Are grown-ups stealing movies from the children?
But something must have gone wrong this time. There wasn’t a single child within sight when my eyes swept over the audience as we were waiting for the afternoon screening of The Muppets to start. In fact I don’t think anyone was under 30 years old. What were we? Big children? Muppets? Ageless adults?
There isn’t any clear border between movies for grown-ups and movies for children anymore. When we engage in discussions whether Brave or Wreck-It Ralph should have won the Oscar award, it’s not from the perspective of a parent speaking on behalf of their children. We speak as the target audience.
If you ask me, I’m very happy with this development. I think we overstate the importance of physical age and understate the mental. Besides it’s very fluid, isn’t it? One day I have the mental age of an 80 year old. The next day I’m ten. Most of the time I’m 17, regardless of what the passport claims. My inner child doesn’t give a crap about labelling. A good film is a good film.
But not everyone approves of this development. Sometimes you hear people criticizing movies that give nods to the older audience. The idea is the adult jokes and references take away something of the experience of the little ones. I think this goes back to that it’s considered rude to have conversations that the third party, in this case a kid, doesn’t understand.
Here’s an example of this in Jim Lane’s review of Horton hears a Who!:
They also trot out a lot of pop-culture in-jokes that no one under 30 will get, giving amusement to grown-ups but only squirms and confusion to the kids who are supposed to be the good Dr.’s audience. It amounts to making entertainment for adults by hijacking a story intended for kids—and despite the gleaming animation and all-star voices, it’s unseemly, like a playground bully snatching the best toys from helpless toddlers.”
Since I haven’t seen the movie myself, I can’t tell if Lane is right or not. Is this film indeed hijacked? Or is it possible that there’s enough left for the kids to have fun movie experience nevertheless? I think it is and I’m going to explain why.
Recently I tried an activity called “bouldering” – a form of climbing where you don’t use any rope. The climbing took place inside a hall where they had covered the walls with handles in all sorts of shapes and colours, so called “problems”. You could choose whatever route you wanted to climb the wall. Each colour meant a different level of difficulty. You could also ignore the colours altogether and come up with your own way to the top. Thanks to this flexible system, the same wall could cater to a five year old as well as a 25 year old or a 75 year old. They could all climb I, but they’d come up with different solutions.
And this is how I think of a movie like Toy Story 3. I don’t think a child and an adult will respond to the same things and think of it in exactly the same way. Their routes to the top will be different. But the way up will be enjoyable to both, they’ll have the same lovely view from the top and when the movie is finished, they’ll have a great conversation about the wall they just climbed.
To include some jokes in a movie that make it more palatable to the parents isn’t stealing. It’s a strategy to encourage grown-ups to join their children and watch the movie with them, rather than using the theatre as a babysitter. You create a common playground where you can meet as equals and have fun together, regardless of age. And this, my friends, can never be a bad thing.
This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “childhood”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):