Encino Man Stars Brendan Fraser And Ke Huy Quan Are Now Oscar Winners, And That's Awesome

If there's one thing I know for certain, it's that the makers of the 1992 teen comedy "Encino Man" — about an unfrozen caveman who becomes the most popular kid in high school — knew for a fact that one day, two of their stars would win Academy Awards on the exact same night for films about fatphobia and multiverses.

Yes, that much was obvious. Just like it was obvious that the kid who asked if you're supposed to eat lobster poop in "Mystic Pizza" and the basketball player who got grossed out by a Nosferatu in the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie would one day win Oscars for co-writing a film about a mathematics super genius, and that the unnamed street punk who asked if his fellow hooligans preferred regular or menthol cigarettes in the first "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie would one day win an Oscar for playing a racist cop in a film about billboards.

I'm kidding of course. The point is: You just never know where the actors in your movie are going to end up. Sometimes the people you'd least suspect turn out to be huge superstars with trophy cases full of gold statues, one of them named after somebody's Uncle Oscar. Then again maybe we should have, because if you think about it, "Encino Man" was kind of awesome, just like its Oscar-winning stars Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan.

Let's take the WABAC Machine, shall we...?

Caveman and the WASPs

I've seen the movie "Encino Man" more times than you've had hot dinners, provided of course that you've had less than a dozen hot dinners. Growing up in the 1990s it was something of a staple, a teen comedy with a silly premise, a surprisingly rockin' soundtrack, and several breakout stars.

Brendan Fraser plays the title character, a caveman who gets frozen in an avalanche and awakened thousands of years later by a pair of teenagers in the 1990s. There's Dave, played by Sean Astin, who's so desperate to be cool that he's let FOMO become his entire personality, and his best friend Stoney, played by Pauly Shore, whose mother suffers from debilitating depression so he only wants to be happy and friendly all the time.

When they discover they've unfrozen a caveman, Dave decides to clean him up and use him to become popular at school, even though his plan doesn't make any sense. Instead of telling everyone he's made the scientific discovery of the century he cleans up the cavemen, names him "Link" (get it?), and pretends he's an exchange student from Estonia (get it?). How exactly THAT is supposed to improve his social standing is never properly addressed.

Dave is, in no uncertain terms, a crappy guy. He's selfish and manipulative and at one point, when the girl he thinks should be dating him shows more of an interest in Link, tries to ditch his caveman friend on the outskirts of town. He learns a valuable lesson but he's one of the least likable comedy protagonists of the decade, but that's not the fault of Sean Astin. That's how Dave is written and that's how Astin plays him.

Everyone else in "Encino Man," however," is pretty darned magical.

The legend of Stoney and his Link to the past

"Encino Man" was the breakout role for Brendan Fraser. He only had four credits to his name before this, and they were mostly tiny roles in TV movies. But his performance in "Encino Man" was fantastic, and it was clear even at the time that he was destined for bigger things.

Oh sure, critics at the time hated this movie. But I saw "Encino Man" in theaters and let me tell you, Fraser was already something of a god. His performance in the film is unbridled and innocent, like watching a child at play with no rules for their behavior. He's constantly experiencing the act of discovery and is always proud of himself for learning. It's the sort of role that could make an actor very self-conscious, eager to wink to the camera as if to show they know they're being ridiculous, but Fraser jumps in with both feet and never apologizes. And to think, the role almost went to Ben Stiller.

And you know what? Pauly Shore, whose zeitgeist came and long since went, is delightful in this movie too. He's like the teen movie version of Tom Bombadil, his innate goodness shining through, uninterested in the tediousness of the plot, demonstrating that you don't have to be a jerk to be funny and you don't even have to be highly motivated to captivate the screen. You can just be kinda chill. (Despite his nickname we never see "Stoney" smoke any marijuana, by the way. So either he doesn't need it or he does it all off-camera to preserve the film's PG rating.)

But a movie is more than just its principal stars, and "Encino Man" absolutely proves that.

All the (computer club) president's (com)men(dations)

The supporting cast for "Encino Man" is a big part of what the makes the movie work. The film features small roles from recognizable character actors like Richard Mazur ("The Thing"), Rick Ducommun ("The Burbs"), and Fraser's future "The Mummy" co-star Erick Avari. There are also early roles from future teen stars like Rose McGowan ("Scream"), Jack Noseworthy ("Dead at 21") and Robin Tunney ("The Craft").

And then, with only a few scenes and even fewer lines, there's Ke Huy Quan. The former star of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "The Goonies." Credited as "Jonathan Quan," he was fresh off the TV series "Head of the Class" and, like many child actors, struggling to find work as he was growing out of that niche.

In "Encino Man" he was cast as Kim, the head of the high school computer club, who invites Link to join and later crowns the caveman the class Prom King. It's a small role and it would be a stretch to say it makes a huge impact, but that's the job. Ke Huy Quan gives a small performance, feels very real doing it, and the movie and the characters clearly love him. He keeps coming back throughout the movie, and the camera likes to focus on him in the climactic dance scene.

It's easy to imagine "Encino Man" working just as well, if not better, if Ke Huy Quan had been able to star in the movie instead of taking a side gig. Then again, that's probably true for a lot of actors in small roles, because someone needs to play those parts, many of those people are incredibly talented, and sometimes — even if it takes way too long — they get the role of a lifetime and win an Academy Award for it. That's show business, I guess.

The once and future cave

"Encino Man," which was usually called "California Man" in the international market because Encino is hardly America's most famous city, was a bit of a hit, grossing over $40 million off a modest $7 million budget. Most critics hated it, and the Razzies — in their notoriously finite wisdom — gave Pauly Shore an "award" for Worst New Star, even though he's giving a legitimately sweet and interesting performance. (Kudos to Shore, by the way, for being super supportive of his old co-stars.)

And until now, when Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan's paths unexpectedly intersected at the Oscars, its legacy has been a little weird. Fraser actually reprised the character of Link two more times, in two other Pauly Shore movies. He has a cameo in the (rather good) comedy "Son in Law," in a scene at a costume party where — just like in "Encino Man" — he eats a frog. Then he pops up in the (less good) comedy "In the Army Now," where he plays a soldier named Link who warns the stars not to eat the chicken because it tastes like frog.

If you loved "Encino Man" you should probably know that they actually made a sequel, yes they really did, in 1996 called "Encino Woman." The Made-for-TV movie features none of the original cast and, even though Link's cavewoman girlfriend gets thawed out at the end of "Encino Man," it doesn't follow any plot threads from the original film. It's about an advertising executive who thaws out a cavewoman, who then becomes a supermodel. I've seen it, and let's just say it's recommended for "Encino Man" completionists only.

What does the future hold for "Encino Man?" Well, there was some talk of doing an official "Encino Man 2" about a decade ago, but that's pretty much it. Maybe the time has finally come for a reboot, although the odds of being able to afford Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan's salaries probably just got a lot slimmer.