Sunday, March 19, 2023

What’s up with Animal House [Media Notes 87]

I never saw it in theaters, though I certainly heard about it. Animal House came out in 1978, just as I was finishing graduate school and about to take my first (and only) academic gig. From the Wikipedia entry:

Of the younger lead actors, only the 28-year-old Belushi was an established star, but even he had not yet appeared in a film, having gained fame as an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, which was in its third season in autumn 1977. Several of the actors who were cast as college students, including Hulce, Karen Allen, and Kevin Bacon, were just beginning their film careers. Matheson, also cast as a student, was already a seasoned actor, having appeared in movies and television since the age of 13.

Filming took place in Oregon from October to December 1977. Following its initial release on July 28, 1978, Animal House received generally mixed reviews from critics, but Time and Roger Ebert proclaimed it one of the year's best. Filmed for only $3 million, it garnered an estimated gross of more than $141 million in the form of theatrical rentals and home video, not including merchandising, making it the highest grossing comedy film of its time.

The film, along with 1977's The Kentucky Fried Movie, also directed by Landis, was largely responsible for defining and launching the gross out film genre, which became one of Hollywood's staples Animal House is now regarded as one of the best comedy films of all time.

In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed National Lampoon's Animal House "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was No. 1 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". It was No. 36 on AFI's "100 Years... 100 Laughs" list of the 100 best American comedies. In 2008, Empire magazine selected it as No. 279 of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".

That’s a lot of praise.

I don’t get it. Did I laugh? Yes, here and there, and at the end. But I found the people rather uniformly dull or unpleasant.

Perhaps I’m missing something. I note that the Marx Brothers generally played unpleasant characters in their films, such as Duck Soup, which I recently watched. But they were generally funny, except for Zeppo, who played a straight man. I didn’t find the characters in Animal House very funny. Belushi was weird and outrageous, but I liked him better in The Blues Brothers, which I liked a lot. Perhaps I just don’t like gross out films. Or is it fraternities and fraternity culture I don’t like? Johns Hopkins had fraternities when I was there, but it wasn’t a big fraternity school. I didn’t pledge, but a good friend of mine had.

Perhaps I’m just missing something. And perhaps all those who seem to think the film is up there with sliced bread are missing something. Who knows?

For sure, we’re all missing something.

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