugan has a brisk, imaginative comic style; he sets up his gags well, so that there's still some surprise in the punch lines when they come. Essentially, the problem here is the same as the problem in Gremlins 2. It's basically about tearing stuff up, and after a while you grow tired of seeing variations on the same joke of a cute kid committing horrible atrocities."[7] Gilbert Gottfried was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor for the movie.


  1. Problem Child 2 (1991)
    It brought back the original cast in their original roles and picked up where the first film ended. However, Amy Yasbeck was given a new role with a new dynamic totally opposite to her original character. It also included more toilet humor than the first film.
  2. Problem Child 3: Junior in Love (1995)
    The final film, Gottfried and Warden reprised their respective roles as Mr. Peabody and Big Ben Healy. Eric Edwards also reprises his role as Murph (he also played Bertha, Murph's sister). However, the roles of Junior and Ben Healy were recast. Annie, Trixie, and LaWanda Dumore do not appear in this film, nor are they mentioned.

Animated TV series[edit]

There was an animated TV series that aired in 1993. Gottfried was the only original cast member to be featured as a voice-over actor, making him the only cast member involved in all 3 movies as well as the cartoon (Jack Warden was in all 3 films, but not the TV series).

Box office[edit]

The movie debuted at No. 3.[8] It went on to be a commercial success at the box office, grossing $53 million domestically and $72 million worldwide.

TV version[edit]

12 minutes worth of deleted footage were featured in most, if not all, TV versions of the film. None of the following scenes have ever been on DVD.[9][10] The first TV version of the film aired on Sunday September 15, 1991, on NBC-TV.

  • A scene where Ben and Flo are leaving for church and their old lady neighbor scolds them for the mess their cat made in her yard and Ben is forced to pick it up. This also explains why Ben intentionally drives over her yard near the end of the film, on his way to rescue Junior, fixing a plot hole. This is then followed by an extra establishing shot of the Orphanage. This would have taken place right after Flo agrees to adopting a child, and says "Okay! Let's get a kid."
  • A scene at church where Ben explains his troubles to a priest. This would have taken place right after Martin in the prison throws a dumbbell at the Warden.
  • A longer version of Ben and Flo's first meeting with Peabody at his office. In this missing footage, Peabody inquiries as to whether they cared about what hair and eye color the kid they wanted to adopt had. A brief outtake of this scene can also be seen in early trailers for the film. The regular version picks up where it left off, right after Peabody takes down a big book and puts it on his desk, following his line "A child that you can take into your home, and love."
  • A scene with Junior packing as he talks to Mother Superior.
  • A short scene right before the Ben and Flo meet Junior for the first time, where they get ready for him.
  • A longer version of Martin's ink blot examination. Normally, the scene plays out with the man who was examining Martin kicking out the Warden for interrupting him, and, after resuming the examination, Martin, out of nowhere, says "I see... BLOOD!", proceeding to strangle the Psychiatrist to death. But in this version, after resuming, the camera then does a zoom-in to segway into a hallucination scene from Martin. During his hallucination, a flashback from a prior event, in which Martin thinks he was being blamed for a crime that someone else did, Martin, accompanied by his Priest, is about to be sent to the electric chair, but not before receiving a cake in the form of a Bow-Tie from "JR" (Whom Martin doesn't know is Junior). On the way to the Chair, Martin grabs the priest and puts a cake knife in front of his neck and shoves the Warden to chair. Martin then flees from the chamber, locks the door up, and yells at the Warden "Don't wait up for me, Warden! I'll get the lights!", as the hallucination ends, and the regular film continues afterwards.
  • A short scene shortly after Junior exists the house in which Roy yells for Ben to hurry up.
  • A slightly-longer shot of the campsite, just before the movie shows Ben and Junior at Camp Site #32.
  • A scene following the camping trip in which Ben and Junior have a conversation about Junior's painting, depicting Roy being knocked out. This would have taken place right after Ben sees that Junior taught their talking Parrot Polly to say "Dickhead", and right before the scene at the birthday party. During this missing footage, we also learn more about how Junior got to know Roy better than his Father, saying to him "He had it coming. Roy only pretends to be your friend. He doesn't like you, and his family doesn't like me."
  • A scene in which Junior causes havoc with a Remote Control helicopter, by terrorizing the milkman and a paperboy. The Copter then crashes into the front door's glass. A photo of this scene is shown on the back of the original VHS release, and also appears in early trailers for the film, as well. It would also explain why, in the next scene, the glass was virtually destroyed, fixing another plot hole. Junior is also wearing an outfit from Big Ben's Sporting Goods, after the car he was driving crashed into it, resulting in a lot of damage. This entire scene is a parody of Apocalypse Now, right down to the use of Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, and Junior saying "I love the smell of spilled milk in the morning. It smells like victory!".
  • A scene in which Martin calls up Ben after he finds out Junior and Flo have been kidnapped.
  • A scene where Ben arrives at the Circus, and uses a backpack to pretend $100,000 is inside of it. Mother Superior can be seen here in her actual overall last appearance in the film.
  • A chase scene between Ben and Martin. During this scene, Martin bumps into a woman named Cindy from Leavenworth, dressed up as The Bearded Lady, who asks Martin if he recognizes her. Martin shoves her out of his way, and Cindy calls out to him, saying "You told me you loved me! You called me your little kumquat!".

The bad language in the TV version was dubbed with words like Jerk, Foot, Neck, Sucker, Pighead, as well as phrases like "Take a hike" and "Oh my Gosh! They're daffy."

Home media[edit]

The movie was more successful on home video.[11] The VHS version adds an extra bit just before the end credits, in which Junior interrupts the film, to tell the audience that he'll be back next summer for Problem Child 2. Then he disappears and a loud noise is heard, followed by Ben shouting "Junior!", Junior laughing, then the end credits roll. The VHS version was released on January 31, 1991.

Special DVD release[edit]

The first DVD release was released by GoodTimes Entertainment on May 1, 2001. Problem Child and Problem Child 2 were released together on DVD in the US on March 2, 2004, as a package entitled Problem Child Tantrum Pack. These films were presented in open-matte full screen only.[12] However, no home video release thus far features the deleted footage shown on TV airings of the film.

Problem Child was re-released on the Family Comedy Pack Quadruple Feature DVD (with other comedy films like Kindergarten Cop, Kicking & Screaming, and Major Payne) in anamorphic widescreen (being the film's first widescreen Region 1 DVD release) on August 5, 2008.[13]


External links[edit]