FILM / Problem child: John Hughes's objectionable Baby's Day Out

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The Independent Culture
There can be few things more noxious than a 20ft-high baby, although they bob up in movies with dismaying regularity (it's notable that the finest example of the babypic, Howard Hawks's classic comedy Bringing Up Baby, doesn't have a child in it at all). Back in the Seventies, cinema's core audience was the post-war generation of 18-25s, and they weren't interested in nappies. Then, you could spot the odd moppet, in films like The Exorcist, but it was rarely adorable: it would tend to spew viscous green fluid and swivel its head through 360 degrees.

Later, all those baby-boomers grew up and spawned children of their own, and films like Baby Boom, Three Men and a Baby, Look Who's Talking and - par excellence - Parenthood duly hymned the joys thereof. More recently, we've seen a reverse backlash, with a plague of pictures about troublesome kids: Home Alone, Honey I Blew Up the Baby, The Good Son and, most notoriously, Problem Child. And now John Hughes, who has mined that vein most profitably, tosses a new sprog on the pile, with Baby's Day Out, wherein a pampered nine-month-old is kidnapped by three bungling villains and leads them a merry dance.

Actually for the film-maker - pace W C Fields - the advantages of working with babies are legion. You don't need to spend too much effort on crafting dialogue (speeches here run to 'boo- boo' and 'tick-tock'). Costumes are no worry: the infant sports two outfits, an absurd tartan 'fruit suit' with over-sized tam- o'-shanter, which the crooks rapidly ditch in favour of T-shirt and dungarees. Babies don't demand bigger Winnebagos or their own personal trainer. And they come a whole lot cheaper than Macaulay Culkin.

But the biggest beauty of it all is our hero's shining innocence. He crawls, gurgling and unscathed, on to buses, into building sites, through the bars of a gorilla's cage. The kidnappers race, fuming, humiliated and increasingly battered, in his wake (as the ring-leader, Joe Mantegna is the latest actor to sacrifice dignity to a fat pay-cheque). But nothing - not when the bad guy falls from a mile-high scaffold, nor when he has his manhood set on fire, nor when he is hurled across a room by the irate gorilla - is exactly Baby's fault. Neither judge nor censor can point to this movie as an incitement to evil.

As with all Hughes' movies, the moral is objectionable in another way. Baby's parents are snooty, fabulously wealthy socialites, who learn nothing at all from their traumatic adventure. When Mrs Snooty barges into the humble apartment of a single mother, wrongly believing her treasure concealed there, there's barely an apology. Instead, the mom tearfully reassures her, 'These kids are all I've got: I know how you feel.' Poverty row or palace - parenthood makes us all the same under the skin.

(Photograph omitted)

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