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Western Animation / Our Friend Martin

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Our Friend, Martin is a Direct to Video film released by DiC Entertainment in 1998. A boy named Miles is doing none too well at school, and unless he improves his grades, not only will he have to repeat the 6th grade, but his mother won't let him play baseball. One day, while with his class on a field trip to a museum, he and his friend, Randy, come across an artifact that takes them back in time to meet one of history's greatest icons, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Kyle's dad who's always shown in a bad mood, smokes next to his son, and complains about having to take him to school.
  • Actor Allusion: MLK senior appears to his son in the clouds and gives him words of wisdom that motivate him into doing what is right. He's voiced by James Earl Jones, who did the same thing as Mufasa in The Lion King (1994).
  • An Aesop: While you can't change the past (not without disastrous results, at least), you can change the future for the better.
  • Bad Future: Miles causes one that's filled with racism, sexism and pollution after he brings Martin to the present day.
  • Big "NO!": Miles says this to Martin as he decides to go back to his time, worried about the good King's inevitable death.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Martin ultimately goes back to his original time period to reset the sequence of events and make sure all the good he does will restore the present, but given history, it ultimately costs him his life. Miles though has his friendships with Randy, Maria and the new one with Kyle all restored, the true value of Martin's actions and their impact—with Miles also getting an A on his report—are all fully realized and appreciated and the students create a mural in Martin's memory while intending fully to continue his work moving forward as well.
  • The Bully: Kyle, especially in the alternate timeline where Martin's work never happened (Randy becomes one as well in this timeline). He gets better by the end.
  • Cassandra Truth: Before Miles and Randy go on their second time travel adventure, Mrs. Peck vaguely warns them that "messing with the fabric of history can result in a busted seam". Miles brushes it off and goes on with Randy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs. Peck when it comes to Martin and Randy's intentions.
  • Deep South: Randy has a southern accent.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Since this film is about why MLK was so important, it naturally shows the racism of the past and an alternate timeline where MLK never did his work for civil rights.
  • Disappeared Dad: Miles' dad is never seen or mentioned.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Old Man Willis has a reputation as a reckless bus driver. Ironically, he's a safer driver in the Bad Future.
  • For Want Of A Nail:
    • Bringing Martin back to the present turns out to be a really bad idea. Racism is rampant (and so is sexism, apparently), the school is named after Robert E. Lee instead of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Miles' mother now works as a maid. Not to mention Miles' home (and the rest of North America) heavily polluted and technologically stagnant.
    • According to Maria, Dr. King's civil rights activism would inspire Cesar Chavez to fight for better working conditions for Hispanic Americans which opened for new opportunites for their children. As shown in the Bad Future, getting rid of Martin means Cesar (and other civils rights activists) would never be inspired resulting in future generations of Hispanic children being forced to work instead of learn.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The opening scene of the movie shows Martin deciding to go back to his own time while Miles desperately pleads for him not to go back which is the movie's climax.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Maria takes out her ID card, it shows that her birthday is on January 29, 1988.
  • Freudian Excuse: Kyle's bad attitude seems to stem from an abusive dad.
  • Funny Background Event: Throughout their travels, Miles and Randy are shown in the background of the Real Life footage of the Civil Rights' protests. Those events get recorded and shown in the present era which tip off Maria and Kyle about their shenanigans.
  • Go-Getter Girl: Maria is a responsible straight A student with a no-nonsense attitude.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Maria, being the token Hispanic character, does this every now and then.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Randy has light blonde hair and is a good-hearted boy. This gets subverted in the Bad Future where he becomes a racist bully. But it's played straight again after Martin fixes the timeline.
  • Hard-Work Montage: The ending of the cartoon has Mile's class cleaning an old alley and repainting a mural in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. And to everyone's surprise, it was all Kyle's idea.
