Objects of Their Affection: Spielberg Characters and Their Sidekicks
By Brian Salisbury
This Christmas marks the release of War Horse, the new family adventure from director Steven Spielberg. The film tells the story of a young boy whose beloved horse is sold to the U.S. Cavalry during WWII. He enlists in order to find and save his equine friend. Spielberg, as it turns out, is no stranger to the concept of unconventional buddies. Here’s a list of films in his catalogue that feature an assortment of non-human chums; some films he directed, others he produced.
The first entry is the most obvious: the beloved story of a boy and his…being from another planet. This Spielberg-directed film from 1982 is, on the surface a warm-hearted sci-fi romp. But it is also a parable about a child dealing with separation anxiety caused by divorce; the alienation he feels from the remaining parent is translated as an actual alien. E.T. comes into Eliot’s life and helps heal his pain; both literally and figuratively.
It’s ironic that Spielberg’s A.I. was released in 2001. The film was many years in the making and was originally a project helmed by Stanley Kubrick. In the film, a precocious little robot named David is abandoned by his family and seeks the mythic Blue Fairy to help him become a real boy. Although he’s technically a non-human himself, David has a robotic teddy bear companion named…Teddy. The two experience quite the bleak adventure together.
Having a non-human friend can be a challenge on its own, but when that friend is a Mogwai who comes with his own set of rules that must be carefully followed, things can get complicated. Produced by Spielberg, directed by Joe Dante, Gremlins is quite possibly the best Christmas film ever created. Gizmo, the central Mogwai, bears a cuteness that defies description even as he unwittingly almost brings about the destruction of an entire town.
*batteries not included
A Spielberg-produced sci-fi movie from 1987, probably among his lesser-known projects, *batteries not included is a movie about a group of tiny robotic aliens that come to Earth and help save an apartment building from being torn down. The film is chock full of adorable moments between people and automatons as well as an ingenious mixture of practical and computer-generated effects. The film was actually co-written by Brad Bird, whose Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol opens this week!
Traditionally, the presence of a ghost in your house would not exactly be cause for celebration. But if that ghost happens to be the friendliest ghost who ever…er…lived, then you have got yourself a loyal pal from beyond the grave. Ok yeah, it still sounds kind of scary, but the 1995 Spielberg-produced live-action adaptation of the Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon is lighthearted enough to get you laughing and to keep you in high spirits.
In 1994, Spielberg produced a live-action, big screen adaptation of the “modern” Stone Age family from Bedrock: The Flintstones. In the film, John Goodman steps into the role of that burly, bowling, blue collar schlub Fred Flintstone who is greeted every day with violent vigor by his purple pet dinosaur Dino. Dino is about as close to a non-human “friend” in the film as most of the non-humans are prehistoric creatures doubling as household appliances.
Men in Black II
Given the enormity of the success of Men in Black, it was a cinch that we’d be getting a sequel, and back to produce it once again was good ol’ Steve. In the first film, we are briefly introduced to the alien pug known as Frank, but he plays a much larger role in the second installment. He is able to crack wise with Will Smith’s agent J and looks smashing in his tiny suit.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
One of Spielberg’s best films, and high in the running for best film of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first film in the Indiana Jones franchise. In the film, the world’s sexiest archeologist takes on a Nazi conspirator searching for the ancient ark that carries the Ten Commandments, and unimaginable power. During his quest, he befriends an impish little monkey who proves that the tough-as-nails adventure is actually a big softie.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
When it was released in 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a groundbreaking film. Never had live-action and animation been blended on such an enormous scale. The film, produced by Spielberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis, tells the story of a cartoon star accused of murdering his wife’s lover. Not really a kid’s film despite its appearances. The half-animated take on film noir finds a hard-boiled detective partnering with, and eventually befriending, a cartoon rabbit.
Every young man dreams of owning his first car, and the freedom of the open road that comes with it. What we’d hazard most young men don’t anticipate is that their first car will have the ability to transform in to an extraterrestrial robot. Such, however, was the case for Sam Witwicky and his car-turned-buddy Bumblebee. Their friendship ended up getting Sam, and planet Earth, involved in an interstellar war in this Spielberg-produced action epic.
Harry and the Hendersons
Spending some time in the outdoors with your family can be a wonderful experience. That is of course, unless your happy family outing is ruined by your accidentally running over the legendary Big Foot. Steven Spielberg produced the 1987 comedy Harry and the Hendersons, about an average family (lead by John Lithgow) who take home a Sasquatch, have their lives turned upside-down by him, but in the end grow to love the big hairy oaf.