Chaplin’s “The Kid” and its progeny

757px-Chaplin_The_KidI’m currently preparing to teach a course in film history, which I haven’t taught in about 6 years, (although film history figures into the other courses I regularly teach). My favorite thing about preparing for a new course is getting the chance to revisit films I’ve known and loved since childhood within the new context of a history of film. In some cases, these are films that are much older than I am, but which I saw in a high school film appreciation class or at one of the many repertory film houses we had in New York when I was growing up; others are films that I saw in the theater when they came out. Looking at the former brings back all the early enthusiasm I had for learning about movies and seeing classics for the first time while looking at the latter gives me a chance to see new things about them that I couldn’t have understood at the time, either because of my age (my father started taking me to movies quite young), or because in hindsight these films turned out to be something more than just a Saturday afternoon matinee.

I was just watching Chaplin’s first feature The Kid (1921) and remembering how I fell utterly in love with him when I first saw the film as a teenager. He was doing what I wanted to do. As a musician just starting to dabble in filmmaking and unsure of how to do both, I was so impressed with how very independent and talented Chaplin was: writing, directing, producing, and even composing music for his silent films. I haven’t thought about this movie in a very long time, but I had a poster of it in my bedroom next to my other teenage interest, like Ozzy and Aerosmith. Seeing it again reminds me of why I wanted to be a filmmaker.

But also, this time around, I started to recognize how this very simple story has been duplicated so many times in movies around the world. For those who haven’t seen it, Chaplin’s Little Tramp character finds a child that has been left in the street. He is a poor man barely able to take care of himself and at first he tries everything to give the child to someone else, but eventually, he assumes responsibility for him and raises him until the mother finds him again five years later. It is about that bond between the Tramp and the Kid. It’s very sweet and innocent, but it’s a plot that Hollywood in particular loves to repeat.

There’s the one where Walter Matthau suddenly has to take care of a little girl (Little Miss Marker), itself a remake of another version starring Shirley Temple in 1934; Diane Keaton switches the gender on this theme in Baby Boom; the ridiculous 3 Men and a Baby picks up the same theme but with three unlikely fathers; and the recent Mexican import Instructions Not Included also has a man unexpectedly having to man up and be a dad.

I know there are many others with this basic concept, particularly from the past – 1980s, 90s, etc. Can anyone add to the list?

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