Hal Roach created this series of short comedy films in the 1920s. During the silent years (192229), Roach tried such titles as Hal Roach's Rascals, but since the first short was titled Our Gang, moviegoers started calling them the "Our Gang Comedies". The series moved into sound just prior to the Great Depression. In 1938, Roach sold the series to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The sell is generally regarded by fans as the series' Seasonal Rot period. The child cast changed almost annually until the series ended in 1944.It is said that Hal Roach got the idea for the comedies that revealed the world as seen from a child's point of view when he heard through his office window a conversation among some children in a lot next door arguing over discarded scraps of wood they were trying to split up for salvage;In 1949, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had purchased the series from Roach in 1938, sold the films back to him but retained the rights to the Our Gang name. When Roach packaged the films for television syndication in the mid-'50s, the series was retitled The Little Rascals, leading to a certain amount of Title Confusion over the years.A revolving cast of child stars came and went throughout the course of the series. Among the better-known personalities were George "Spanky" McFarland, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Eugene "Porky" Lee, Tommy "Butch" Bond and Darla Hood. Cast members who went on to adult acting careers include Switzer, Robert Blake, and Jackie Cooper.
A 1994 feature film, directed by Penelope Spheeris and released by Universal Pictures. It won Young Artist awards for no fewer than six members of the cast: Ross Bagley, Juliette Brewer, Bug Hall, Brittany Ashton Holmes, Travis Tedford and Kevin Jamal Woods.
All Just a Dream: Seein' Things, Mama's Little Pirate, and Our Gang Follies of 1938.
An Aesop: The later MGM entries regularly end with an adult lecturing the kids on good behavior.
And The Rest: Because so many characters appeared in the series, modern day promotional material will often list a few of the Rascals' names, followed by "and the rest." Example, from an old AMC promo:
"Join Spanky, Alfalfa, and the rest of Our Gang..."
Black Face: Appears in Uncle Tom's Uncle, Spanky, Anniversary Trouble, The Pinch Singer, and Ye Olde Minstrels.
Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce: Several examples, usually involving a character secretly spiking the food of another for revenge. Dickie does this to Spanky in "Birthday Blues" and Wheezer does this to his spoiled stepbrother Sherwood in "Dogs is Dogs."
The Chick: Darla from the later, better-known shorts. In the earlier films, this role was filled by Mary Kornman, Jean Darling, Mary Ann Jackson, and Dorothy DeBorba, among others. After Darla's departure, the role was given to Janet Burston.
Christmas Episode: Good Cheer, where Mickey Daniels and Johnny Downs bring gifts to the poor kids.
Cousin Oliver: Due to the series' revolving door cast, younger kids were added to the series every few years to (eventually) replace the older kids. However, new additions to the cast have generally gotten far more positive feedback from fans than the trope namer.
Crack Defeat: Jerry loses the downhill race to the Rascals in Hi'-Neighbor!, despite having a better-looking car.
Waldo loses to Alfalfa in Three Men in a Tub, despite having a better boat (to be fair, he mainly lost due to a hole in the floor of the boat).
Butch loses to Alfalfa in both Came the Brawn and Football Romeo, despite being, well, Butch.
The older boys lose the 'horse race' in Derby Day. Farina. despite only having a tricycle, still manages to win (even on foot).
Creator Cameo: Series' early director Robert F. McGowan can be spotted briefly as a man trying to get out of the way of the Rascals' antics in both A Pleasant Journey and Back Stage.
Cross Over: Spanky, Stymie and Tommy Bond appear in Charley Chase's The Cracked Ice Man.
Stymie also appears in Chase's Four Parts.
Crosscast Role: The character of Buckwheat was originally Stymie's little sister, played by Matthew Beard's real-life sister Carlena. Even after male actor Billie Thomas inherited the role, Buckwheat continued to be portrayed as a girl for several shorts. This has led to no small amount of Viewer Gender Confusion over the years.
Dark Horse Victory: Waldo wins Darla (rather than main competitors Alfalfa and Butch) in Came the Brawn, Party Fever, and Duel Personalities.
Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Several examples. They usually involve stern or bumbling fathers, but even Miss Crabtree loses her temper with the kids on one occasion (for giving her ridiculous answers in class) and threatens them with a good "trouncing" in "School's Out".
Driven to Suicide: In Dog Heaven, Pete the Pup, of all characters, tries to hang himself after owner Joe Cobb pays more attention to a pretty girl than to his pet in.
Film Geography: The Rascals supposedly live in California, though a New York-like city appears in several entries.
Expy: Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas reminded The Little Rascals producer Hal Roach so much of the series' former star Allen "Farina" Hoskins that his character was modeled after Farina's. Right down to the pigtails, Viewer Gender Confusion, and being named after a breakfast cereal.
