Are Kids’ Films Going to the … Adults?

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siamese.JPGI recently had the pleasure of seeing Winnie the Pooh on the big screen. But even as a Pooh-o-phile, I’ll admit that such a tame, slowly paced, lightly plotted film’s charm isn’t for everyone. For some adults, in fact, it might feel like torture—and that’s probably one reason Disney chose to keep it short (it runs a scant 60 minutes).

But as I experienced Pooh‘s innocence anew, I mentally contrasted it with the likes of “family friendly” films such as Rango, Coraline, Shark Tale and Hop. And the massive difference in tone and approach was a reminder to me of just how far down the slippery slope our movie culture has slid. While kids’ films of days gone by (some of my favorites were The Aristocats, Cinderella, Robin Hood and Lady and the Tramp), were mostly aboveboard with regard to negative age-inappropriate content, nowadays Hollywood has different standards. [Thanks to Kaitlin McDuffie, for reminding me that Lady and the Tramp wasn’t quite so innocent as I remembered.] It seems Tinseltown wants to engage the adults who are taking their children to the theater just as much as they want to delight the kiddies.

Honestly, sometimes this isn’t such a bad idea. Just look to films like Up as examples of how wit, emotion and humor can be woven together to touch kids from 5 to 95. It’s not impossible to appeal to all kinds of viewers. But that said, let’s not ignore the fact that children have completely different emotional/intellectual needs, find different things funny and have far shorter attention spans than their parents (hopefully, at least). And often, movie-makers try to keep adults in their audience entertained with some truly “adult” content. It isn’t necessary to pepper a “family friendly” film with sexual innuendo.

So when I read Hollie McKay’s article on the subject last week, it made me question the appropriateness with even more fervor.

… are filmmakers trying so hard to entertain adults that the youngsters are now the ones left in the cold?

"It takes a deft hand not to take the adult-oriented bits too far. If the balance is not handled properly the kids might be the ones glazing over," said Hollywood entertainment and pop culture expert Scott Huver. "Too much adult-centric content might leave children feeling puzzled and left out, and possibly even prompt some questions their parents would rather not answer just yet. Yet too little material to engage adults may leave parents feeling a film is too tame, simplistic and 'uncool' for their kids. But as the pressure for big box office performance and cool cred increases for the often highly lucrative family fare, it's likely some filmmakers may end up trying too hard to make both the kid and grownup audiences happy and wind up missing the mark for either of them."

I’m not a parent, but I know a lot of them and I love their kids. I even feel their frustration as even “family friendly” entertainment options become bigger and bigger obstacle courses of inappropriate content they must discuss with their children. And I think it’s a sign of how much lower Hollywood has sunk when How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris is proud of the more mature content his upcoming film, Smurfs, contains.

Really?

Who wrote this?

Meredith has had two careers: one as a writer/editor for both Focus on the Family and The Navigators, and one as an English teacher trekking far-flung corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. She now rejoins Focus, but with souvenirs—including new eyes with which to better view American culture.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  FreeHeart:

The Indians that appeared in the book weren't setreotypical. TigerLily was saved by Peter, she set up indian guards outside the Lost boys' hide out to keep any eye out for pirates. All the Indians died, though...

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  FreeHeart:

Yes, they are going back to the original comics. They can do this now that the current comics have destroyed Peter and MJ's marriage. But the movie does look extreamly dark and rather unnerving: from the loss of his parents at such an early age (glossed over in the original movies), pulling a spider thread from the back of his neck, lines that suggest use of the totem elements from Michael J. Strazinsky's run on the comics, the new Spider on his chest that scares me, and the line in the trailer about playing God. The comics have grown unsettelingly dark over the last few years, and the movie seems to be following that path. I'll have to wait for the Plugged In review before I even decide whether or not to see it.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

But think about when these films were made. Back in the day those things were socially acceptable. It is important to look at the films of the past, learn what we can from them and make sure our behavior is different from theirs. And not all kids will take these things are factual. I didn't.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

I feel like I keep having to explain the same thing over and over again. If you don't understand how the cats are racially insensitive, I don't really know what to do about that. They have exagerrated slanting eyes, buck-toothed teeth, a sly, conniving sort of attitude, a sense of self-assured entitlement. They are

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opportunistic and ambitious, viewing the house as theirs for the taking. All of this is quite inspired by both attitudes towards the Japanese that came about during WW2 and attitudes towards Asian immigration to the USA. If this still doesn't seem like a blatant negative racial portrayal, there's not much more I can do here but say I'm certainly not in the minority here, judging by a cursory Google search on the topic.

