“You’re killing me, Smalls!” With that one line, one of the most beloved Disney sports movies for kids captured the hearts of many American children in “The Sandlot.” It’s the story of a young boy who moves to a new town and finds an amazing group of friends to play baseball with during the summer. But, when he takes his stepfather’s Babe Ruth autographed ball and plays with it, it gets lost over the fence in the yard of “The Beast.” The friends then work with him to get the ball back and they meet an older gentleman who actually knew Babe Ruth and loved to talk baseball.
This film perfectly encapsulates the Americana of the sports loving child in the United States. Baseball is a nice backdrop, but it’s about friendship. It’s about growing up and learning together. It’s one of the most popular in Disney’s string of childhood sports movies. The campfires, the unity, the bonding, the pool scene and the efforts to get the ball back from the dog the kids mistakenly believe to be a “Beast” all help to grow the legend of this film. And, as “The Sandlot” taught us, “Legends never die.”
The biggest flaw of this film for Disney+ is it is very distinctly American. Everything about it screams summer in the United States during the 1960s. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes it very difficult to market to other countries. Someone in Japan isn’t going to care about something so distinctly American. The baseball aspect might appeal to countries where the sport is popular, and the theme of learning and growing is easily translatable, but that’s also something that could be made in a different way for a different film for different countries. The message will always be great, but the backdrop will need to be changed and changing the backdrop makes it no longer “The Sandlot.”
There’s a lot of familiar faces in this film from other childhood sports movies made by Disney. Hamilton Porter and Michael “Squints” Palledorous both appear in “The Big Green.” Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez and Kenny DeNunez both appear in “The Mighty Ducks” series. The films have similar themes, as Disney recycled a lot of plot elements from one sports movie to the next.
This is one of my favorite childhood movies and it’s one that I still love as an adult. I love baseball. I love the themes of childhood. I love seeing the kids grow and bond. I do wish some elements were more inclusive to appeal to an international audience, but I still love seeing a sight at growing up in the American suburbs. And, I can’t express my frustration at something without screaming “You’re killing me, Smalls,” which is this film’s greatest tribute to American pop culture.