The Topps series of Garbage Pail Kids baseball cards irreverently lampooned the ever-popular line of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, a brand whose major selling point was the ability for their kid-“parents” to name (and thereby individualize) their own lettuce-head goomba via the blank birth certificate included in the package. This despite the fact they were mass-produced, featured skin tones that only seemed to span the distance between creamy beige and café au lait, and ultimately represented one of the most depressing demonstrations of how mass media can indoctrinate a pre-sold consumerist event. Out of every 10 kids that found a Cabbage Patch doll under their Christmas tree, all but one were only asking out of their sense of schoolyard duty. It was the same adults who were thrilled at the sight of their kids reenacting the lifecycle sans sexuality who organized movements to ban Garbage Pail trading from schools across the country.
Which is why The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, indisputably bargain-basement aside from the casting of Mackenzie Astin (who was then basically the biggest star in the universe thanks to The Facts of Life), still yields the amusing spectacle of opportunistic anarchy-peddling passing for ham-fisted social satire. Whether or not director Rod Amateau (Amateur?) was intentionally smuggling subtext into the project to prevent himself from capping off each miserable evening in his backlot trailer with a shot of hydrochloric acid, the film’s plot comes off as a playpen Das Kapital—one where the urban proletariat wets their pants and uses snot to fix their 8” transistor TVs. Astin plays an essentially orphaned boy coming into his economic puberty; in short, he knows the only way he can attract the attention of the frizzy-haired DIY-clothing designer Tangerine is through offering her freebies from the antiques store he works at, beads and medals she can use as accoutrements for her Mall Militia duds. (Tangerine was played by Katie Barberi, now of telenovela fame but who was dating Astin at the time—he had bank, bitch!)
Tangerine’s beefy-dangerous street gang, headed by Juice (oh, I get it!) but given muscle by the dyke Blythe (more fishnet-restrained thigh than had ever been seen in PG films before or since), provide the efficient model for how lower-class uprisings rely on brute force and are often aimed at other competing lower-class sects. Tangerine’s dreams of making it as a top designer in New York or Hollywood will only be fulfilled with the approval of the amassed bourgeoisie at her fashion show (from the look of it, staged in the loading docks of a Montgomery Ward) and the labor provided by the Garbage Pail Kids themselves—or at least the seven selected from hundreds of cards, in order to save the visual effects artists a few bucks on their paper maché midget costumes—who “offer” their skills behind (stolen) sewing machines in exchange for name-brand junk food (as always, the working class’s most attainable status symbol) and the promise that Astin will help them rescue the rest of their Pail race from the State Home for the Ugly. As subtle as a whoopee cushion, the symbolic institution lays bare Amateau’s satirical ambitions and shatters the film’s delicate balance…especially considering that once Astin and the Kids destroy Tangerine’s show to reclaim their products, the other Pail Kids are concurrently being thrown into a garbage truck, crushed, and carted away to the junkyard.
Wait! What?! The rest of the Garbage Pail Kids are crushed in a garbage truck at the bequest of The State?! I imagine parents sitting in the audience with their naughty children (who used their Cabbage Patch dolls as driveway obstructions for their Big Wheel obstacle courses) and feeling ruefully double-crassed. At least until the long-awaited money shot from Valerie Vomit sent their kids into paroxysms of choking laughter and alleviated any concerns about having to field questions of the Third World child-garment industry.