Would this movie be possible without BEETLEJUICE? That’s what I couldn’t help asking myself while re-watching LITTLE MONSTERS. That and, How is it no one on the Internet noticed it's main title sequence is exactly the same as STRANGER THINGS, and why can’t I find a clip to prove it to you?! Guess you have to see it to believe it.
But back to BEETLEJUICE… LITTLE MONSTERS came to us in 1989, a year or so after Michael Keaton’s ghost with the most, and maybe about as long after Fred Savage stole TV’s heart on THE WONDER YEARS. Savage plays Brian, just another kid in another ‘80s movie who moves into a new home, can’t make friends, and overhears his parents fight a lot. (In an inspired bit of casting, Brian’s dad is played by Daniel Stern, voice of grown up Kevin on THE WONDER YEARS.) He might as well be the kid Savage played in that princess movie, that is until a monster pops up from under his bed. Monster in question is Maurice (Howie Mandel), a Beetlejuice-type ADHD prankster responsible for all the shenanigans around their house — you know bikes left in from of cars, late night TV watching and sandwich eating… CRAZY STUFF. Maurice shows Brian his underbed monster world, which is like a cross between the death office from the Tim Burton flick and Pleasure Island from PINOCCHIO, and the two have all sorts of fun doing CRAZY STUFF. That is, until Brian’s brother Eric (Savage’s real life brother Ben, before he met the world) is kidnapped in the monster underworld. Then shit gets real. Or really weird. At least there’s a plot.
Some great supporting roles pop up, like reliable Rick Ducommun as the monster land bully, also henchman to Boy (Frank Whaley), the little boss of this whole game. Whaley even gets to put younger Savage in a compromising “Say what again!” situation.
This movie belongs 100% to the world of GOONIES, EXPLORERS, and other great kid fantasies of the era. No doubt the STRANGER THINGS main title is honest homage to that. But the specter of Keaton haunts everything Mandel says, does, and is, down to fart jokes and overdone makeup. This is not to say Beetlejuice was such a groundbreaker — despite being one of Keaton’s best ever roles, energy-wise it owes a lot to Robin Williams’ manic Mork. It all leaves Maurice and Brian’s adventure a small (but enjoyable) step in a sort of Obsolete land bridge: Mork to Beetlejuice to Maurice to Ace Ventura and the Mask and everything else Jim Carrey did before trying to be serious.