Starring: Scott Baio, Florrie Dugger, Jodie Foster
Director: Alan Parker
Running Time: 93 mins
Bugsy Malone is an American film about the exploits of a group of gangsters in the Prohibition-era USA, and the loves and lives of the people caught up in the crossfire.
Watching this movie really is like watching the best school play ever. A delightfully playful take on the history of gangsters in the era of Prohibition brought to life by an energetic cast of young actors, Bugsy Malone is a well-produced, fun-loving movie throughout.
Admittedly, the film struggles to tell a great story to back up its great production values, but there’s so much family-friendly fun on display here that you won’t be able to help but crack a smile.
While it’s by no means a perfect movie, there’s loads to love about Bugsy Malone, first and foremost its brilliant reinterpretation of the gritty world of 1920s gangsters.
With a cast of entirely child actors, this movie tones down the violence of the subject matter to make it family-friendly, but goes even further by making gangsters just another bunch of goofy characters that kids love to dress up as.
The actors look like they’re having fun with this most unique of films, playing up their adult personas in both entertaining and admittedly cute fashion – even though many of them are teenagers. It’s like watching a school play, with everybody dressed up properly in costumes that seem just that little bit too big for them.
Couple that with amazing production values, gorgeous sets, great makeup and hairstyling, and some innovative ways to get the kids to re-enact the world of 1920s gangsters, including machine guns that shoot cream pies, and beautifully-designed 1920s pedal cars.
The whole movie is full of these fresh and charming takes on its subject matter, and just watching its ingenuity, as well as the unique energy of its all-child cast, is an absolute delight from start to finish.
However, there are times when it’s fair to say that the all-child cast seems more like a gimmick than anything else. It’s so original that I’m hesitant to be so cynical as to call it a full-on gimmick, but the fact that the movie’s story is so weak in comparison to its wealth of creativity hints at just that.
Beneath the surface of its great production values, there’s really not all that much that makes Bugsy Malone interesting. The story is fairly simplistic, and although it’s meant to be family-friendly, there isn’t much in the way of gripping character drama. Perhaps that’s a bit too high of an expectation for what is meant to be a much fluffier movie, but I felt that the screenplay here was really lacking.
Meanwhile, the songs aren’t all that great. Again, the 1920s style is great to see in the music too, and it’s also fun to see kids acting out big musical numbers normally reserved for Hollywood A-listers, but I’m struggling to really remember any standout songs from the movie.
What’s also a bit of a shame is that the kids don’t sing the songs, but instead mouth along to dubs of adult voices. Again, that does have some comedic value at first, but it wears off a little too quickly, and ultimately proves more of a disappointment than an addition to the movie. In all honesty, I’d have liked to see the kids singing themselves, just to add to the school play feel of the whole film.
Overall, there’s no denying the immense originality and creativity of Bugsy Malone. Taking the gritty world of gangsters and making it friendly for young viewers and actors is a real challenge, but this movie pulls it off brilliantly. With a charming ability to reinterpret history in a fun, family-friendly way, as well as with fantastic production values throughout, the movie is a real delight at times.
The young cast really give their all, although a rather poor screenplay and disappointing songs ultimately prove a bit of a hindrance to making Bugsy Malone a brilliantly entertaining watch, so that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.