Children’s films for children please, not for bored parents
By Pierre Maré.
My daughter has tired of the previous ‘Lion King’. When I asked her if she wanted to watch it, she shook her head. It has played about eighty times in this household. No doubt she will want to watch it again at some point but I will enjoy the brief respite.
As all parents do, I try to imagine what career path she will choose, in some distant year, far from here and now. She hasn’t gone for tennis racquets, guitars, the ‘My Little Plastic Surgeon’ kit or any of the other objects that predict vast amounts of money. She does have a worrying tendency to try and organize everyone around her: I really don’t want her to become a politician.
On the other hand, if her propensity for kids’ films is anything to go by, she may become the next Walt Disney or whomever it was who founded Pixar. If that is her choice, I’ll be there to give plenty of useful advice. After all, I can recite the ‘Lion King’ backwards, and that has to count for something.
I have become somewhat of an expert on children’s films. In order for her to develop the same expertise, I will suggest that she watch the ‘Lion King’ eighty times herself. The fact that she saw it eighty times as a toddler won’t sway me. She needs to understand the impact that level of repetition has on an adult mind.
Once she has watched it an acceptable number of times, I will show her ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. After I have told her how much we both enjoyed them, her education in the fine art of children’s films will be complete.
There is a startling difference between children’s films made in the sixties and what we see now. It seems as if research was done, and parents came back with the response, “If we are going to watch these things umpteen hundred times, at least do something to keep us interested.” If that was the response, then taking it to heart was a bad move.
The last few decades have produced a crop of children’s films that appear intent on providing meaning to adults, rather than inspiring children. In fact sequences that should be amusing to kids are crowded out by ‘in jokes’, rich symbolism and deeper meanings. However there are only so many times you can take in the same metaphor before you get bored, even if it is expressly, often painfully, targeted at adults.
I blame it on video and DVD. Once the child gets a whiff of what is available, you are in trouble. Earlier, rental was one refuge: you had to take the film back, even if the child screamed until it was blue in the face. But nowadays, streaming is almost inevitable, especially around birthdays and major holidays: no parent wants to deprive a child of the happiness and smiles.
Children’s films made before the advent of ‘owning your very own copy of a timeless sequel to a classic that we cobbled together just last year’ weren’t crippled by the need to entertain desperately bored adults.
‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ showed once or twice, and that was the end of it. They did not need to depress adults with thinly veiled humorous references to burdensome realities. Instead adult personas were suspended and people enjoyed great music, Dick van Dyke, childlike wonder and the laughter of children. Songs like ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘Hushabye Mountain’ became classics because people enjoyed them, not because they were played to death.
Of course this is probably an old complaint. Children love repetition, and by having kids we accept that we will do things to distraction. Reading the same storybook over and over again is tiresome, the third Earl of Whatever probably wished he’d never introduced his child to the game of ‘flog the rebellious peasant’ and Caveman Og was no doubt driven insane by the thought of yet another round of ‘brain the lizard’ with Baby Ug.
That being said, perhaps the makers of children’s films should stop trying to find ways to entertain adults. The best children’s movies appeal to the child in all of us. They are also more watchable, more often.