Dodger, a fifteen-year-old kid, works at an antique shop owned by the wizard Captain Manzini. While working there, four bullies stop by and wreck the place, leaving Dodger in the sewer. He is later rescued by The Garbage Pail kids, a group of misfit children that love to break the rules and be disgusting. They were released from a garbage pail owned by Manzini and much to his chagrin, they refuse to go back.
As Dodger gets to know the kids, he finds out they know how to sew clothes and uses their talents to impress Tangerine, one of the female bullies. Unfortunately, before Dodger can hit it off with her, the kids are captured by The State Home for the Ugly, an institution that incarcerates anybody considered too ugly for society. Dodger and Manzini decide to infiltrate the prison and save the kids from being euthanized.
This film provides examples for the following tropes:
- Adam Westing: Anthony Newley, who plays Captain Manzini, is clearly channeling some of his Broadway-musical acting and composing experience into his character, such as his playing a toy piano in an attempt to find a spell to send the titular characters back into the can. One of his attempts at coming up with such a spell ends with him name-dropping Mary Poppinsnote
- Apothecary Alligator: Captain Manzini has a stuffed alligator in his laboratory, which Ali Gator recognizes as his "Uncle Charlie".
- Attractiveness Discrimination: In this movie, people considered too unattractive are sent to the State Home for the Ugly.
- Broken Aesop: The argument that true beauty is on the inside does rather fall flat given that the GPK are just as horrible on the inside.
- Broken Pedestal: Tangerine, after betraying Dodger and the Garbage Pail Kids, becomes this to Dodger, with him telling her, "I don't think you're pretty anymore."
- Bystander Syndrome: Dodger gets bullied by Juice and his goons more than once in public, and no one outside of the Garbage Pail Kids or Manzini helps him out. This is particularly egregious during their introduction, where Juice is bullying Dodger in a playground in broad daylight, yet no one else seems to notice or care about it.
- Conveniently an Orphan: It's implied Dodger is an orphan and Manzini is his guardian, as Dodger is never indicated to have parents, nor does he seem to have a home of his own.
- Crapsack World: This movie is set in a world where "ugly" people are imprisoned and executed. That they almost capture a normal kid wearing a mask because they thought she was a monster, then tell her not to wear a mask unless it's Halloween implies they've accidentally done the same to people who weren't considered ugly before as well.
- Defeat Means Friendship: A very absurd and downright ridiculous example. The kids bust into a bar and beat the patrons up, with Ali Gator even biting off someone's toes. The patrons befriend them right afterward because they "got guts" and later help them free the prisoners of the State Home for the Ugly.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Two of the guards at the State Home for The Ugly comment that they're glad not to be down in the laboratory section of the facility, with one of them claiming "Those doctors like to hurt people".
- For the Evulz:
- Not only are the bullies much older than Dodger, but they also have no motivation for bullying him other than Juice wants to.
- This also, more or less, is the reason why the kids pull all the rather unsavory acts they do during the second act of the film. Though in Juice's case, he deserves it.
- There doesn't seem to be any other reason for the existence of The State Home For the Ugly.
- Hitler Ate Sugar: Inverted. Somehow, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Santa Claus are locked away in the State Home For The Ugly. The movie seems to imply that if they are "ugly" ("too bald", "too skinny", and "too fat", respectively), then any ugly individual is, therefore, a good person.
- Irrational Hatred: Juice seems to have an absurd amount of hate for Dodger, despite no reason being given.
- Jerkass: Juice, Blythe, and Wally, who pick on Dodger relentlessly for no defined reason. Also, the Garbage Pail Kids, who steal, threaten, assault, and vandalize throughout the film. Their leader, Ali Gator, and muscle, Greaser Greg, even bite off people's toes and carry around a pocket knife respectively.
- Karma Houdini:
- The kids go to a bar called The Toughest Bar In The World where they punch out several guys for no apparent reason. And do they get punished for assaulting people? No. Instead, the bikers treat everyone, including the kids, to drinks and later help Dodger and Manzini free the kids and other prisoners at the State Home For The Ugly.
- For intents and purposes, outside of the Kids and some of the other prisoners escaping, there's no real attempt to stop the State Home for the Ugly. Who by the end of the film are likely still sending people they deem ugly to their unwilling deaths.
- Potty Failure: Nat Nerd frequently, and often willfully, does this for seemingly no reason. He even calls it "Old Faithful" just as the Kids are getting ready to go out on their night on the town.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The garbage pail that contained the kids.
- Shout-Out: To My Mother the Car, of all things. Captain Manzini shares his name with the main villain of that series, whose producer and main director, Rod Amateau, also directed this film.
- That Reminds Me of a Song: The Garbage Pail Kids sing about working together while stealing stuff to make clothes.
- Toilet Humor: In addition to the Running Gag of Nat Nerd's urination and Valerie Vomit in her entirety, the kids at one point screw around with the pipes to Juice's toilet and hot tub, causing the water of the latter to turn brown.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the other Garbage Pail Kids? It is implied that they were euthanized by the State Home for the Ugly, but the details are not very clear.
- Would Hurt a Child: Juice and his gang have no qualms about inflicting bodily harm short of murder to Dodger for no reason. This is played with regarding the State Home for the Ugly workers, who are more than willing to kill the Garbage Pail Kids, but call out a young girl for wearing a mask outside of Halloween and nearly getting her killed by them too.