The other thing I have to keep explaining. What kid is going to watch the Indians in Peter Pan and think, hmm, that's a biased and rather offensive portrayal of a highly nuanced culture? A kid doesn't have the context for understanding racial portrayals. I probably didn't even know what "racism" meant until I was 8. However, a kid will think, hmm, that must be what Indians are like. A kid doesn't know any better. I certainly didn't. As a kid whose only exposure to Native American culture was through Peter Pan and equally-insensitive Loony Tunes shorts, it was a bit shocking to see a PBS special on Native Americans and see a much more sophisticated culture than I was familiar with. The problem is not that such portrayals are offensive, the problem is that a kid watching will take them as factual.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Chelsea:

well, it's meant for people to review movies and see if they're OK to watch basically, not to nitpick every child's movie to tear the fun out of them.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Chelsea:

well that's funny, I nor any other kid I know who watched that movie noticed the supposed racism. In fact till just now I wouldn't even have thought of it as that. looking back the Indian thing is, but I dont know how the Siamese cats are. they have accents, I assume, because they're actually born in Asia (also not sure how accents are racist, unless you meant the sound is stereotypical). Honestly... when you have this many people confused as to what's wrong with L&theT, it's obvious the "blatant" things are not so blatant.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Chelsea:

kids are growing up faster largely in thanks to the media and Hollywood... who is the one that MAKES these grown-up movies, let's not forget.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Steph:

Agreed!  I don't understand the need to inject sex into everything that is supposedly for adults.  Do TV/movie producers really have that low of an opinion of supposedly mature adults?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

So it's okay to make a film featuring a character that embodies Jim Crow-era African-American stereotypes as long as the character is an actual crow? Not really sure I can jump aboard your logic there.

I totally agree with you on subtle adult content. Ratatouille, for instance, has tons of little elements to it that I doubt a child would really pick up on, yet, speaking as an adult, are pretty essential to the plot and themes of the film. However, I think kids do absorb negative racial/gender stereotypes in films, and I think kids are intelligent enough to connect the characteristics of an anthropomorphized animal to the human it comments on or represents, even if they don't consciously realize it.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Josh:

It's only a problematic stereotype for Siamese people. I always saw them as Siamese cats.

Anyway, I really don't have too much problems with adult content (within reason) in children's movies if it's done subtly enough to where kids won't pick up on it.

Example: One of the best scenes that will fly right over a child's head, but an older person will pick up instantly is this scene from Mulan where two of the emperor's messengers find the villain and part of his army. The villain then proceeds to tell them to deliver a message to the emperor. After they run off, the villain asks one of his men, "How many men does it take to deliver a message?" and the man draws his bow and says "One" after which the scene cuts to black.

I never noticed that as a child, but I picked up on it when I got older.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

Um... I agree that for me personally, sexuality wasn't something I thought about or caught onto as a kid. But for some kids today, I would disagree.I've heard some interesting comments coming from a young boy in children's church, and also there was the narrative of a mom who was on my debate team, whose boy made some very suggestive remarks she believed he picked up off of a cartoon to an attractive young lady in the waiting room at the doctor's office... and talk I've heard among women from a church ladies' group about stuff their kids have picked up from other kids on the public schoolbus... Kids aren't always all that innocent these days.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  The Reviewer:

The conversation about Lady and the Tramp really illustrates why I'm becoming less of a fan of this website. First, let me say that I'm very strict with my own media habits. I'm 19 and alot of PG movies push the limit for me. Second obviously I'm not a parent so my opinion is probably not worth much here, but I will type my thoughts anyway. Pluggedin has a way of making something out of nothing and though I can't think of any specific examples right now (I know it's a bad way to back up an argument), I just think back to when I was reading reviews of movies I already own. Things like Toy Story I guess--mostly Disney/ kids stuff. And I just remember being very discouraged because I would get down to the content analysis and read things that I still would have not picked up on if I didn't read the review. I am proud to say that certain things go over my head because I'm not learned in old movies which would be referenced or a lot of the things that make innuendo, well, innuendo. Like with the Lady in the Tramp thing--I still don't really get what is "not so innocent". Frankly, though I just don't want to know. I feel like I'm losing that little bit of childhood innocence I still have by just reading Pluggedin movie reviews. It's kind of like defeating the purpose. (And by the way, I personally never even liked Lady and the Tramp.)

