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Revisiting glory days of children’s sports movies

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, March 8, 2006

At a time of year when serious and dramatic movies garner attention and win awards, light-hearted, inspirational films can be in short supply. Sports movies in which children are the stars is a genre that provides both inspiration and simplicity. Children’s sports movies blossomed in the 1990s and remain entertaining to this day for anyone young at heart.

Angels in the Outfield (1994)

This Disney movie follows a young orphan, Roger, whose prayers are answered when he asks for the chance to have a family if the then-California Angels can win the pennant. An archangel, played by the always-lively Christopher Lloyd, leads a group of real seraphim to help the struggling team reach the playoffs and answer Roger’s prayers. Danny Glover gives a good performance as the team manager, but the scene stealers are the young baseball fans Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “3rd Rock from the Sun”) and his friend J.P., another orphan. By the time its sentimental ending touches home plate, “Angels in the Outfield” touches on themes of prayer, faith and friendship while turning viewers into Angels fans.

Little Giants (1994)

Pee-wee versions of the NFL Giants and Cowboys are pitted against each other when Danny O’Shea (Rick Moranis) decides to form a team out of misfits to take on the mighty Cowboys, coached by his famous, seemingly unbeatable brother Kevin (Ed O’Neil). The underdog, ragtag group of kids uses heart and intelligence to beat the bigger, stronger, and faster Cowboys team. The fun in this film comes from the actions of the children and the comedy of the football, with plays featuring names like the “Annexation of Puerto Rico.” NFL greats including John Madden and Emmitt Smith make cameo appearances that help older crowds enjoy this feel-good football movie.

Rookie of the Year (1993)

When a young Chicago boy suffers an accident that gives him an amazingly strong arm, he becomes an ace pitcher for the struggling Chicago Cubs. While enjoying baseball as a 12-year old on the big stage, fame and fortune threaten his happiness and friendships. Funny performances by Daniel Stern and John Candy help turn “Rookie of the Year” from a good movie into a memorable one. While “Rookie” features some unrealistic baseball, the film works well because its characters are memorable and the film as a whole forces audiences to see baseball as a game that should be played for fun, not money.

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

In “The Mighty Ducks,” selfish lawyer Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is forced to coach a laughable children’s hockey team as DUI punishment. The former hockey player, who has never coached before, bonds with the team that has never won, and together the Ducks learn that winning and happiness in sports all stem from the team. While the hockey in the movie is ridiculous, it is exciting and fun to watch, especially the famous “Flying V” and “Triple Deke” maneuvers. This inspirational film – which prompted the creation of a large real-life sports franchise – is a children’s classic that never gets old.

The Sandlot (1993)

The quintessential childhood summertime movie, “The Sandlot” follows the adventures of a group of baseball-playing friends as they welcome neighborhood newcomer Scotty Smalls. While the film centers on baseball, it is really about the friendship and childhood of the ball players and how these are tested when a valuable baseball goes into the yard of a menacing dog called “The Beast.” Actors Denis Leary and James Earl Jones headline the adult cast in strong roles that complement the full roster of child actors. Cherished for its many memorable lines and scenes, “The Sandlot” stands out not just as a sports movie, but as one of the best children’s movies of all time.

These children’s sports movies represent the best of the best from a large and ever-expanding genre. They are well known and remembered more than a decade later not because they are realistic or technically superb, but because they inspire all who watch them to be a child again.