The Little Rascals is a 1994 American family comedy film produced by Amblin Entertainment, and released by Universal Pictures on August 5, 1994. The film is an adaptation of Hal Roach's Our Gang, a series of short films of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s (many of which were broadcast on television as The Little Rascals) which centered on the adventures of a group of neighborhood children. The film, with a screenplay by Paul Guay, Stephen Mazur, and Penelope Spheeris – who also directed – presents several of the Our Gang characters in an updated setting, and features re-interpretations of several of the original shorts. It was the first collaboration by Guay and Mazur, whose subsequent comedies were Liar Liar and Heartbreakers.
Spanky McFarland (Travis Tedford) is the president of the "He-Man Woman Haters Club" with many school-aged boys from around the neighborhood as members. Alfalfa Switzer (Bug Hall), Spanky's best friend, has been chosen to be the driver for the club's prize-winning go-kart, "The Blur", in the upcoming Soap Box Derby go-kart race. Unfortunately, Alfalfa is nowhere to be found.
The boys go to find Alfalfa and they discover him in the company of his sweetheart Darla (Brittany Ashton Holmes), with whom he is forbidden to be in love because she is a girl and that is against club rules. Alfalfa invites Darla on a picnic, and to prove his devotion to her, he agrees to have the picnic inside the Clubhouse. Unbeknownst to Alfalfa, his fellow club members find out about his plans.
At the picnic, Alfalfa and Darla think they are alone, but the other club members secretly pull several silly pranks to sabotage their romantic date (whoopee cushion, cat litter in sandwiches, etc.). When they finally reveal themselves and demand to come inside the clubhouse, Alfalfa frantically tries to convince Darla to hide in the closet, which causes her to mistakenly believe that Alfalfa feels ashamed of her. In the frenzy, a candle flame gets out of control, ultimately causing the clubhouse to burn down.
Darla breaks up with Alfalfa and turns her attentions toward Waldo (Blake McIver Ewing), the new kid in town whose father is an oil tycoon. Because Alfalfa burned down the clubhouse and also fraternized with a girl, Stymie (Kevin Jamal Woods) assigns him to guard the go-kart until the day of the race.
Alfalfa makes several attempts to woo back Darla, including sending her a fake love note. When that attempt fails, Spanky goes with him to formally break things off with Darla. They are initially turned from the door of her ballet school, but Spanky insists that they will wait for Darla to come out. He gives Alfalfa a frog to play with as they wait. They are soon spotted by the neighborhood bullies Butch and Woim, who chase them inside the building. To get away, the boys duck into a door marked "Costume Room" and disguise themselves in ballet drag. They manage to evade the bullies, but when they attempt to enter another room to get out of their disguises (which are implied to be too tight and uncomfortable on their male anatomy), they are surprised to find the room filled with girls, including Darla, dressed in identical costumes. The boys nervously pretend to be in the ballet recital that is about to take place, but Alfalfa almost gives them away when the frog he is still holding in his hands croaks loudly (Spanky brushes it off by saying there's a frog in his throat). Alfalfa learns that Waldo is now Darla's boyfriend and that he is attending the recital that day, but that Darla still has feelings for him when he sings. Just as they are about to back out of the room, the ballet mistress enters and ushers them all on stage.
Spanky and Alfalfa are horrified to learn that they are in the middle of "Scenes from the Nutcracker." They begin awkwardly trying to dance along. Alfalfa attempts to hand the frog off to Spanky, but Spanky tell him to "Get rid of it" before depositing it into the front of Alfalfa's tights. Alfalfa immediately begins squirming in discomfort, and tries to catch the frog, now wriggling in and around his underwear, while still attempting to dance along. The recital quickly falls into chaos, and Alfalfa and Spanky run off of the stage. Alfalfa is glad to have finally caught the frog, but Spanky reminds him that frogs give warts and he rushes behind a curtain to rip off his ballet drag and dispose of the frog.
The ballet mistress, furious that they ruined her recital, confronts them, and upon seeing Alfalfa emerge from the curtain in only his underwear, realizes that they are boys and throws them out immediately, Alfalfa in his underwear and Spanky still dressed as a girl. Butch and Woim are waiting for them outside the door, so Spanky distracts them while Alfalfa sneaks out. When Spanky loses his wig, the bullies give chase. Spanky manages to lose them, but they bump into Alfalfa, who is trying to run home in his underwear. They chase him into a mansion but are turned away by the maid. Alfalfa gets through and escapes out the back door, but is chased by a dog. He jumps into a pool and swims across to escape, losing his underwear in the process. As Alfalfa grabs his underwear to put it back on, he looks around to see Darla and Waldo in a hot tub, laughing at him. He runs away in humiliation.