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  ellie:

Lady and the Tramp was one of my favorite movies growing up. To adults who think sexual innuendos are in every movie made: kids don't pick up on that kind of stuff!! I was more interested in the fact the movie was about dogs and cats than anything else. I was too young to know what sex is. It's always the parents that pick up on 'sexual hints,' never the kids for whom it was made.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Margaret:

For the record, the animated Disney Robin Hood is also chock-full of innuendo...and I mean FULL.  I was mortified when I re-watched it a few years ago for the first time since childhood!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

Nah, you're not the only one. I can name at least one other besides us--he thought it looked too Twilight.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

Omg...i thought i was the only one annoyed by Peter's hair. It makes me miss Tobey Maguire.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

Yeah, definitely. It seems to me we're still trying to find that sweet spot in between those extremes (also there's the Mystic route, where they aren't even really human anymore, just sort of a force of nature or something). I've read a few Native American novels that do a pretty good job, though. Fools Crow is pretty good read, Ceremony is another good one. They do a pretty good job of getting the reader inside the culture.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

Wet blanket? The day you earn that title is the day you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

I understand the historical context and metaphor and such present there (I have read the book, I remember quite enjoying it). My concern is mainly that I don't think most children below age 8 or so really have the context through which to understand all that as they watch the film. I know I picked up some stereotypes from it when I watched it as a child.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

Also, I find it interesting how often movies involving Indians go to one extreme or another. It's either Dumb Native or Noble Savage. It's so seldom I see a movie--or a book--which treats them as what they are... another culture, with its strengths and weaknesses same as Anglo-based cultures, full of regular human beings... 'Course, these days most of the movies go with the Noble Savage extreme.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

On Peter Pan--the movie was loosely based upon a book--a quite old book--in which Neverland mirrored the daydreams of some very young and very ill-informed children who would likely have had stereotypes in their minds.

Sorry if I'm getting to be the wet blanket in this thread...

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

Seriously? How long has it been since you've watched it? It's pretty blatant. I actually would not feel comfortable with children watching that scene. Same with the Indians in the old Peter Pan cartoon. They perpetuate stereotypes that really aren't acceptable.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  YetAnotherTeen:

The only ones I can think of that would be offended by how the cats acted would be felines' rights groups who take offense at cats being portrayed as antagonists (even for a short while).

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

Sorry, but why does it look like a Batman ripoff?I saw the trailers, and just thought they were trying to get back to the comic-book roots more--although Peter's haircut is annoying--they have Gwen Stacy as the lead female of the moment, they use his mechanical webshooters, and I was happy with the reference to his parents as they were actually, within at least one comicverse although I'm not sure if it was the main one, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who died on a mission.

As for the rest of your comment--yeah, cartoons haven't been "kids' stuff" for a very long time. But they CAN address things which are relevant to adults, without needing to be crude every time they do so.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

Lady and the Tramp is one of the finest examples of an animated film and how it can appeal to all ages. I feel like if a movie can tastetfully appeal to both children and adults then it has done its job. And I also feel like most adults who do not want to expose their children toinappropriate material do not need to make a big deal about the content in those movies to their kids.

An example: When I was younger, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (arguably three of Walt Disney Animation's most dark films) were brand new. I watched all three of them and yes they all had innuendoes in them. My parents didn't make a big deal about the adult-oriented content in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas, so I appreciated those films for other things. Years later, when I rediscovered them, sure I was surprised about what my parents let me watch, but I also appreciated and respected the filmmakers for what they did.

Talk to your kids about the movies they watch and introduce them to certain films gradually over time. Then pray about it constently.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Eh:

Well...1. First off not all animation is for kids (I get tired of adults that go "oh my I can't believe this Batman or *insert random anime film* isn't for kids it's a cartoon). I think now in 2011 we can get rid of that outdated mentality. 2. If an adult views taking his kids to the movies as an eye clawing nightmare they won't go. The adults need to be engaged on some level. 3. Kids ARE growing up faster. You may not like it but it's fact. AND since they grow up faster unless they see some adult content in a "cartoon" they may see it as "childish" and "uncool/realistic" and not want to go see it. 4. As people grow up they still want to see movies about the things they liked as kids but a) NOT get ridiculed for it and b) Have it be more realistic and reflect the times they are in (hence why all superhero movies are PG-13 and have steamy or dark content. And why the new Spider-man looks like a Batman Begins ripoff)5. In the future I think the only "kids" movies you see will be G and have only kids 3-8 watching them.