Today in “The Movies We Love”, I’ll be discussing John Landis’ classic screwball comedy, Animal House. What is it that makes Landis’ band of college misfits so special?
Throughout the 1970’s, writers Harold Ramis, Chris Miller, and Douglas Kenney worked on their vision- a comedy revolving around the college years in the 1960’s, sort of a college answer to George Lucas’ high school romp, American Graffiti. By the time it was written and director John Landis had brought the story to life, what they came up with was especially thorough. It strikes at the heart of what makes college life so much fun. Everyone who has ever been to college has known the archetype characters in the film. Everyone knows a ladies’ man like Eric Stratton; a socially awkward nerd like Kent Dorfman; a partier like John Blutarsky; a grown up/not quite grown up couple like Boone and Katy; pseudo-nihilist social climbers like Greg Marmalard, Douglas Neidermayer, and Chip Diller; green freshmen like Larry Kroger; ditzy co-eds like Babs Jansen and Mandy Pepperidge; or had an over-the-top philosophical pot-smoking professor like Professor Jennings. The character framework is built for maximum resonance with the audience.
The film also works as a great send-up of the college experience in general. The events are the type of things that college-goers have experienced. If you’ve gone to college, you’ve seen pranks. You’ve stressed over tests. In my case and I’m sure many others, you’ve seen how a private college works and you realize just how spot-on the writers were in creating Faber College. You’ve seen rampaging, sex and alcohol-fueled parties that can seem like they last an entire semester. Ramis, Miller, Kenney, and Landis knew the college experience well and formed it into hilarious parody. Of course, in their world, it was set in the early 60’s, which brings me to my next point. It hits the mark as a period piece. You feel exactly as if you’ve been transported to a college campus in the 1960’s. This is in part thanks to the soundtrack, which enhances the highjinx. The clothing, the cars, the hairstyles, the music… you’re right there with them in the 1960’s.
Any discussion of Animal House must also mention John Belushi. The man was hilarious. He had the ability to warrant laughs without uttering a single word, sort of a fat, slovenly, drunken version of Buster Keaton. And when he did speak, it was delivered in such a way that it’d be tragic if it was anyone else saying it. Without Belushi’s series of actions, the film loses a lot of comedic teeth. It’s impossible to imagine Animal House without the horse prank and Belushi’s fat ninja antics moving across campus; his childishly amusing attempt to see naked co-eds; the stoic way in which he bashes a guitar over the head of a beatnik who’s far too sensitive; and of course, the best motivational speech in history. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? NO! But this article is.