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GREMLINS: Christmas Gifts Gone Awry

Gremlins, an '80s holiday classic, comes mainly from two influences: old-fashioned sci-fi/horror and the Looney Tunes.

GREMLINS: Christmas Gifts Gone Awry

A down on his luck inventor explores a local Chinatown one winter evening to find the perfect, and most unique, gift for his son. He finds a mogwai (the actual name for the gremlins), sneaks it out of the shop, and gives it to his son as an early Christmas present. He has three rules to follow, but the rules get broken. When all three rules are not followed accordingly, all hell breaks loose in this tiny, Christmas time hamlet. The mogwais are, in a sense, Christmas gifts gone awry.

Director Joe Dante’s holiday classic shows viewers that some gifts come with baggage. The baggage may include the responsibility involved when someone receives a puppy for a present, or accessories required for a complicated toy. Dante uses the mogwais as a parallel to show what would happen if you neglect your pet owner duties or if the expensive toy you received is a defective or hazardous item.

The film showcases Dante’s two cinematic loves: 1950’s era sci-fi/horror and The Looney Tunes. The two forms merge together to create a cautionary tale of Christmas gifts gone awry. The following presents how Dante uses his two cinematic influences to craft this Christmas tale.

Some Assembly Required

When you receive a toy, some toys call for the use of adding parts to it. Without these said parts, the toy is unable to work properly. It is necessary to follow the instructions. The instructions were not followed in Gremlins.

GREMLINS: Christmas Gifts Gone Awry

source: Warner Bros.

The rules to enjoy the mogwai are as follows: no bright lights, no water, and no eating after midnight. The assembly required was not followed. The toy did not work properly, and instead of a cute creature that sings to you or watches TV, you get a group of monsters (thanks water!) that run amok during Christmas. Creatures on the loose show Dante flexing his cinematic influence of 1950’s creature features of monsters on the loose in small town, USA.

Films like The Blob or War of the Worlds show placid towns that get shook up by the arrival of an alien/foreign object or being. These little pieces of Anywhere, USA think the item is pleasant at first, but ends up causing destruction. The original mogwai, Gizmo, is a harmless creature, but once he multiples, it’s a monster invasion. When these multiple mogwais aren’t trying to scare people, they take a page from Bugs Bunny.

Pet Care

I’ve never done this; I believe it is cruel to give animals as gifts. Pets are not toys, they’re friends and family members. However, for the sake of dramatic storytelling, the mogwai as a living, breathing creature is our substitute Christmas puppy. A puppy that happens to know how to play the keyboard.

Though Billy (Zach Galligan) treats Gizmo as the family pet, he neglects his pet responsibilities. As demonstrated with The Looney Tunes, a character is assigned a task they must be responsible to take care of. Unfortunately, many obstacles come in their way, turning the task into a catastrophe.

GREMLINS: Christmas Gifts Gone Awry

source: Warner Bros.

Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and others get involved with several hi-jinks in their mammoth catalogue of episodes. Several instances of explosions, loud noises and other examples of physical comedy are all frequent. As the mogwai multiply, they use an amalgam of terror and, for the viewers, physical comedy to raise anarchy. They rewire electrical devices, make messes in the town cinema, and become hilarious drunks at the local tavern. For a bit of holiday cheer, they stop to sing carols at one point.

Importance Of Rules

Going back to the sci-fi roots, if science fiction serves any purpose, it’s to warn readers and viewers of the possibility of things to come. Radiation abuse is the cause of terror in Godzilla, prejudice and racism will destroy humanity in The Twilight Zone episode, ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street’ and peaceful intellect is under fire in The Day the Earth Stood Still. With GremlinsDante serves up a contemporary cautionary tale of the importance of following instructions.

GREMLINS: Christmas Gifts Gone Awry

source: Warner Bros.

Not necessarily the support of acting like a sheep, or sheeple, but if a cup reads “Caution: Hot Beverage” you should be careful with it. You would not ignore the instructions and dump the beverage on your head. The instructions for proper care of the mogwai were not followed, and its multiples made a mess of things. Going back to the pet analogy, if you don’t take care of the pet, there will be problems.

Gremlins: Final Thoughts

Dante crafts a lovely ode to both of his cinematic influences and successfully molds it into a holiday gem that shows us the dangers of neglecting the instructions of your new gift. It shows the importance of reading the rules carefully to insure a proper time. Then again, the rules were meant to be broken. If Billy and others didn’t break the rules, we’d have both a movie without conflict or no movie at all.

Following the rules or not, enjoy this holiday gem with friends and loved ones. Just be careful eating after midnight. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Is the film a cautionary tale? Is Joe Dante successful in his message? Please leave a comment below.

For more information on the film, click here.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

BA in Film from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. MA in English from the University of Sheffield. All-around fun guy who wants to make the world a better, and more interesting, place.

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