Five Temperament Ensemble: Spanky (Melancholic), Alfalfa (Choleric), Darla (Sanguine), Buckwheat and Porky (both Phlegmatic).
Flanderization: The entire cast became goody two-shoes when MGM took control of the series. This was a far cry from the characters' lovable, mischief-making personas that made the series so popular.
Follow the Leader: The shorts spawned a few imitators, such as Mickey McGuire, Hey Fellas, and McDougall Alley Kids.
Framed Face Opening: The 1936-1938 shorts features photos the main cast on the opening title cards.
The earlier silents did something similar, using cartoon likenesses as opposed to photos.
I Got Bigger: Porky, hired to play Spanky's little brother, eventually grew taller than Spanky.
Dorothy was let go after just a couple of years because of a growth spurt.
Intergenerational Friendship: The kids had a few elderly friends in the series, notably Grandma (Margaret Mann) and Cap (Gus Leonard). In the earlier silent films, the role of the much older friend/mentor was normally given to either Richard Daniels or Florence Lee.
It's Like I Always Say: Froggy regularly makes references to his relatives' strange sayings (example: "Like my Uncle Walt always says...")
Mythology Gag: Several of the talkie shorts borrow gags from the silents.
Negative Continuity: As was common for short comedy series, Our Gang almost never contained any continuity. For instance, in one film the kids might be seen living with parents, but may suddenly be living in an orphanage in the next outing.
Not Allowed to Grow Up: Unlike series creator Hal Roach, MGM was noticeably reluctant to let the cast members go once they outgrew their roles. Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, and Buckwheat were all on the onset of puberty (and wearing costumes that no longer fit them) when they were finally dropped from the series.
Numbered Sequels: Parodied; Alfalfa's boat is called Darla the Fourth in Three Men in a Tub and his balloon in Party Fever is Darla 2nd.
Only Barely Renewed: Hal Roach nearly cancelled the series in 1936, but distributor Louis B. Mayer convinced him to continue the series in a one-reel format (reducing the running time of the shorts from twenty minutes to ten minutes).
Poorly Disguised Pilot: A Tough Winter was intended to be the pilot for a proposed Stepin' Fetchit series. Fetchit turned down the offer for a series, not wanting to go from being a feature film player to a short subject one.
Promotion to Opening Titles: George "Spanky" McFarland had his name in the opening titles for three of the films, making him the only cast member to receive such an honor. His name also showed up on many of the 1930s' lobby posters.
Punchline: Many of the Roach era films would end on some sort of a visual gag.
Several of the MGM era films would end with a lame joke from Froggy, usually followed by an Everybody Laughs Ending.
Re Tool: Occurred several times, usually when several crucial cast members left at the same time.
Perhaps the most notable example is when MGM bought the rights to the series in 1938, and gradually turned the comedy series about a gang of kids getting in trouble into a series of wholesome morality plays about a gang of kids acting like mini adults.
Reunion Show: Silent cast members Jackie Condon, Mickey Daniels, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Joe Cobb, and Johnny Downs were reunited on the television show You Asked For It.
Revival: The Little Rascals (failed TV pilot) (1977), The Little Rascals' Christmas Special (1979), The Little Rascals Animated Series (1982-1984), The Little Rascals (1994), The Little Rascals Save the Day (2014).
Shout-Out: The 1960s singing group Spanky and Our Gang, which derived its name from lead singer Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane's facial resemblance to George "Spanky" McFarland (as well as their similar surnames).
The Family Guy episode Viewer Mail 1 features a story titled Li'l Griffins, which depicts the main adult cast as children. Several references to the Rascals are made, including the "We Hate Broads Club," Quagmire's Alfalfa-like cowlick, Cleveland's Buckwheat-like hairstyle, and the circle around Brian's eye.
Several on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of particular note is a running gag in which the cast refers to inappropriately chosen music for series scenes/movies as "Little Rascals music."
The Simpsons episode Radioactive Man features Moe reminiscing about his days as a Little Rascal. He played "Smelly" ("the tough kid"). During the filming of a scene, an angry Moe beat up and killed Alfalfa. "Luckily, Alfalfa was an orphan owned by the studio."
Wild Barts Can't Be Broken' features a scene in which the kids take electronics through a fence. Milhouse dresses as Alfalfa. A dog that looks similar to Pete the Pup accompanies them.
Marge vs. the Monorail - Joe Quimby asks Leonard Nimoy if he was one of the Little Rascals.
Homer the Smithers -
Marge: Homie, it's 4:30 in the morning. Little Rascals isn't until 6. Homer: I know, I'm taping it.
Speech Impediment: Buckwheat and Porky (actors William Thomas and Eugene Lee really did have speech impediments). Both eventually grew out of it.
Spin-Off: Hal Roach's The Boy Friends series of the early 1930's is considered by some to be a spin-off, especially since it makes a semi-reference to the Little Rascals in the 1932 entry Too Many Women. Furthermore, former Rascals Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman were among the series' stars.
