Some Films, Like ‘Animal House,’ Are Rites Of Passage
Some tribes in Africa require a boy to battle a wild beast.
Some natives of South American jungles have their adolescent males endure painful rites of strength and endurance.
And some groups indigenous to North America believe a boy must make a hallucinogenic journey to find his spirit guide and commune with the otherworld.
Here in modern America, there are a handful of important things a boy must accomplish before he can become a man. One in particular is a sacred obligation that will no doubt be one of the most useful skills he will obtain and utilize throughout his life.
Of course, I’m talking about every guy’s moral duty to memorize and be able to quote as many lines from movies like “Anchorman,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Caddyshack” and “Animal House” as possible.
With school beginning for so many kids this week, I thought I would offer a little lesson in a school-themed film.
Yes, I’m talking about “Animal House.”
For example, did you know …
— The roles of Eric “Otter” Stratton and “D-Day” were written for, respectively, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd? Also, if the first casting ideas had stuck, Bill Murray would’ve been playing “Boone” and Meat Loaf would’ve been “Flounder.” When the concept originated, the plan was to use as many of the cast for the touring National Lampoon theater show as possible.
However, by the time the movie finally got around to production, a few years later, most of that cast had gone on to fame through “Saturday Night Live.” The casting directors didn’t want to use the actors because they had become too well known. They wanted to keep the audience thinking of the “House” guys as their characters rather than as big-name actors playing the parts. The sole exception, obviously, was John Belushi. It turns out that no matter what, the “Bluto” role was going to go to Belushi, for whom it was originally written, and who was obviously perfect for the part.
— None of the actors who portrayed the members of Delta had ever been in fraternities. Days before shooting began, they decided to go to a fraternity party as “research” and ended up getting into a huge fist-fight with the frat members.
— No studio wanted to make the film. None of them “got” it, none of them thought it would make any money and none of them thought it was funny. This is never a surprise. Anything great in pop culture — from Elvis to The Beatles to “The Godfather” to Quentin Tarantino films to Harry Potter books and on and on — is invariably rejected over and over again by the mainstream before it finally gets in through a back door and becomes a huge success. Finally, the only way “Animal House” got made was because director John Landis was able to get an established star, his friend Donald Sutherland, to appear in the film. Sutherland did it as a favor to Landis, who used to babysit for Sutherland’s son, Keifer. And, as producer Ivan Reitman puts it, “Ironically, the story nobody wanted to touch became the hottest movie in America.”
— The characters were based on real people. Chris Miller, the writer of the film, based “Pinto” on his experiences as a college freshman — his college nickname was actually “Pinto” — and the character “Boone” on his experience as a senior. Also, the reason “Otter” was nicknamed after the animal is because the real-life “Otter” had the humungous choppers associated with the critter.
— A sequel was planned to “Animal House,” but wasn’t made because of John Belushi’s death.
— The movie was filmed at the University of Oregon because pretty much no other campus in the country would allow them to do it there. Why? They hated the script and thought it was too risque. The only reason Oregon allowed it was because the university president had regretted passing on allowing “The Graduate” to film there a few years earlier, so he approved the filming, script unread.
Those nuggets and more are the bedrock, the foundation, of a film that has spawned dozens of quotable lines, and one which, I would dare say, is one of the pillars of any great education in popular movies.
And by great education in popular movies, young males, I mean some of the necessary films you must see to truly become a man. Or at least a man who is adept at quoting goofy comedies.
Don’t let us down, next generation males. Believe me, there will come a day when you’ll need to know who “Mohammed, Lonnie and Jugless” are, how to avoid “double-secret probation” and why “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”
Copyright 2016 Sean Leary / for more writing see www.seanleary.com