Home Alone has given us a lifelong love of films that feature mischievous children wreaking havoc on their family, friends or neighbours, which meant that when we were in our early teens, Dennis the Menace was right up our street.
Written and produced by the late John Hughes, who also gave us the 80s classics National Lampoon’s Vacation, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Dennis the Menace was a commercial success despite receiving mostly negative reviews from critics upon its release. Below are 10 extremely naughty facts about the 1993 film that never fails to put a cheeky little grin on our faces.
10. It’s based on a US comic strip, not the character from The Beano
The Dennis the Menace film is based on the US newspaper comic strip written and illustrated by Hank Ketcham, and has no link whatsoever to the character of the same name from the legendary British comic The Beano.
This meant that the film was initially called Dennis in the UK to avoid any confusion, with the name being changed back to Dennis the Menace for its subsequent DVD release.
9. The two characters were created at almost the same time
The separate US and UK Dennis the Menace comic characters share an amazing coincidental link, because Ketchams’ comic strip debuted on the 12th March 1951, only a few days before the character Dennis the Menace was introduced in The Beano.
The title of The Beano’s strip was later changed to Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, in another attempt to distance the two characters from each other.
8. The character was inspired by illustrator Hank Ketcham’s own son
The Dennis the Menace comic strip character was based on writer and illustrator Hank Ketcham’s own son Dennis.
Ketcham was inspired to create the comic strip after his son was branded “a menace” by his then-wife, after she discovered the young boy playing with his own faeces. Yes, the same behaviour that chimps exhibit.
7. 20,000 children auditioned for the lead role
The role of Dennis ‘The Menace’ Mitchell was given to Mason Gamble, who was chosen after a process that saw 20,000 children audition. Just ten of the youngsters were picked to screen test alongside Walter Matthau, who plays Dennis’ irritable neighbour George Wilson.
Gamble, who apparently pulled a live worm out of his pocket during his audition, would go on to appear in a number of subsequent films, including Gattaca, Rushmore and Arlington Road. He hasn’t acted in film or TV since 2011, however, instead pursuing a career as a marine biologist.
6. Leslie Nielsen turned down the role of Mr Wilson
Leslie Nielsen was the first person to be offered the role of George Wilson, but a prior commitment to another film meant that Walter Matthau was later given the part instead.
The film that Nielsen had already committed to starring in was Surf Ninjas, a 1993 martial arts comedy that made a disappointing $5 million at the US box office.
5. Christopher Lloyd genuinely scared the young actor playing Dennis
As remembered by the Back to the Future actor himself, Christopher Lloyd scared Mason Gamble so much that the young boy was too frightened to approach him between takes.
A scene that caused particular distress was said to have been the one in which Lloyd’s character Switchblade Sam spears Gunther Beckman’s apple with a knife.
4. Critics compared it unfavourably to Home Alone
Many film critics noted Dennis the Menace’s similarities to Home Alone, with Vincent Canby of the New York Times writing that “this Dennis the Menace isn’t a comic strip, but then it’s not really a movie, certainly not one in the same giddy league with the two Home Alone movies.”
The website Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with their consensus of the film being that “Walter Matthau does a nice job as Mr Wilson, but Dennis the Menace follows the Home Alone formula far too closely.”
3. There were two disappointing direct-to-video sequels
As we have already mentioned, Dennis the Menace was a commercial success despite receiving mostly negative reviews from critics, making $117 million from a budget of $35 million.
Its success meant that the film (eventually) spawned two direct-to-video sequels; Dennis the Menace Strikes Again in 1998 and A Dennis the Menace Christmas in 2007, both of which featured a completely different cast.
2. The film was adapted into an Amiga video game
You may remember that a Dennis the Menace video game was also available to purchase at the time of the film’s release.
The game, which was released for the Super Nintendo, Amiga and Game Boy, featured levels based on locations from the film through which the young Dennis would be chased by a cantankerous Mr Wilson.
1. The real-life Dennis was not a fan of his dad’s work
Unfortunately, things didn’t go too well for the real-life Dennis Ketcham, who served in Vietnam after being expelled from boarding school and later suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He was said to have lost contact with his father, who passed away in 2001, and in 1993 was quoted as saying that he wished that his dad “could have used something other than my childhood for his ideas.”