This is the first entry in a new column reminiscing on my adolescent movie crushes, in which I explore my memories of the objects of my obsession. Join me.
Sometime in the early '90s, my young adolescent existence went from nerdy and tomboyish to boy-crazy, nerdy and tomboyish. Once it happened, I started noticing cute boys everywhere and I found that my girl friends did, too. We would have sleepovers and hang outs and talk for hours about the objects of our obsessions, pick which ones were our favorites (making sure to choose diplomatically, in case two girls picked the Justins and nobody picked the Lances), and replay particularly swoon-worthy scenes in our heads (i.e. "Remember that time Jonathan pretended to be a girl to get on the soccer team!?"). Only these boys weren't the cootie-carrying classmates we went to school with; they were the dreamy, pretty, charismatic nice boys the likes of which could only be found in fantasy land. These were our movie crushes.
To kick-off this new column celebrating our collective childhood movie crushes, I'm taking it back to the first onscreen boy that ever made my heart beat with (innocent!) romantic palpitations. (Check out Jessica Barnes' Michael Biehn post for a much more respectably nerdy first crush.) The year was 1992, his name was Michael Treanor, and he was one of the young stars of a major motion picture that had girls the world over swooning while simultaneously asking their parents to sign up for karate lessons: 3 Ninjas.
My Movie Crush: Samuel "Rocky" Douglass in 3 Ninjas (1992)
Played By: Michael Treanor
For those who've forgotten (or sadly, never knew) the joy of 3 Ninjas -- directed by Jon Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure) -- here's the gist: A trio of young American boys (Michael Treanor, Max Elliott Slade, and Chad Power) learn martial arts and ninjitsu from their Japanese grandfather (Victor Wong), which comes in handy when an evil arms dealer threatens their family. They are given "ninja" names that reflect their personalities: The eldest (Treanor) is called Rocky, because he's strong and "cool as granite rock"; the middle child (Slade) is named Colt, because he's fast and free-spirited; and the littlest (Power) is called Tum-Tum, because he likes to eat. Plenty of PG-rated martial arts and family-friendly intrigue ensue, and three increasingly mediocre sequels follow (1994's 3 Ninjas Kick Back, 1995's 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, and 1998's 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain).
In many ways, 3 Ninjas was the perfect puberty-inducing movie for fifth-grade me. It indulged both my tomboy interest in ninjas with my burgeoning interest in boys, a winning combination that would resurface years later in Sidekicks, starring Jonathan Brandis and Chuck Norris. Like Daniel-San, these kids looked the part while jumping in the air karate-chopping and roundhouse-kicking their way through armies of bad guys. Unlike the Karate Kid movies, 3 Ninjas never got too real for its younger demographic, so the idea of three young children fighting grown men while never getting hurt never seemed out of the realm of possibility. (It also taught us kids the secret to "lighting up" any villain, no matter how big and scary they are: kick 'em in the nuts!)
Within the world of 3 Ninjas, Michael Treanor's Rocky was a natural number one crush for many young girls. The quintessential idealistic leader, Rocky bore the burden of keeping his brothers in line and clashed often with the impetuous Colt, who was the Raphael to Rocky's Leonardo, the hot headed brother and de facto bad boy of the 3 Ninjas (naturally, this earned Colt his own fan base). You were either a Rocky girl or a Colt girl, and I chose Rocky. (It should be noted that in later sequels Max Elliott Slade turned into quite a looker and Michael Treanor left the series, at which point my allegiance changed.)
Treanor, 13-years-old when 3 Ninjas debuted, played Rocky with a fresh-scrubbed, clear-eyed honesty and one heckuva smile. It helped that cinematographer Richard Michelak shot his preteen actors in the dreamiest light possible (he also lensed White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II, AKA White Wolves: The One With Mark-Paul Gosselaar). And that Rocky protected his little brothers and never gave up, even when all seemed lost. When Colt wanted to karate chop the mean kids at school, who was the voice of reason who calmed him down? Rocky. When idiot surfer-kidnappers invaded the boys' house, who came up with the plan to take them down, Home Alone-style? Rocky did. Most of all, I loved Treanor because he rocked a dreamy, short on the sides/long in the front early '90s hairdo that stayed perfectly coiffed even when Rocky ninja-jumped ten feet into the air to dunk on a pair of bullies in a basketball game to win his girlfriend's bicycle back!
Which brings me to the bane of my eleven-year-old existence: Rocky's girlfriend, Emily.
Emily (played by Kate Sargeant) was a neighborhood girl and Rocky's love interest in the first 3 Ninjas film. She and Rocky exchanged coy smiles and constructed a tin can telephone between their houses so they could talk late at night. Emily rode her girly pink bicycle around town only to lose it to a couple of bullies, prompting the aforementioned plotline in which Rocky used his ninja skills to win her stolen bike back. She's also the reason the boys got kidnapped by a trio of bumbling surfer dudes. She was whiny and useless, and in my reductive fifth grade cattiness, I didn't like her face. So deep was my distaste for Rocky's undeserving love interest that the sound of Colt and Tum-Tum chanting "Rocky loves Em-ily, Rocky loves Em-ily" echoed throughout my nightmares. I hated Emily.
In hindsight, Emily's obvious unworthiness stemmed from my own disbelief that Rocky – beautiful, smart, and skilled in the ways of the ninja – would choose such a lump to make eyes at. It was clear to me that she was completely and unquestionably wrong for him, while I, on the other hand, would be an ideal match. For that matter, I felt similar rancor for the girly love interests in most movies with adolescent male protagonists; I related more to the heroes than the wimpy girls who won their hearts. To some degree, I wanted to simultaneously be the Rocky and to hold his hand, and I never for a second considered wussy, useless Emily to be my role model. Unfortunately for young girls in the '80s and '90s, there were a whole lot of Emilys in the movies. Where were the movies about young girl ninjas saving cute boys from neighborhood bullies?
Where Is He Now?
After filming the first 3 Ninjas movie and its sequel, 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, Treanor fell off the face of the earth and never acted again. On the other hand, Kate Sargeant apparently went on to study film and acting and works in the entertainment industry, and I no longer hate her face.