The single greatest perk of being a screenwriter is that you get to watch movies during the day and call it research. Lately, I’ve been “researching” fun, teen-friendly, high-concept movies from the ’80s and ’90s (in other words, the best movies of all time). Equally lately, I had the brilliant idea that I’d love it if some future movie of mine incorporated a cartoon component. Of course, I quickly realized this light bulb over my head was actually an old, possibly-rusty-but-in-the-cool-retro-way flashlight being shone directly into my eyes: pretty much every awesome movie made between 1980 and 1995 has an animated opening credits sequence.
We all remember this 1987 romantic comedy gem starring a very pre-SATC Kim Cattrall. She plays an Egyptian lady who, rather than marry a man she does not love, pleads with the gods to find another solution. As you probably guessed, that solution is to travel through time to 1987 where she’ll live as a mannequin in a department store. Cue adorably impossible dreamer Andrew McCarthy, a sculptor stuck in a dead end job who realizes that this gorgeous new mannequin comes to life only for him. It’s a premise only the ’80s could love, and the opening credits feature a bizarre but I guess thematic cartoon pictured above. I’m not totally sure why Kim Cattrall’s character is an Egyptian cat or why her journeys through time seem to be more of an exploration of the artistic history of the world than a search for true love, but it’s set to a Belinda Carlisle song and the colors are groovy.
Check it out here.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
This 1989 classic stars Rick Moranis as the hapless super-genius inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and the neighbors’ kids down to 1/4 inch. And oh boy, do they have adventures trying to get full-sized again! This movie is single-handedly to blame for my cookie addiction. The scene in which the kids, after wandering through their yard for what feels like FOREVER, discover a gigantic oatmeal cream sandwich cookie is absolute snack porn for me. Meanwhile, the cartoon opening is very on-point: two shrunken children navigate a giant world full of potential danger. I was always a little befuddled by this opening because it stays so true to the plot, yet the animators didn’t even attempt to make the kids look like the actual kids in the film (I mean, redheads? WTF?).
See for yourself here.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
My all-time favorite Christmas movie features none other than the Vacation-famous Griswolds, up to their old tricks again: all mishaps and mayhem with a hearty dose of good cheer. Clark wants to have the biggest and brightest Christmas lights display in town, both sets of in-laws are visiting, the redneck cousins make an unexpected appearance and there may or may not be a house-fire involving a Christmas tree and a not-long-for-this-world feline. The cartoon opening is a cheery little bit set to a song called, you guessed it, ‘Christmas Vacation’. Santa attempts to deliver presents to the Griswold house but, not unlike Clark himself, he can’t seem to keep himself out of harm’s way in the meantime. Goodhearted intentions combined with disastrous pratfalls are what this movie’s all about, so the opening could be considered a cute little teaser for the amazingness that lies ahead.
Get in the spirit here.
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
I had the privilege of re-watching this perfect little flick recently, and let me begin by saying that I have already reworked my entire wardrobe to more closely resemble the sartorial stylings of Christina Applegate circa 1991. The plot improbably involves a mother of five leaving her children of preposterously varying ages alone for an entire summer under the watchful eye of an evil, tyrannical, elderly babysitter. When the babysitter does her titular duty and drops, well, dead, it’s up to the kids to fend for themselves. The opening is a brief but effective cartoon of a mean old lady (the babysitter) shrieking and cawing and narrowly escaping death until finally she is crushed by the movie’s title itself. Very meta, huh?
Watch it here.
Troop Beverly Hills
If Christmas Vacation is my favorite Christmas movie, it must be said that Troop Beverly Hills is my favorite anytime movie. It’s the movie that makes every day feel like Christmas, Chanukah, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving with the yummy turkey sandwiches, my birthday, the first snowfall, the first day of summer and the first time I tasted ice cream, all rolled into one. I’m worried I might actually be selling it short. The movie is about an extremely well-meaning but slightly frivolous Beverly Hills woman, Phyllis Nefler, who becomes the troop leader to a rag-tag bunch of rich girls, including her own daughter. But there’s so much more to it than that: relationships, mother-daughter bonding, divorce, heartbreak, how people change over time, how marriage changes people over time, financial problems, what it means to be a friend, class differences, gay dads, fashion, dancing and cookies, cookies, cookies. The animated opening is pretty much the Platonic ideal of animated openings. Set to the Beach Boys’ ‘Make it Big’, the cartoon shows Phyllis in Troop Leader mode, taking her girls on a wilderness adventure, Beverly Hills-style. The scary creatures stalking them in the night turn out to be fancy little poodles; a bear is scared away by the heat of a blowdryer, etc. In other words, it’s the movie in animated microcosm, and NOTHING COULD BE BETTER.
Experience the best movie ever right here.
Okay, so shouldn’t it be mandatory that ALL movies begin with an animated opening credits sequence? Through my extensive and arduous research, I’ve concluded that a cartoon opening is the single defining factor as to whether a movie is simply good, or one of the most incredible movies of all time.