At the carnival talent show the day before the race, Alfalfa once again tries to win Darla back, this time through song, being that Darla mentioned after she dumped him that the only thing she ever really missed about him was his voice. Waldo and Darla also entered the show in a duet. He talks to Alfalfa backstage saying he was amazing and Darla did okay. This angers Alfalfa, who believes Waldo does not truly appreciate Darla. He then requests the chance to perform for her and win her back. However, Waldo spoils Alfalfa's attempts to serenade her by putting soap in his drinking water, causing him the embarrassment of burping out bubbles all throughout his song.
The boys try to fund-raise $450, the cost of the lumber needed to rebuild their clubhouse. The youngest club members, Buckwheat and Porky, have unwittingly come up with $500, not realizing that their method for earning the money was not exactly honest. Their school teacher, Miss Crabtree, finds out about the scheme and confronts them, but Spanky convinces her to donate the money to be given as first prize in the go-kart derby.
As a result of Alfalfa's carelessness, "The Blur" is eventually stolen by Butch and Woim, so that now, in addition to having to rebuild the clubhouse, the boys need a new go-kart. They band together to build "Blur 2: The Sequel," and prior to race day, Spanky and Alfalfa (who previously had a falling out when the latter discovers the gang's "prank list" among the clubhouse ruins and confronts the former) reconcile their friendship and decide to ride in the two-seat go-kart together. They hope to win the prize money and the trophy, which is to be presented to the winners by A.J. Ferguson (Reba McEntire).
Butch and Woim make several sneaky attempts to stop Alfalfa and Spanky from winning the race. Waldo and Darla have also entered the go-kart race, but they eventually become annoyed with each other, and Waldo seemingly kicks Darla out from his car midway through the race. In a wild dash to the finish, and despite the many scrapes and crashes throughout the race, "The Blur 2" crosses the finish line ahead of the pack in a photo-finish between "The Blur" and "The Blur 2" literally by a hair, due to Alfalfa's pointy hairstyle. After the race, Butch and Woim are angry towards Alfalfa because he won the trophy and the prize money. They attempt to beat him up, but Alfalfa finally stands up for himself and punches Butch in the face, knocking him into a giant pool of pig slop. Woim then gets scared and jumps into the pig slop willingly.
Along with first prize, Alfalfa also wins back Darla, after it is revealed that it had been Darla who had kicked Waldo out of their car and finished the race alone because she found out that Waldo was responsible for the bubbles at the talent show. Spanky, meanwhile, is shocked at the trophy presentation when he finally meets his favorite driver, A.J. Ferguson, who turns out to be female. Spanky confesses to Darla that he and the boys pulled the pranks on her at their picnic lunch, not Alfalfa. After the club house is rebuilt, the boys collectively have a change of heart towards membership and they decide to welcome Darla and friends as well as other girls into the club, adding a "Women Welcome" sign onto the front door.
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Bill Thomas, Jr., son of the late Bill Thomas, who played the original Buckwheat, contacted the studio and was invited down to visit the set, but got the impression that the filmmakers did not want him or any of the surviving original cast members involved in any production capacity. The surviving cast members saw this as especially hurtful, in light of the fact that director Penelope Spheeris had previously made a point of including Buddy Ebsen, from the original Beverly Hillbillies, in her 1993 feature film adaptation of that series. Eugene Jackson, who played the original Pineapple from the silent Our Gang comedies, and tried unsuccessfully to contact the studio to be a part of production, stated, "It's real cold. They have no respect for the old-timers. At least they could have recognized some of the living legends surviving from the first films." Filming took place from January 11, 1994 to April 6, 1994.
The film received mostly negative critical reviews upon its original release; it currently holds a 23% "rotten" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the mostly negative reception, the film had scored a 70% audience rating and Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a thumbs up. It has since been regarded as a cult film. Gene Siskel, however described the film as "A dismal kids' comedy in which creativity stopped after casting lookalikes for the old "rascals" was completed."
Many of the gags and subplots in the film were borrowed from the original Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts. These include:
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