February 25, 2008

5 kids' movies that aren't for kids

Kids' movies can be tricky. Ideally, a good kids' movie is entertaining and enriching for children, and does not incite in parents the urge to gauge out their own eyes. Mostly, though, the average kids' movie is just aimed at kids, who will drag their reluctant parens to the theater and force their wallets open. This does not assure quality, because kids are stupid and have dubious taste (Bratz, anyone?). But in trying to appeal to wider audiences, certain kiddie flicks (like the five below) have missed the mark and gone over the wee heads of their target demographic - often to the benefit of the wider population.

1. The Incredibles
Target audience: young Pixar fans and/or superhero enthusiasts
Actual audience: adults experiencing midlife crises
Even superheroes get the blues. That's the gist of Brad Bird's 2004 film, which also features great effects, splashy colors, great action sequences and excellently quotable lines such as "WHERE IS MY SUPER-SUIT?!" But mostly, it's about midlife crises. The titular Mr. Incredible is stuck in a 9-5 job and a challenging marriage, and is tempted by his old life and a hot villain. And in the first 20 or so minutes, he saves a man falling from a building, only to find out that the man was attempting suicide and was immensely annoyed by the intervention. It's fitting that footage of this flick was edited to audio from American Beauty, in a fun little YouTube diversion that underlines the eerie similarities between the films (check it out here). It's only rated PG, but most of these tricks ain't for kids.

2. The Emperor's New Groove
Target audience: kids who savor the exploits of funny animals and inaccurate Incan history
Actual audience: adults who savor the snarky, sarcastic humor of David Spade
This is a film about an emperor turned llama voiced by David Spade, and David Mamet, according to IMDB, called the script "one of the most brilliantly innovative which Hollywood has produced in recent years." That's right. David "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Fuck you, that's my name!" Mamet. Rightly so, because this film is absolutely hilarious. I had the good fortune of discovering it as a teenager, because I think that as a kid a lot of it would have gone over my head. It's not that the subject matter is complicated, but more that the humor is a sophisticated type that kids don't grasp yet. Little tykes will probably be drawn primarily to the stupid=funny shtick of the villain's sidekick Kronk, but adults will realize that the character is voiced by Patrick Warburton (known primarily as Puddy from "Seinfeld") and find new humor in that. There are a few pop culture references that may be lost on children as well, but for the full enjoyment of the humor, save this one for after puberty.

3. Ratatouille
Target audiences: young fans of cute animals doing outlandish things
Actual audience: viewers for whom the Food Network is porn
First of all, I have to give this movie kudos for having the balls to use a title that even educated adults can't pronounce, much less kids. Obviously, the cute rodent is the hook, but most kids don't give a shit about gourmet French cuisine. If you really wanted to just aim this at kids, it would be about baking cupcakes. Even I had trouble getting into the storyline when it got too foody. This is Brad Bird's work again, and I'm beginning to think he isn't even interested in the kiddie audience. One part that really startled me was when Remy the rat is crawling through a pipe over several apartments and witnesses a different scene in each one, because in one apartment he saw a couple who was fighting with each other and pointing guns in each other's faces. Then a shot is fired, but it doesn't hit anyone, and the pair starts making out. WTF? Another delicate matter with children's movies is that kids will believe a vast majority of what they see on screen. After Finding Nemo's claim that all pipes lead to the ocean, there was an epidemic of children flushing their pet fish down toilets to give them a better life. Ratatouille, through the eyes of a child, may read as propaganda for letting hordes of rats into your kitchen to help you cook. Think I'm exaggerating? There's a bonus feature on the DVD where Remy and his brother talk about how great rats are for 20 minutes, and make excuses for certain ratastrophes like the Plague. What I know, and what kids probably don't, is that while brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) are clean, intelligent, cute, and make good pets, black rats (Rattus rattus) live in sewers, spread disease, and most importantly, are not cute. That should be a disclaimer on the DVD cover, in my humble opinion.

4. Fantasia
Target audience: Mickey Mouse enthusiasts
Actual audience: Film nerds and/or stoners
This film I did actually see as a wee one. I remember liking the Mickey part (of course) and the dancing hippo, but I was pretty baffled/unimpressed by the rest. Because if there's one thing that kids love, it's classical music...except no, not at all. If you really consider the film's concept - animated vignettes set to classical tunes - it just sounds like a trippy laser show or something of that ilk. Even though that format should theoretically cater to kids' short attention spans, the most mindless of tots will still grow bored if there isn't some plot or coherence. I wouldn't be surprised if this gets remade in 3-D, featuring only the songs of Hannah Montana (shudder). Hopefully, the stoners and geeky critics who pontificate about this film's excellence will preserve its legacy from that wretched fate.

5. The Shrek sequels
Target audience: fairy tale fans with a bit of an edge
Actual audience: "Best Week Ever" addicts
The first Shrek was a fun film that appealed to viewers based on its creative retooling of well-worn tales, its voice talents, its pop culture references and its message about being yourself. But producers got blinded by green and cranked out two sequels that displayed a sharp decline in quality and intelligence. While the satire in the original was aimed at topics such as Disneyworld and popular fairy tales, the following two movies become like animated rejects from a VH1 show. In Shrek 2, for example, I'm pretty sure that audiences are supposed to find humor in the fact that Justin Timberlake did one of the voices, and he was dating Cameron Diaz at the time, voice of the princess Fiona. OMG!!! Kids see enough tabloid crap anyway - keep it out of their flicks, will ya, Dreamworks?


- Beauty and the Beast. Um, this movie is about straight-up bestiality. And it also sends the totally backward message that intelligent, attractive young women should be romantically satisfied with snarling, borderline abusive half-animal men. Great. Not gonna deny that the songs are awesome though.

- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Look, I don't care what Wonka says - all those kids who met gruesome (albeit creative) fates in the factory are not coming back. They're stone-cold dead. And the scene where all the characters go through the tunnel with distorted images of giant bugs and other such delights is terrifying at any age.

- The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Patrick in drag and a David Hasselhoff cameo? This movie is exclusively for stoners.


nutmeag said...

So am I bad person for loving Beauty and the Beast from a young age? :-(

I will admit that I do have a thing for musicals with awesome music and bad plots . . .

- K. said...

Totally agree with Shrek.. I actually kinda hate Shrek, but it ain't Pixar is Dreamworks. They put A LOOOT more pop culture and tabloid references in their movies, way more that Pixar.

- K.

Anonymous said...

Not only is the Incredibles a study of mid-life crises, it's also pretty deeply rooted in the philosophies of Ayn Rand. It's why I love Brad Bird, he makes kid's movies that can be appreciated on so many levels - I'm convinced that if kids watch his movies the dumbing down of our culture will be a thing of the past.

i i said...

Hey, loved your post. Just a couple of corrections though:
1. It was Shrek 3, with Timberlake in it
2. It's "claimed" that the makers didnt know abt the Diaz-Timberlake story then
3. It's Dreamworks SKG, not Pixar

Anonymous said...

sir or ma'am. You are a fucking retard.

Ada Calgie said...

Yeah, I'll definitely remember how backwards the whole situation is next time a half-beast prince tries to chat me up. It happens so often, I forget that it's wrong. Didn't you see the DREAMWORKS logo before the start of Shrek BTW? And Mr. Incredible's name would only be 'titular' if the movie was called 'Mr. Incredible'.

Anonymous said...


I loved classical music as a kid. Me and my cousins watched Fantasia probably every other time we got together. Particular favourite for me was the Greek myth scenes and the Wild Hunt horror scenes.

Everything else I completely agree with, but I had to defend against that, children can definitely get into even classical music.