One of the worst things about working at a Blockbuster Video store during my high school and college years were these stupid Entertainment Tonight promos we had to play. The ET promos ran on a loop and lasted two or three hours each. Playing these tapes was required, which meant agony for those of us who had to listen to them for an entire shift.
That’s why whenever the manager wasn’t around, we made sure to play regular movies instead of the Entertainment Tonight tapes. For the most part, we stuck to G or PG rated movies, but once in a while, we’d stick in a PG-13 movie to shack things up. Each of us had movies we liked having on while we worked, and one movie that became a store favorite was 1996s “The Big Green.”
“The Big Green” starred Olivia d’Abo and Steve Guttenberg, and it was written and directed by Holly Goldberg Sloan. The film co-starred Bug Hall, Chauncey Leopardi, Patrick Renna, and several kid actors. At first glance, many people think “The Big Green” is nothing more than a retread of “The Mighty Ducks” formula, and I can understand why.
Both are Disney movies, and both feature a sports team of small-town misfits who are inspired by their offbeat coach to master their particular sport. When the teams come together at first, they are incredibly bad. Early on in both movies, the misfits are humiliated by the top team in their league. Then they start getting better and better until they rise in the rankings and in the finale, they get their big rematch with the bad guys.
But that’s really where the similarities to “The Mighty Ducks” end. For the most part, “The Big Green” is a movie about a community that has seen better days, coming together thanks to the town’s new soccer team. Why soccer? Because the town’s new teacher Anna Montgomery (Olivia d’Abo) is from England and is visiting tiny Elma, Texas, on an exchange program. And if there’s something else She’s good other than teaching, its soccer.
For me, what made “The Big Green” work was Olivia d’Abo as the visiting teacher. At first, She struggles to connect with the children in her class. She’s saddened that all of them believe they are underachievers doomed to dead-end lives after receiving the lowest test scores in the state for four years running. In an attempt to spark a new life into the kids, she turns her class into a soccer team called The Big Green and enters them in the local league.
Even now I think Olivia d’Abo gave the role of Miss Montgomery a lot of energy and heart. She was caring and nature, and with her great smile, d’Abo also some of the film’s sad scenes brighter. Her way of dealing with her students in and out of class often made me wish I had a teacher who cared as much as she did. d’Abo had such a presence about her that I’m surprised she never became a big name.
Arguably the biggest star in “The Big Green” is Steve Guttenberg. Granted this was years after “Police Academy” and “Three Men and a Baby” made him famous, and his career had seen better days. But even in 1996, he was still generally well-known. Here he plays Deputy Sheriff Tom Palmer, a native of Elma who was once a football star in Elma.
Steve Guttenberg ends up becoming the Big Green’s co-head coach, not because he knows anything about soccer, but because he has a crush on Olivia d’Abo. While his character doesn’t get a lot of background or development, Guttenberg made the character work. He’s funny and he obviously cares about the kids even when he’s insulting them. By the end of the film, he’s transformed as much as the kids have.
The kids in the movie I thought were quite good, in particular, Jessica Robertson as Kate Douglas, and Anthony Esquivel as Juan “Mexi-Kid” Morales. Out of all the kids on the team, Kate and Juan have the most developed characters. In a way, they become the center of the film once Kate’s father calls the authorities on Juan and his mother because she is an illegal immigrant.
This leads to an investigation that the town sheriff forces Deputy Steve Guttenberg to carry out. He does his job, but in doing so he forces Juan and his mother to leave town in order to avoid deportation. Understandably, Kate is furious with her father and vows to never come home again. The rest of the team rallies around her and Steve Guttenberg promises to bring their friends back.
As for the soccer sequences, I’ll be the first to admit they’re not the best. Many of them look that have been shot in slow motion, then sped up to give it a more dramatic look. Maybe they were choreographed with that in mind who knows, but someone at Disney could have told the director to use a little more imagination in these scenes. The only genuine soccer moment comes during a practice that is suddenly interrupted by rain. This is one moment that looked spontaneous and the cast was clearly having fun.
“The Big Green” still comes on now and then on HBO, and I’ll watch it no matter which part of the movie is on. Perhaps “The Big Green” is not as good or as well-known and some of the other kids’ sports comedies of the 1990s, but I have a lot of good memories of watching the movie with my friends at work.
Like the time we took a plush Babe the pig, taped him into the shape of a ball, and played soccer with him all around the store. Everything would have worked out fine if Matt hadn’t kicked Babe into a display and destroyed it. So if you’ve never seen it, or heard of it, give “The Big Green” the chance it deserves.