  • Held Back in School: Miles is in danger of having to repeat 6th grade unless his grades improve. Fortunately, it's averted by the end: a few trips through history help him learn a lot about the subject, allowing him to get an A+ on his history test and advance to 7th grade.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: After seeing just how bad the future would be if he was absent from history, Martin willingly goes back to his time despite knowing he'll be killed when he's an adult.
  • How We Got Here: The movie begins with Miles and Martin sitting in front of the burned down museum in the alternate timeline, and Martin telling Miles that he has to go back to his timeline to correct the present, and with Miles begging Martin not to go. The rest of the film explains how it got to that point.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: At the start of the movie, Miles is mainly interested in becoming a famous baseball player. He sees no reason on improving his grades if they won't help him achieve his athletic dream.
  • Implied Death Threat: The racist mother Mrs. Dell from the first visit gives one to Randy when he proudly declares that he and Miles hang out all the time.
    Mrs. Dell: I suggest you leave them negroes alone, or the only 'hanging' you'll be doing with them is from a tree.
  • In-Series Nickname: Martin refers to Miles as "My-My-Miles" after their first meeting.
  • Insufferable Genius: Maria is one of the smartest students in her class and is condescending towards classmates she thinks are unintelligent. She even compares Miles, Randy and Kyle to the Three Stooges at one point.
  • Language Barrier: Played for Drama in the Bad Future. Miles finds Maria working as a cleaning girl who timidly speaks pure Spanish because she was never given the opportunity to learn another language.
  • Medium Blending: The movie is told through animation but includes clips of Real Life footage from the Civil Rights movement and historical figures of interest.
  • Mistaken for Clown: The ticket man on the train believes Miles and Randy are circus folk due to their colorful attire.
  • Mr. Exposition: Martin becomes this to Miles and Randy as he explains how the African American community is mistreated and oppressed throughout history. Justified since this is an educational cartoon based on Dr. King's civil rights' activism and his motivations behind it.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After learning that Martin was assassinated, Miles decides to save him by bringing him to the future. However, this means that he was never able to get involved in his activism, with terrible results.
  • Older Than They Look: Ms. Clark was present for Dr. King's "I Had A Dream" speech in Washington D.C. in 1963 and has aged gracefully in the present day.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Turner, one of Martin's followers, tries to convince the African American community to do this against the white segregationists who burned Martin's home to the ground. The Good King convinces them not to use violence and should instead use more peaceful methods, like what Mahatma Gandhi did in British occupied India.
  • Police Brutality: The boys wind up in Birmingham, 1963 where they witness a legion of police officers attacking Martin's protesters with attack dogs, fire hoses, and unrated violence.
  • The Power of Love: The King family have a strong belief that love is a powerful emotion that can change people's hearts for the better. Their son Martin has used this message as the back-burner for his campaigns in fighting for equal rights.
  • Red Sky, Take Warning: The skies turn red-violet when Miles and friends unintentionally create a world without Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Running Gag: Kyle always loses his shirt.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Miles tries this by bringing Martin to his timeline to prevent his assassination, but unintentionally does the opposite instead.
  • Set Wrong What Was Once Made Right: After seeing what happens to the future without him, Martin Luther King Jr volunteers to go back to his time, knowing that it will end in his death.
  • Spicy Latina: Maria is a tween example, regularly having something sassy to say at the others’ expense.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Maria's reaction when she ends up in the same group as Miles, Randy and Kyle.
    Maria: Great. Madame Curie meets the Three Stooges.
  • Tears of Joy: Maria gets these after watching Martin deliver his 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington.
  • There Was a Door: Kyle initially tries to break into Dr. King's house via window, much to Maria's annoyance. Mrs. Peck even informs them that the door is open.
  • Time Machine: The watch that Miles and Randy find allow them to travel back to the past. Specifically, Martin Luther King Jr.'s past.
  • Token Black Friend: Inverted. Miles, an African-American, is the black protagonist, while his best friend, Randy, is white and exists largely to be a friend to him.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Kyle becomes nicer as the film progresses.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In the Bad Future, the principal orders Randy and Kyle to attack Miles and Martin.