I am sure I have mentioned this before, but I will repeat it: I am a sucker for any movie set in Chicago. I also enjoy movies from the 1980s, the decade in which I was born. One film combining these two elements that I had remarkably never seen before is Adventures in Babysitting (1987). I have no good explanation for why this particular one fell through the cracks. Some vague recollection tells me that it might have something to do with having the word “babysitter” in the title, which I once thought to be too girly of a word. At any rate, it went unwatched until I noticed it recently on Disney +. Having remembered it being talked about at one time, I thought, why not? I was pleasantly surprised by its geographical setting, and somewhat shocked by the rest.
The first thing you see when you watch Adventures in Babysitting on Disney + is the notice that the film has been edited for content. I think you will understand why as we go along. Christina “Chris” Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is getting ready for her big date with Mike Todwell (Bradley Whitford). She is set to go when she hears the doorbell ring. Mike is there, but it is to deliver the news that they cannot go out that night owing to a sick sister. She initially seeks her best friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), but then is convinced to babysit for the Anderson family. This news is big for the Andersons’ oldest child, the fifteen-year-old Brad (Keith Coogan). He has a crush on the high school senior Chris, and thus cancels his plans to stay the night with his buddy Daryl Coopersmith (Anthony Rapp), though Daryl comes over to egg on Brad. Also excited to see Chris is the Andersons’ younger, Thor loving daughter Sara (Maia Brewton). What disrupts what would have been an uneventful night watching over one adolescent girl and two young teenagers is a call from Brenda. Citing a need to escape a stifling home, Brenda had run away from the staid Oak Park suburb to the dangerous city of Chicago. She had gone no farther than the bus station before panicking, and asks Chris to come get her. Chris reluctantly agrees, but on the way her family station wagon blows a tire on the freeway. They are helped by a passing tow truck driven by “Handsome” John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan), who has a hook in place of one of his hands. Despite his scary visage, he proves to be a decent enough chap until he tells Chris and her charges that he must make one stop on the way to his garage. This turns out to be his girlfriend’s place, where he finds her cheating on him. Shots are fired, and Chris and company flee to the safety of another car. Unfortunately, the vehicle they select is in the process of being stolen by a car thief named Joe Gipp (Calvin Levels). He will not let them out of the car, but he promises not to hurt them as he takes them to the chop shop where he drops off his pilfered merchandise. His boss, Bleak (John Chandler), orders Joe to keep the kids in an upstairs office until they can be dealt with properly. While up there, they discover an escape route, but the perverted Daryl decides to steal a Playboy he finds. This particular magazine contains a list of locations for illegal operations, and can be damaging to Bleak’s outfit if it got to the police. Thus there begins a chase across the city of Chicago that includes stops at a Blues’ bar, a hospital, a frat party at the University of Chicago, a French restaurant where Chris finds Mike out with another girl, Dawson’s garage where Chris’ car is fixed, and finally the Prudential building in downtown. In the process, they are aided by the Blues band, which appreciates Chris’ rendition of the Babysitter Blues; the kindly Dan Lynch (George Newbern), a student at the University of Chicago who has an instant crush on Chris and gives her the money she needs to retrieve her car; and finally Dawson (Vincent D’Onorfio), who looks strikingly like Thor, much to Sara’s delight. Once everyone is safely collected, they have to beat the Andersons home, getting the house in order so that they believe that nothing has been amiss. As Chris leaves relieved, up pulls Dan in his jeep, delivering Sara’s lost roller skate and sharing a kiss.
Who would have thought a film like Adventures in Babysitting, which I thought was a light-hearted take on childcare, would have so many dark elements? It is a bit of a wonder that it is available on Disney + at all. Daryl is probably the biggest reason for why this is the case. Given his age, I guess it makes sense to make him so fixated on sex. Aside from stealing a Playboy at the worst possible moment, he also appears to be on the verge of doing several things about which he had only read during their brief stop at the frat party. In another scene, he is on the verge of propositioning a prostitute. There is an aspect of Chris’ character that is a little shocking, too. She looks a lot like the centerfold in the previously mentioned publication, and she is consistently mistaken for being that person. She is clearly uncomfortable with the comparison, which is good, but it is still a small part of the story. This is all without mentioning the shootouts, gang violence (this occurs during a short ride on the el), organized crime, dishonesty, prostitution, and the way the film somewhat makes fun of the homeless. It is also not all that original in terms of having a group of people gallivanting around the Windy City, although Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) is about a purposeful trip to the urban center rather than an accidental one. Either way, I feel like Adventures in Babysitting does not do my hometown justice. I promise you, it is not the insane place as it is depicted. Every city has its bad parts, to be sure, but there are plenty of safe areas as well. Finally, it is bittersweet to have the school from which I was twice rejected, the University of Chicago, mentioned so prominently, but that is a story for another day.
One scene I did appreciate in Adventures in Babysitting, though, is when Sara meets Dawson. At this point, they are racing to get to their car before they are found by Bleak’s thugs. At first, Dawson does not want to hand over the keys because they are five dollars short of the required fifty. It is Sara that wins him over. Jesus once placed a child in the midst of His followers and told them that if they do not strive to be like one of these little ones, they would unfit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What is needed is innocence. A child views the world fresh and anew, which is about as close as we can get to seeing it as God does. Adults are jaded, seeing looming treachery in too many places, even if more often than not nothing comes of our suspicions. Sara sees Dawson, with his long blond hair, well-muscled arms, and carrying a sledge hammer, and he is Thor. When he acts annoyed at what he initially takes as impertinence, she dismisses this as him simply not wanting to give away his real identity. Her faith convinces him not only to give them their car without the extra money, but to go along with her wishes. This is seen when she attempts to give him her Thor helmet. He then hands it back, telling her that he already has one at home. Any time we can keep such wonder alive, it is a miracle of the highest degree.
The paragraph where I discuss Adventures in Babysitting’s drawbacks might make it seem like a more serious film than what it is. While I still believe some of these elements could have been left out, at least they are played for laughs and not presented cynically as “real life.” In this way, even if I do believe it is an unfair depiction of Chicago, it is a solid piece of cinema. I would not recommend it to younger audiences, but otherwise have a gander.