MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Coming of Age Romantic Comedy Fantasy/Stars: Michael J. Fox, James Hampton, Susan Ursitti, Jerry Levine, Matt Adler, Lorie Griffin, Jim McKrell, Mark Arnold, Jay Tarses, Mark Holton, Scott Paulin, Doug Savant/Runtime: 92 minutes
I think it is safe to say that the 1985 film Teen Wolf is a pretty straightforward movie about the unorthodox way that a teenager desperate to fit in and become “popular” with his classmates learns that more times than not it’s not a requirement for one to have to go through an astonishing metamorphosis in order to be the best possible person that one could hope to be. Indeed the fact that this simple idea is examined through a direct comparison between a high school athlete who is an absolute zero and the hero he manages to turn into when a distinct family quirk that every so often misses a generation, but not this time takes hold and in the process changes everything he thought he knew in regards to his life, love, the sport he is passionate about, and just about himself in general. Yet when it starts becoming obvious that this “upgrade” of the guy is only on the level of his skin, or dare I say fur, we witness as internal agony and an external revelation begin helping him get his way back toward equilibrium. However, for this guy equilibrium is this metamorphosis so I guess the one thing this slice of cinematic pie seems to be asking you, the viewer is it better to be the person everyone else wants you to be or is it better to just be yourself even if yourself is as different from society’s standards as you could possibly imagine? Suffice it to say that even though this slice of cinematic pie does seem to convey quite the mixed moral, but with that aside this movie is still a fun little film that is lively, performed fairly well, and just engaging from beginning to end.
The plot is as follows: Teen Wolf tells us the hairy (pun intended) tale of a young man by the name of Scott. A young man who, among other noteworthy things about him, is just a speck of dust when it comes to the players on his high school’s basketball team. Yes our intrepid hero might just be on the 1st string team, but when even that team is being annihilated with one of their latest final scores be 71-12….well I think you might just be able to get the point. Making matters even more difficult is that socially Scott isn’t exactly Mr. Popular either to the point that his only friends are a guy named Stiles and a girl by the name of Lisa aka Boof who, unbeknownst to him, wants to be more than just friends with him. Things soon start to change though when one day our intrepid hero notices some odd, but not exactly panic-causing changes occurring to him physically in the form of longer hair and better hearing. However, when this is followed up with longer nails, ears getting pointy, and fur all over his body (you know….like a werewolf perhaps?) Scott finally sees that maybe this might not be perhaps the most normal body changes in the world (gee….you think?). Of course, it isn’t long before Scott changes into this creature during a basketball game and surprisingly it doesn’t go so bad; in fact he manages to use his new look and his new playing skill to lead his team to victory. Now the Beavers have started becoming a team to be reckoned with and Scott has become the hottest guy on campus. Thus can his team utilize this momentum and make their way to the BIG game or will our hero and his newly acquired talent/popularity come back down to Earth with a resounding thud and in the process teach him a thing or 2 about loving yourself and working with others rather than making it all about yourself?
Now what is quite intriguing about this movie is just how easygoing everyone is in their response to the main character’s metamorphosis. I mean Scott is just accepted in his werewolf persona in the same manner as someone might be accepted at school if they showed up wearing stylish clothes, going from chubby to muscular, or were rocking a completely new haircut. Suffice it to say that whilst this slice of cinematic pie does not possess even an ounce of realism in that respect, it does have one other positive going for it. That of course being that the manner that everyone else just accepts Scott’s new look and improvement on the court does seem to strengthen one of the core concepts of the movie which is that although Scott has changed in certain ways, these changes are only surface-level and it’s who Scott is on the inside that at the end of the day matters. Indeed even if the physical changes only seem to annoy Scott, everyone else is ok with it even as they come to see Scott’s werewolf persona as nothing more than something they can use to win games and sell shirts. Yet the fact remains that if you take away the fur, the teeth, and the claws it’s still Scott underneath all of that because the werewolf persona is as natural to him as his eye color and how tall he is. Suffice it to say then that accepting someone for who they truly are is one of the main thematic concepts that this slice of cinematic pie chooses to operate with. Yes how well it does on that front really is at the end of the day up to each and every one of you to figure out for yourself, but at the end of the day Teen Wolf does manage to exchange a possibly significantly more intriguing look at a person coming to grips with having a pair of personas rather than just one for a film that is meant to be more entertaining than anything else. Yes it can be a little bit exasperating that this movie’s message it is trying to convey comes all expenses paid on a key element of just who this character already is, but I would just like to point out that this slice of cinematic pie wasn’t meant to be the say all, end all on this topic. Rather, it is just plain and simply meant to be an entertaining little film that operates in much shallower waters than a lot of other slices of cinematic pie of a similar ilk.
Suffice it to say then that at the end of the day, Teen Wolf manages to work on the level that it does for at least a pair of distinct reasons: its novelty and the cast it has brought together to bring this story to life. Indeed this is one slice of cinematic pie that flips the script completely on the run of the mill narrative of “high school loser becomes cool” by having the loser change into a version of himself that not only ushers in the transition, but in the process gives him an assertiveness and athletic talent that he was sorely lacking when he was himself and not his new-fanged persona. This slice of cinematic pie also deserves props for taking the werewolf, which is normally portrayed as a vicious and bloodthirsty creature, and transforming it into something completely harmless save for when he is playing basketball and even then the only concern when he shows up is how many buckets he’ll rack up before the game is done. Suffice it to say then that the fact that this slice of cinematic pie completely sideswipes the vast majority of elements tied to the legend of this creature is not at all a detriment to the quality of the overall film. Indeed film helmer Rod Daniel does a good job at getting you to accept that, contrary to what you may have seen in other werewolf films, this transformation is by no means a bad thing. Not only that, but Daniel also manages to provide this slice of cinematic pie with an energy that is hard to resist. Yes the playfulness in this film tends to override quite a bit at times, it also thankfully doesn’t intrude on the messages that the film is trying to convey. Finally it is also worth pointing out that in the titular role, Michael J. Fox is fantastic. Indeed not only does Fox bring the charisma and youthful energy that made him the perfect choice for Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy, but he also brings just the right amount of maturity with particular regard towards the end of the film.
All in all I think it is safe to say that even though the slice of cinematic pie that is Teen Wolf might not ever feel like it is able to acquire a strong hold on just what kind of message, if any, it is ultimately wishing to convey to movie goers, but in this instance this is not exactly a huge detriment in this slice of cinematic pie’s case, if you can even call it a detriment in the first place. Indeed it’s exasperating at worst, but if you are the kind of movie goer whose ambition is to just sit back with a tub of hot buttered popcorn and give this film a view and see just what it has to provide a potential viewer then it really isn’t all that bad truth be told. Suffice it to say that when you mix together a top-flight cast, well-done helmsmanship, and a clever and novel tale that gives us a new twist on a familiar narrative and what you get is a slice of cinematic pie that is seen as one of the more refreshing films from that iconic era known as the Go Go 80s. On a scale of 1-5 I give Teen Wolf “85” a solid 3 out of 5.