No movie has changed the way people view college life more than “Animal House.” Even though it was made over forty years ago, you can still find people referencing it. The film has made such a big impact that it has partly led to the image of college and fraternity life being nothing but a bunch of drunken parties. Great films can sometimes have that kind of impact on our culture.
The film was made in 1978, and is set in 1962–A time that was remembered as being more innocent. But how does “Animal House” represent this innocent era? By taking place on a respected, prestigious college campus and following the worst fraternity: the Deltas.
The Deltas never worry about schoolwork. They just party, have sex, smoke weed, get drunk, prank people and commit vandalism and other misdemeanors. The fact that they have the worst grades on campus, could be arrested and are on ‘double secret probation’ doesn’t even phase them. None of the stress of college is there. “Animal House” exists in a fantasy portrayal of college, and it’s a fantasy you wish you were a part of.
Despite the light-hearted fantasy that “Animal House” portrays, parts of the film have not aged well. Many of the jokes are insensitive when it comes to sex, sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and race. At one point, a character pretends to be the fiance of a dead college girl so he can make her roommate feel bad for him and go on a date with him. If I listed all of the politically incorrect material, it would read like a rap sheet.
This film comes from the minds of the National Lampoon Magazine. In their prime they were well-known, especially on college campuses, for their comedy. They purposely pushed boundaries and featured a skillful blend of sophisticated and absurdist humor with the low-brow. They became popular enough to branch out into radio, theater, television and films. “Animal House” was their first movie. It was written by magazine co-founder Doug Kenney, magazine writer Chris Miller, and future comedy director Harold Ramis. All of them drew from their college experiences and stories they had heard from other people. From there, they created the basis of what “Animal House” would be.
Part of what makes “Animal House” such a great film, is that while it’s exaggerated for comedy, the story still comes from someplace real. Some of it is still relatable years later. In one scene, a class of freshmen sits through a boring class on literature. The professor asks if they’ve done the reading, and no one has because the material is boring. Then even the professor admits he doesn’t like the reading.
“Animal House” also speaks to a part of us as students. The Deltas do stuff that we wish we could. Not necessarily the partying or crimes, but this movie taps into something when depicting its college campus. This film gives the middle finger to the college establishment through its choice of heroes and villains.
Our heroes are a bunch of drunken hooligans, who should be kicked off of campus for their actions (which is something they never deny). Our villains are the strict Dean and the Omega Fraternity, who are the polished opposites of the Deltas. Despite being in the right to expel the Deltas, these people are still the bad guys.
They are the bad guys because they’re jerks, they bend the rules themselves, and most importantly, they can’t take a joke. They take themselves too seriously and have no sense of fun. Which is the satire behind “Animal House.” As students (and even faculty), isn’t there a small part of yourself that can’t help but support that?
The acting is phenomenal. This is an ensemble movie, and every actor delivers their part– whether they play a Delta, an Omega or a straight character. Even John Vernon, who plays the strict Dean, takes what could be a throw-away character and makes him one of the funniest, thanks to his comedic timing. One of the standouts is John Belushi, who was known in his time on SNL and later film roles as a great comedic actor. He easily proves that in “Animal House,” even with the limited time he appears on screen.
“Animal House” is a great film that appeals to both critics and general audiences. The offensive content should be addressed when talking about “Animal House.” It could not be made today and for good reason. But if you are willing to accept it for what it is, “Animal House” is still a great comedic film.