Hal Roach created this series of short comedy films in the 1920s. During the silent years (1922–28), Roach tried such titles as Hal Roach's Rascals and The Terrible Ten, but since the first short was titled Our Gang, moviegoers started calling them the "Our Gang Comedies". 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 series of clay-animated Little Rascals Color Specials, produced for television in the 1960s, presumably by Bura and Hardwick, the British studio responsible for Camberwick Green.
A 1979 animated Christmas Special on NBC, whose voice cast included Matthew "Stymie" Beard and Darla Hood.
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.
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 Weezer does this to his spoilt stepbrother Sherwood in "Dogs is Dogs."
Bowdlerized: A lot of the shorts have had scissors taken to them to remove scenes which have negative racial overtones.
The Chick: Darla from the later, better-known shorts. In the earlier films, this role was filled by Mary Kornman and then by Mary Ann Jackson.
Cool Teacher: Miss Crabtree with her fashionable looks, roadster and generally liberal approach to teaching.
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.
Dawson Casting: Norman Chaney was 15 when he was hired to play grade school-aged Chubby in 1929. A glandular disorder had stunted his height and made him obese.
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".
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).
Squirrels in My Pants: In "Framing Youth", Alfalfa gets a frog stuck in his tuxedo while he is performing at a talent show
In the 1994 movie, Alfalfa and Spanky were hiding from a group of bullies, but get stuck performing in a ballet. Throughout the ballet, Spanky made Alfalfa hide a frog in his tutu.
Among the child actors who auditioned for roles in the series, but were rejected, were Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple.
Hal Roach toyed with the idea of keeping the original kids and following them through their teen years, but ultimately decided that the series should focus on young children, and wound up replacing the cast every few years. However, a remnant of the idea did remain in that a teenage Joe Cobb and Farina Hoskins showed up once during the Spanky era to give the younger kids some well-intentioned, but comically bad, advice.
Roach also considered a series featuring Oliver Hardy as the father of Spanky; presumably to involve family hijinks.
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.
One notable exception is Weezer and Dorothy's wicked stepmother in "Dogs is Dogs".
Tropes specific to the 1994 movie:
All-Star Cast: Well, not the main characters, but there are a lot of familiar faces that show up as supporting or cameo characters.
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.
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.
Sequel: The 2014 film The Little Rascals Save The Day. The film features a cameo from Bug Hall, who played Alfalfa in the 1994 original, and rewrites the character of Mary Ann as a tomboy who is best friends with the boys instead of Darla.
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.
What Could Have Been: The surviving Our Gang cast making cameos or asked to be consultants in the making of the movie.