Spiritual Successor: Hal Roach produced two Our Gang-like films (Curley and Who Killed Doc Robbin) during the late 1940's.
Squirrels in My Pants: In "Framing Youth", Alfalfa gets a frog stuck in his tuxedo while he is performing at a talent show.
Spanky and Alfalfa tried it in both Teacher's Beau (to scare their teacher's fiancé into leaving town) and Two Too Young (posing as a G-Man in order to convince Buckwheat and Porky to give up their firecrackers).
Stymie and Dickie tried this in Fish Hooky to get past truant officer Mickey Daniels.
Johnny Downs and younger Mickey Daniels did this when posing as Santa Claus in Good Cheer.
Farina and Pleurisy tried it in Election Day in order to get past the other kids.
Verbal Tic Name: Uh-huh is named that because it's the only thing he (usually) says.
The Voiceless: Buckwheat and Porky in their earliest appearances.
Wacky Sound Effect: The moaning noises coming from the cake filled with household items (thanks to Spanky) in "Birthday Blues".
Women Are Wiser: The adult women in this series (usually mothers or teachers) tend to be kinder and more grounded than the men, who are often bumbling or pompous at best and downright abusive at worst.
Written-In Absence: In All About Hash, Buckwheat's absence from a scene is rather lazily thrown in by Alfalfa - he couldn't join the others because his dad brought home a chicken for dinner.
In Canned Fishing, Buckwheat explains that Porky decided to go to school instead of playing hooky with the others.
You Look Familiar: Every recurring adult actor in this series, with the exception of June Marlowe (Miss Crabtree), Edgar Kennedy (Kennedy the Cop), Rosina Lawrence (Miss Lawrence), Margaret Mann (Grandma), and Walter Wills (Froggy's Uncle Walt).
Your Other Right Hand: Unintentionally happens in Hide and Shriek when Alfalfa has Porky and Buckwheat raise their right hand to take an oath. Three-year-old Eugene Lee mistakenly raises his left hand, but switches when he notices William Thomas has raised his right.
Chekhov's Skill: Or lack there of. Buckwheat and Porky can't read and Alfalfa uses this to trick them into taking a love note to Darla, telling them it's a hate note. It backfires when Porky destroys the note and Buckwheat tells Darla what it said from memory.
Colonel Bogey March: Courtesy of a marching band at the fair; this establishes the mood for the club's money-earning mission.
Covered in Mud: At the end, Butch and Woim end up in a pig pen. Alfalfa punched Butch into it, and then Woim jumped in himself to avoid being punched.
Deadpan Snarker: Stymie, though mostly with eye rolling and vocal intonation.
Lint Value: The gang tries to buy materials from the lumber yard to rebuild the clubhouse. They ask the guy working there about how much they can get...for a little over three or four dollars (they took up a collection). The man holds up a single hinge and asks, "Paper or plastic?"
Mythology Gag: The movie borrows gags and situations from the original shorts:
Three Smart Guys (1943): Porky and Buckwheat unknowingly reeling each other in while fishing.
Anniversary Trouble (1935): The gang and the "hi/high-sign".
Hearts are Thumps (1937): The gang spiking Alfalfa & Darla's lunch.
Re Cut: The film on DVD and VHS was actually trimmed down for time and content from the original theatrical release (Universal had done this to other films, including Ghost Dad and Problem Child 2). The extended edit on TV is actually the original theatrical cut with the scenes that were taken out for the home video release, although that version also edits a few scenes out for content or language (the girls referencing that boys like "farting and farting" as an example of grossness is one bit trimmed from TV airings).
Road Sign Reversal: While on their way to the race, Porky pushed the race track arrow from right to straight ahead. Three go-karts (Alfalfa/Spanky, Waldo/Darla, and Butch/Woim) follow that direction. A guy assigned by the arrow quickly moved the check back to right as the other go-karts were coming.
Sad Times Montage: Occurs after Alfalfa tells off Spanky for ruining his chances of making up with Darla at the talent show.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Waldo did this a lot, as did Uh-huh, as revealed at the end of the movie, though Uh-huh is actually a case of Brilliant, but Lazy, as he explains that while he may have an extensive vocabulary, he just chooses not to use it.
Setting Update: A subtle variant. Waldo has a boom box, and the original "Our Gang" shorts predate the songs used in the talent show.
Took a Level in Badass: Alfalfa, when he punches Butch into the pig pen after the race, and threatens to do the same thing to Woim, who just jumps into the mud with Butch.
Two Scenes, One Dialogue: The boys and girls complain simultaneously about their troubles with the opposite sex, with the camera constantly switching between the boys' tent and the girls' Slumber Party.
Spanky and Darla: Why do they have to be so different?
Verbal Tic Name: Uh-huh is named that because it's the only thing he (usually) says.