Filled to the gills with slapstick humor, the improbably titled “Slappy and the Stinkers” could well have been sold as “The Little Rascals” meets “Free Willy.” Innumerable pratfalls and gross out humor successfully distract and entertain the under 12 set, to whom pic is sure to appeal most. Adults, however, may have a hard time sitting through “Slappy,” which suggests that pic’s real market is on video.
As the story opens, some two dozen second-graders attend the fictitious Dartmoor Academy where their stuffy, overbearing principal, Morgan Brinway (B.D. Wong), forces them to study opera appreciation. In the spirit of rebellion, five unruly kids — whom Brinway dubs “Stinkers” — abandon class and wreak playful havoc on the school grounds. Learning of their activities, Brinway threatens them with expulsion if they disobey him again.
It’s not long before the Stinkers are up to their old tricks. On a class field trip to an aquarium, the mischievous fivesome wander off and discover Slappy, a sea lion. Convinced that Slappy seems depressed in captivity, the Stinkers decide that if one kid can free Willy, then five can certainly free Slappy. Once they’ve smuggled Slappy onto the school bus, the Stinkers decide to house him temporarily in Mr. Brinway’s hot tub, where the kids and Slappy spend the afternoon frolicking in a musical montage that runs a little too long.
Brinway soon returns, but that’s the least of the Stinkers’ worries. As it turns out, a notorious animal thief named Boccoli (Sam McMurray) wants to steal Slappy and sell him to a circus, while wacky school groundskeeper Roy (Bronson Pinchot) mistakes Slappy for a giant gopher and plans to destroy him. Everything comes to a head in a lengthy carnival sequence, in which the Stinkers again turn order into chaos, but not before Boccoli manages to run off with the sea lion. The final sequence, in which the kids must save Slappy, requires more pratfalls and crazy Stinker ingenuity, not to mention suspension of audience disbelief.
Technical credits are above average, with director Barnet Kellman keeping the action well paced and the physical stunts smoothly executed, if perhaps predictable. Craig Safan’s upbeat score, a light, bouncy accompaniment, keeps even the most improbable scenes from becoming sluggish. Too often, Bob Wolterstorff and Mike Scott’s script goes for low level bathroom humor (such as a scene in which Slappy eats an entire box of laxatives), but such jokes are likely to offend only grown ups.
Thesping is fine, with seasoned performers Wong and Pinchot stretching their repertoires in a pair of unlikely parts that call for extreme physical comedy. Credit goes to the casting team of Shari Rhodes, Joseph Middleton, Ronnie Yeskel and Mary Vernieu for such inspired choices.