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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How We Talk to Children

Meanwhile: at the staff meetings of every animation company that isn't Disney/Pixar...

SUIT: Okay guys, I got an idea for a character.
SUIT 2: Let's hear it.
SUIT: Well, I figure to play off of our playfully obnoxious male character, we get a sexy, capable female character that never-the-less finds the protagonist's block-headed incompetence charming.
SUIT 2: I like it, IF we can play this summer's popular hit song and have her introduced in slow motion at the same time.
SUIT: Brilliant. It's funny, because they're all hamsters!

Then...

SUIT: Okay guys, I got an idea for a character.
SUIT 2: Let's hear it.
SUIT: Well, I figure to play off of our playfully obnoxious male character, we get a sexy, capable female character that never-the-less finds the protagonist's block-headed incompetence charming.
SUIT 2: I like it, IF we can play this summer's popular song hit and have her introduced in slow motion at the same time.
SUIT: Brilliant. It's funny, because they're all in the Ice Age!


It's called the Shrek effect, and it's a natural reaction to our society's increasingly self-conscious mentality. Shrek is not a bad movie. It is not bad because it was, at the time, somewhat unique, and not to mention it parodied what it loved, much in the same way The Princess Bride did, albiet much better. The problem here is most studios have lost the ability or the balls to tell a story and not apologize about it.

What is apologizing? It is winking at the audience. It's saying "Don't take us seriously, we don't take ourselves seriously." Since when was this necessary for every movie PG and under? While studios like Ghibli and Pixar continue to hold their head up high and tell whimsical stories without fear of being too earnest, Dreamworks, Fox, Sony, and even Disney have succumbed to the mentality that telling an actual tale is SO last century.

So we have pop songs playing over fairy tale proceedings. Pop culture references from fish who live under the sea. Princesses that know the cliche of the tale they are currently experiencing. We have lazy characters and even lazier storylines. Is telling stories simply not fun anymore? Should movies directed towards children and families just be a collection of brain-dead skits and jokes and farts? Tell that to anyone who's seen The Lion King. The Land Before Time. Tell that to Disney pre-2000, or Pixar, or Ghibli.

So while watching Up, Pixar's latest film, who, by the way, have batted 10 for 10 as far as I'm concerned, I was glad that the children and families around me enjoyed what was simply a good story well told. The film did not shy away from harsh topics, and meaningful themes, and did it with class, grace, and playfulness, without overt displays of sex or violence. In other words, it was a film the whole family could enjoy on an equal level. What saddened me was the previews before the movie. Films that aspired to nothing more than to distract children with pithy jokes and bright colors, while attempting to satisfy adult sensibilities with out-of-context references to current events and innuendos. G-Force, Ice Age 3, okay, these are simply the latest pieces of bile to come out of studios that just don't care anymore about making quality. But Cloud With a Chance of Meatballs? The children's book reeks of melancholy and meaning, even while maintaining a whimsy that would quench any thirsty imagination. The movie looks like a product, made by a robot, packaged to do character A and plot arc B with joke C.

The world is what we make it to be. If we coddle our children, talk down to them, expect them to not be ready for any sort of meaning, then that is what they will become. Children are actually more sensitive to important themes and drama, why not give them the best entertainment and art have to offer, instead of giving them the scraps?

2 comments:

JC Elizondo said...

Dan glad to have you back.
You know I agree with you in practically everything here. (although my opinion of UP is its not Wall-E but ok)

Ezra Edmond said...

I really don't know what was so great about Wall-e. While it may have a great meaning to it, it's entertainment value lacks as does it's re-watchability. I think up delivered on all those counts with an equally important message.

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