Retrospective: Brink!

Brink! (1998) hails from a different time and place. It reminds us how young adult entertainment was pre-9/11. A Disney special about a tribe of friends as wholly committed to each other as they are their passion for aggressive inline, Brink! remains a corny, hokey delight. To understand why it was revelatory to a young Calvin, we must understand the culture it came from. It was exceedingly more than enough to get a grainy tape of inline skating. The televised boom of alt-culture lead by the MTV generation sparked a lively cultural shift in youth programming. The X Games were all the rage and Tony Hawk was king of adolescent sport culture.

Why pay attention to an item of such great specificity, easily passed over on Disney+ for more timely fare? Because we must return to the same energy. The new generation needs awesome products to feel energized and nostalgic about. Where the modern kid’s film entertains while proselytizing about moral activism, our role in the environment, what to do about big problems like loss and death, we may have lost out on the purity and entertainment of our own childhoods were soaking in. Yes, everything changed after September 11, 2001. The creative minds of today can do nothing but process the shifting environment, the devastating fallout to the culture, and yet, we can return to the sunny days of peak Disney channel, of which, Brink! must be the primary example.

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Brink!. Dir. Greg Beeman.

What motivates feeling in Brink! is that it’s a lovely story about family and friendship at its heart. These kids just love each other, they move in the same clique, experience the same hobbies, will always have their extracurricular shared enthusiasm for skating, when everything else falls out. There is nothing quite like a dependable group of friends for the average young adult, at a time where even their bodies are changing, and they are a few steps from excising any control over their own lives, their friend group is everything.

Andy “Brink” Brinker (Erik von Detten) is the leader of his crew. Alongside his close circle of inline skating friends, they have established their own small society called the Soul Skaters. They do it for the love of the skate. Their neon-infused Venice Beach habit is primed with great skating opportunities. They were born for the scene. The parks are pastel-bright, exuberantly tracing the newfound excitement and lineage of the culture. The present is bright for their troop and nothing can deter their love for the sport, until Andy’s father is out of a job and he’s offered an enticing spot on the rival X-Bladz (please never doubt how ’90s it is) squad. This is the premise of every beloved ’90s sports movie: allegiance is tested as a team’s greatest player shifts teams, donning the black uniforms of their greatest rivals! It’s The Karate Kid (1984), The Mighty Ducks (1992), and every other sports property, played out on inline skates.

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Brink!. Dir. Greg Beeman.

Imagine the revelation of just having some dependable footage of aggressive inline skating in 1998. It helps a lot that Brink!’s skating is competently sourced. It may have a compassionate human story, but great stunt choreography and close attention to not only how folks skate, but how they watch it, the totality of the experience, is given credence. It’s hugely passionate about the sport, understanding the street-vert-racing dynamics and ensuring that we get the sum of what we love about skating. The implicit understanding goes a long way to ground Brink!’s credibility. Even as an adult, it’s still riotously fun to follow. Never groundbreaking or sophisticated – mind, it’s still a TV movie – but always delightful.

When it breaks down the speed for a dramatic segment, it experiences a complete tonal shift. A hilariously overwrought, soapy Twin Peaks inflected score plays over more somber moments. It becomes a great lesson for youth viewers, as Andy must side against his family’s wishes and the interests of notoriety, to reclaim his friendships and become a man. In this sense, it’s a really fine coming of age story. Yes, it has an arbitrary sense of Disney TV movie window dressing. Every line is cheese-stuffed and eye-roll worthy. It hardly matters when we reflect on its heart. When his friend closest friend, Gabrilla (Christina Vidal), is nearly put out to pasture by gravel laid on the road by the rival team, Andy must become the man his father needed his son to be, and then assume freedom and control of his destiny, on and off the skate ramps.

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Pure ’90s. Brink!. Dir. Greg Beeman.

Brink! is what young adult entertainment should be about: exuberant fun with firmly rooted morals. No, it’s never a great movie, or a testament to artistry in a kid’s production. But its frequency wavers strongly enough across a nostalgic baseline, we can feel the ’90s ecstasy of Brink!, because we have lived it, it is ours.

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