Movies That Ruined My Childhood: The Peanut Butter Solution
The Peanut Butter Solution didn’t give me “the fright”, but it certainly weirded me out. So I buried it deep, deep into my subconscious. Thank you internet for dredging it up.
Recently an internet discussion at Polygon on whether A Wrinkle in Time was worse off for not being as weird as the book spiraled into other “Wait? That movie actually was real?” topics. I want to thank poster “OtherWhiteTofu” for reminding me that The Peanut Butter Solution was in fact a real movie that climbed into my eyeballs when I was young. My first (incorrect) recollection was that The Peanut Butter Solution was one of those weird books I voraciously devoured in between my visits to Red Wall or Prydain. Then I was like, OK must have been one of those weird animated after-school stories like How to Eat Fried Worms. Then IMDb delivered the sad news: nope, this film was real, full length, and live action.
So I had deluded myself. But after re-watching The Peanut Butter Solution, maybe things might have been better if it was only a figment of the imagination. Then you wouldn’t have to share in the bizarre reality!
The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
Michael Baskin (Mathew Mackay) is your normal 11 year old until he peeks into a haunted house on a dare. The sight of ghosts causes him to contract a condition called “the fright”, whereupon his hair falls out while he sleeps. When a wig proves to be no solution, Michael accepts a Peanut Butter one: the ghosts up in the house were actually somewhat benevolent crackpots. They give Mikey a recipe to slather on the ol’ chromedome, with one caveat: don’t use too much peanut butter. Of course Michael uses too much.
Now he has flowing locks that Fabio would kill for. Unfortunately Fabio was busy with some waterfowl that weekend, so Michael is instead captured by an artist that wants his magic hair to make magic paintbrushes.
Oh, did I mention Michael’s friend used the solution to… um.. try to jump-start puberty? Yeah, this movie is that weird.
The Peanut Butter Solution is the second salvo in a round of Children’s Movies that France sent to America as retribution for us entering the Second World War later than we should’ve. At least I think that explains the plague of bad kids movies they unaccountably shipped across the pond. It not only has the dubious distinction of being a movie most children chalked up to Chicken Pox fever dreams, IT HAD A CELINE DION SOUNDTRACK. What kind of bizzarro universe did this movie escape from?
Most Likely the same universe that whispered fresh horrors into the Brother’s Grimm ears. Or Dickens. All I’m saying is that that dimension needs to be the next place Dr. Strange seals off.
This movie starts out with a very humble premise: Michael and his friend are just coming into their new bodies, and are desperate to stand out enough to be cool but not enough to be bullied. From this average, ABC approved idea an amalgamation of Rapunzel, Little Dorrit, and Harry Potter was birthed. In fact, this movie is what would happen if Harry Potter had not gone to Hogwarts and had instead been shipped off to debtors prison. A whole lot less wonder, a whole lot more “life sucks, wear a helmet.”
The Storyteller’s Poor Cousin
A second viewing of The Peanut Butter Solution left me feeling like I had seen a rejected episode of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. One that had then been picked up by a studio with a much smaller budget and a much dimmer outlook on the wonders of childhood. The result is that while The Storyteller can take old fairy tales and spin Grimm straw into childlike wonder gold, The Peanut Butter solution can’t. It feels less wondrous making its harsher elements come into stronger relief.
While this tale has ghosts, magic, and other fantastic/silly elements, they never pop. The lack of a VFX crew of Henson’s caliber leaves this tale feeling more mundane. As such I focused more on the cruelties of Michael being bullied, by the artist’s sweatshop imprisonment business model, and the children’s escape plan. Which relies heavily on traumatizing the hell out of their captor. It’s not irredeemably cruel and bleak, but the movie never really gets enough of a whimsical polish on it to move the needle from mean-spirited to lighthearted.
If This is the Solution, I’d Rather Have the Problem
I quarantined The Peanut Butter Solution off in my mind palace as a child due to its weirdness. This time around it’s getting the same sentence, but for a different crime: not being all that good. There are tons of stories that are better looking. Many tell a similar tale with either more fun, more menace, or a better moral. Which lead me to doubt my memory one last time:
Maybe I had simply forgotten The Peanut Butter Solution because it was just an inferior version of all the media I was rapaciously consuming as a child?