When I was five, The Wizard of Oz was the outermost limit of terror. The flying monkeys, in their fakey makeup and phoney suits, gliding in on barely concealed wires to snatch Dorothy out of the haunted wood were the stuff of nightmares for me. I had no ability to distinguish between reality and the primitive movie magic up on the TV screen. And I was an ordinary kid.
How much less, then, can a small child today discern the difference between the absolutely lifelike Velociraptors dismembering their victims and reality? Parental idiots who expose (or worse yet force) small children to endure the psychological torture chamber of such films and hiss at them to stop screaming in terror during daddy’s two hour self-indulgent child abuse sessions are wretched parents, plain and simple.
I mention such cheery things at this merry season of giving because not a few parents are engaged in the process of “finding something for the kids” in preparation for Christmas and many of them are weirdly persuaded that if a film is billed a “popcorn movie” then it is, ipso facto, “something for the kids.” To them I say, “Remember the flying monkeys!” Get nothing more frightening than that for your small children.
I also say “All that is cartoon is not kid fare.” This should be common knowledge, now that Beavis and Friend, South Park, and other specimens of the animator’s art have made it clear that just because it’s not live action doesn’t mean it can’t be coarse, neanderthal, ugly, or stupid. Yet many still blithely assume that animation=child-friendly.
This is not to say that cartoons have to be either crude or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But it is to say that things which Hollywood considers “family fare” are often defined as such by some soulless Hollywood executive with a mistress, a daughter in substance abuse rehab, a son who like guns overmuch, and an ex-wife who does way too many drugs. Such executives are not always the best judges of what real families are like or of what they prefer.
Take the thoroughly annoying Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch™ Stole Christmas. The “™” in the title really says it all. Here is a story that could have been a fun, fluffy holiday movie for children. But once the corporate suits got done focus-grouping it, hyping it, and (all important) getting rid of the G rating, they transmogrified the story into yet another vehicle for subjecting children to belching and puking jokes, sticking Jim Carrey’s nose into some starlet’s cleavage, cramming in utterly gratuitous references to adultery and fornication, and cluttering the whole business up with grotesquely hypocritical preachments about the hypocrisy of those awful, bourgeois, middle-class materialistic Whos (that’d be you and me) while marketing this bloated beast of a film till the last drops of money could be squeezed from its cold, soulless carcass. If there was ever a movie that was an insult to family films, this is it. Avoid it like the plague.
Of course, there’s also a lot of stuff in between and some of it is pretty good. Shrek (Dreamworks), for instance, is a good film, brilliantly computer-animated, with good characters, good vocalizations and a reasonable story. However, it’s definitely a story for adults or older children. For small children, no way. For older kids, about 12 and up, I’d say it’s okay and that it has some qualities about it that are addressed to “teen issues” of friendship, loyalty, courage, and the importance of looking at the heart rather than the physique. It also has a number of sly and richly deserved pokes at Disney. But even for the older kids, I would note that there is an unnecessary edge (flatulation jokes, some gratuitously coarse language) that didn’t need to be in there and seems to have been stuck in to avoid the dreaded G rating. Similarly, Antz (also from Dreamworks) is really a late teen/early adult audience Woody Allen movie that is inappropriate for the little ones.
On the bright side, there remain films like Babe, Chicken Run (and the Wallace and Gromit trio of shorts), as well as the Toy Story films and A Bug’s Life which really are good for small kids. All these are as fun for grownups as for children and teens and they have the unique advantage (particularly in the case of Babe and the Toy Story films) of being great films.
Bottom line: Caveat emptor (which, being loosely translated, means “Remember the Flying Monkeys”).
My Top Ten Family Films
Here’s Mark Shea’s personal Top Ten Films any family can enjoy together on a cold winter night.
- A Bug’s Life Goofy fun for the whole family. And the outtakes are inspired.
- The Adventures of Robin Hood What jolly fun! I love it and my kidlets love it (except for the mushy parts between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland). Be sure to get the 1938 version, not Kevin Costner’s wretched politically corrected Robin Hood.
- BabeThat rare bird, a film that is as satisfying for adults as for children, set in a land “just a little to the left of the 20th century”.
- Chicken Run Simply a blast for every featherless biped on the planet.
- The Court Jester Goofy farce and word play from the inimitable Danny Kaye!
- The Emperor’s New Groove A refreshing surprise from the Mouse. Kronk is terrific and Eartha Kitt shows surprising comic chops.
- The Incredible Adventures of Wallace and Gromit Brilliance from the creators of Chicken Run.
- Spy Kids A delightful, family-friendly romp that is sort of James Bond via a really good Saturday morning cartoon.
- Toy Story The first all-CGI film. It’s also a good story with real characters!
- Toy Story 2 Even better than the original!