The Sandlot is one of those rare films where every scene builds perfectly on top of the last one, which is extremely rare in moviedom. The movie itself isn't perfect, some of the scenes fall a little flat, but each keeps building the story, and nothing feels wasted. So by the end of the film, you're totally immersed into this world they've built, and you'll buy whatever they're selling.
That's one of the reasons that this film is so great; the cast of characters. Each character feels totally real and fully developed. There's the fully realized Smalls. His best friend and best player on the team, Bennie "The Jet" Rodriguez, who right from the start you understand that he lives for baseball and everything else is secondary. "Ham" and "Squints" are also two fun characters, each gets their moment to shine; in one of my favorite scenes, Squints goes a bit nuts after checking out the hot-lifeguard all day, so he devises a scheme where she gives him mouth-to-mouth and he gives her a sloppy kiss.
I first saw the film, my senior year in high school. At that time, I was already beginning to feel nostalgic about my youth, and the film placed me into that quickly fading era, when anything seemed possible. When playing ball with your friends was the greatest thing in the world. When dropping a fly ball, was about the most embarrassing, painful thing you could possibly go through. I felt much like Scott Smalls, the hero of film, slightly out of place, but desperate to be part of the group, not the most athletic kid, but a total love of the game.
The entire team is given big personalities and fun names; "Yeah-Yeah", Kenny, Bertram and Tommy and Timmy Timmons, aren't quite as well rounded, but they're each memorable in their own small way. Smalls mom, played by the great Karen Allen, is one of the best all time movie mom's. She has very little screen time, but I love how she advises her son to go out and get into some trouble, live it up. Those few summers while you're young, before the realities of the world come crashing down upon you, are a very magical time, and she wants him to experience that. Denis Leary, in one of his first straight roles, is very good as the step-dad who's trying to figure out how he fits into his new son's life.
The coming-of-age story about a boy finding himself on the ball-field, with a great group of friends, is nicely told and it all feels natural. The subplot about the giant dog, who steals all the baseballs hit over the fence, is also a lot of fun. They get a couple of great scenes out of telling the story of the dog, then when Smalls hits his first home run, which happens with his step-father's signed Babe Ruth ball, they're attempts to retrieve it.
The film-making is also done impeccably, with a personality of it's own, with a lot of great touches. But it's all done in service of the film. The narration by writer/director David M. Evans is spot-on, I couldn't imagine the film without it. This film is right at the top of my favorite coming-to-age stories. I still prefer Stand By Me, which this film obviously cribs from, but it's almost as well made as that film.