The Dangers Of Nostalgia

The Dangers Of Nostalgia
Super Mario Bros. (1993) - source: Buena Vista Pictures

In every passing year, nostalgia gets more prevalent both in real life and online, especially online. Young adults engage in conversation with friends about cartoons or movies from childhood, and Hollywood regularly remakes or reboots an established property banking on nostalgia from viewers of a certain age. While discussing a band you liked in high school is perfectly normal, there is also a danger in nostalgia.

My earliest brush with nostalgia came in 1999 or 2000 during my high school days going to Hot Topic (franchise in American shopping malls) to buy rock band t-shirts. During one Saturday, I vaguely recall (the use of vague memories will appear later in the article, spoiler alert!!) seeing t-shirts of 1980’s cartoons: ThundercatsVisionaries and He-man and the Masters of the Universeto name a few. The t-shirts were alongside movies from the decade like Labyrinth, Dark Crystal and The Goonies. After that, more late teens/early twenties folks walked around in these shirts, a nod to their childhoods.

The rise of this trend continued with the tradition of “my childhood is better than yours”, as done by every previous generation to the next one. My friends and I would talk shit about new cartoons and new action movies with the claim that our stuff is the best. Naturally, entertainment through the rose-colored glasses of a child differs from that of an experienced adult. Which leads to my journey out of this clouded ignorance by re-watching childhood movies.

These nostalgia types from my adolescence experienced the “mine is better than yours” in an age before streaming, downloading, YouTube and even before DVD box sets were omnipresent. With no chance to re-watch them, they blindly boasted how amazing their movie or show was based on clouded memories, with snippets of images of them having a good time, the first danger of nostalgia. Within the last few years, I re-watched two films I liked as a kid: Super Mario Bros and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. The films were…not good. I did not like them as much as I did when I was in elementary school. That being said, allow me to break down how nostalgia should be handled to avoid the danger zones (not to reference Kenny Loggins).

A Child’s Worldview

The brain and maturity level of a ten year old differs from that of an adult; one would hope at least. I saw both aforementioned films in the cinema, at eight and ten years old, and owned them on VHS when their theatrical runs ended. Like most kids of that era, I was nuts about my Super Mario Bros. Nintendo games and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show. Naturally, any such product must be absorbed. Unfortunately, children do not have standards like adults.

The Dangers Of Nostalgia
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) – source: New Line Cinema

While the first Ninja Turtles film holds up and is still entertaining, the second one does not. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is an obvious cash grab (made only a year after the first movie). The quickness shows in the costume and effects area: mouths don’t sync up well with dialogue, and the turtles don’t move as gracefully. The first film used story points from the original 1984 comic (Raphael’s encounter with Casey Jones, the turtles hiding in the country, fight with Shredder etc.) that gives it a more mature and dark tone. This inferior sequel gives us turtles that don’t use their weapons (!!!), excessive corny jokes and a paper-thin story that goes nowhere. As a child, you don’t notice these details. As an adult, it’s all over the screen. The Vanilla Ice cameo is still funny, though.

I first played Super Mario Bros. in 1989 and have been a fan ever since. Shortly after that, an animated series with live action segments that bookend each episode premiered. In the summer of 1993 when the movie came out, I naturally begged my dad to take me to see it. I enjoyed it, and for years I professed my love for it. I re-watched it back in 2015, and I want to thank my father for sitting through this mess all those years ago.

The movie is nothing like the game. Things I somehow missed as a kid: those bombs and bullets are way too small, it’s set in a parallel dimension of dinosaurs (???), Toad (mushroom character) is a human and King Koopa isn’t a lizard, but Dennis Hopper looking and behaving like a young Donald Trump. Too many things going on at once, plus a lame story that ends with the possible opening for a sequel. I really wanted to still enjoy this childhood favorite, but simply couldn’t.

A Different World

While I speak negatively about these movies, there will be defenders for them. Many will say statements like “Kid movies were better in (insert decade)” or “these new movies are terrible.” These statements, of course, are too generalized and lack evidence in why they were better or worse. Like a child’s view of a movie, a child’s perspective of their surroundings differs from an adult.

On online message boards, nostalgia types moan about not only the quality of childhood entertainment, but that the world/life was better back then. I’m sorry to say, no it wasn’t. The world is just the same, it’s you that changed. The world was better because as a child you don’t have mortgage payments, job woes, car payments and other adult responsibilities. You went to school, your parent might have prepared your lunchbox and your biggest worry is passing the spelling test. The world was better because you had no responsibilities.

The Dangers Of Nostalgia
He-man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) – source: NBC Universal Television

In regards to the statement that new movies are terrible, well, there have always been terrible movies. The cash-in sequel of the Ninja Turtles is just like any franchise movie playing in multiplexes today. Though Super Mario Bros. is the first video game adaptation, it’s not the first non-narrative property made into a movie or TV series. Look at the movie Clue (board game), Garbage Pail Kids (trading cards) and the Dungeons and Dragons animated series (role-playing game). Crap has been around longer than we care to, or want, to remember. Hollywood wanting to make a buck is as old as Hollywood itself.

Online Trolling

The internet changed our lives in both positive and negative ways, as the cliché goes. Chatting with friends in different parts of the globe and shopping made our lives more comfortable. Unfortunately, the internet has also created new outlets for abuse and harassment, leading to the arrival of a new noun and verb in the English lexicon: troll and trolling.

A troll gets a thrill out of abusing people online just for the fun of it. Political discussions aside, trolls frequent entertainment sites and YouTube to cause trouble when there is talk of a remake, reboot or belated sequel on a piece of childhood nostalgia. When they don’t attack due to their vague memories (see, it appeared) the troll will attack a new movie without even seeing it.

The Dangers Of Nostalgia
Super Mario Bros. (1993) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

An attack on a movie that trolls did not see happened recently with the 2016 all-female Ghostbusters reboot. The internet went wild with trolls making sexist comments toward cast members, claiming the movie ruined their childhood, and attacking people who wanted to see it. The trolls’ extreme nostalgia blinds them from giving something new a chance, and it spreads hate online, leading to more cyber-bullying.

To use the term “don’t feed the trolls”, do just that, ignore them. Trolls thrive on attention and feel insecure if you don’t feed them. As with all things, give the new movie a chance first, and re-watch the original to see if it’s as amazing as you remember.

Nostalgia: Final Thoughts

Nostalgia is not completely dangerous and it is not 100% wonderful. It can be nice to go back on music and movies you loved when you were younger, but it can be disappointing when it is not as good as you remember. Like old movies, some will hold up while others become dated or forgotten. We still discuss, say, three iconic films that came out in 1967 as opposed to the forgotten 200 other films.

To use 1980’s cartoons as an example, we fondly recall the epic openings and catchy theme music, but our memories cloud the actual episode content. The actual episodes of the majority of these were cheaply made and the hokey “stories” were just 30 minute toy commercials.

To avoid the dangers of nostalgia, always remember to review the material again before making a bold claim about it. You’re not the same person as you were ten or twenty years ago. Alternatively, there’s always the possibility that the new version of a familiar property made improvements from the original material, and you just might enjoy the new one more.

What childhood favorite holds up for you? Which one do you dislike now? Please comment below.

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

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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