Are Kids’ Films Going to the … Adults?

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.


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.

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