Friday, September 17, 2010

The stink of kiddie

In an age where almost all animated movies are appropriate for five-year-olds, do we really still need to make animated movies that are targeted at three-year-olds?

I may be wrong, but to me, Alpha and Omega (releasing tomorrow) has the stink of kiddie on it.

You've had the experience before. You pop in an animated movie, thinking it's one of the majority of theatrically released animated movies that are filled with pop culture references and winks to their adult viewers. These may not be clever references or winks, but at least you feel like part of the target audience. Then, anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes into the movie, you realize it's just supposed to be a bunch of bright colors and shapes that will please babies.

Last time this happened to me was last year with Battle for Terra, which featured a very simplistic version of the already simplistic Avatar story (before Avatar was released) in a way that instantly struck me as developed for human beings who were teething.

Back in the day, it used to be easy to tell what kind of animated movie you were getting just from the quality of the animation. When another Winnie the Pooh movie hit theaters, you could be 100% certain it had nothing to offer you, if only because the animation was the furthest thing from cutting edge you could imagine. Now, however, the technology exists to make reasonably credible visuals without giving away your meager means. You can still tell if you look closely, but the average viewer is easily fooled.

So how are you supposed to avoid watching a kiddie movie -- that is, assuming you're not carrying around a little one in a Baby Bjorn?

To assist you in this scenario are Vancetastic's Five Indicators Your Movie is Meant for Toddlers:

1) The characters are all voiced by actors under the age of 12, rather than comic actors who appear in Judd Apatow movies;

2) The trailer is narrated unironically by that guy who did voiceover for that toy commercial you accidentally saw once while channel surfing;

3) Any humor in the trailer has to do with the male character falling on his butt while meeting cute with the female character, or inoffensive bathroom humor;

4) The trailer music is cheesy "adventure music," and the movie is usually about a cheesy adventure of some sort;

5) The animation is at least 20% less sophisticated than Pixar.

Maybe they should also come up with a new rating that's less than G, that says, "Don't watch this unless at least one person in your family cannot form complete sentences."

To be fair, Alpha and Omega already violates at least one of these rules. None of Dennis Hopper, Justin Long, Hayden Pannettiere, Danny Glover or Christina Ricci are under 12, and only Long, Pannettiere and Ricci can play under 12. But you get the idea.

I watched the trailer for Alpha and Omega again just now, and I realize I'm being a bit unfair to it. The animation may only be 15% less sophisticated than Pixar, and it's really working at more of a 7-year-old reading level than a 3-year-old reading level.

But I guess the point in any exaggeration is to illustrate something true, and in this situation, the true thing I'm trying to illustrate is that the most successful animated movies of recent years have made themselves into increasingly sophisticated entities, leaving a huge gulf between them and the ones that are not quite so advanced. Whereas something like Bambi was as much sophistication as anyone needed back in 1942, today, Bambi would be considered highly square, even by pretty young tots. Today, the animated movies kids want to see are the Despicable Mes and the Megaminds, where an evil genius has mastery of high-tech computer equipment. Movies where animals prance through the forest -- like Bambi, and like Alpha and Omega -- are therefore ghettoized as something best suited to show fetuses who are still in their mothers' wombs.

Well, good luck, Alpha and Omega. May you exceed your kiddie stigma at the box office.


Mike Lippert said...

You are touching on some of the same issues I discussed in my post on how movies are becoming so technologically advanced that they can no longer be good at being bad. To be fair, if this movie is aiming towards a 7 year old reading level it's aiming towards the same audience as Twilight.

Kidding aside I agree with you completely but have one comment and one question. The first thing is that I'd probably much rather this than those Dreamworks movies that are nothing more than games of spot the reference to the point where it becomes the whole movie. I'd rather just follow a fun kids story than play the triva game. It's one of the reasons why Legends of the Guarians is high on my anticipation list: it looks llike a true adventure story for the whole family.

My question is, who's kids are you hanging around that they would find Bambi anything less than enchanting and magical? If not, Disney would have no grounds for rereleasing this movies every seven years or so.

Vancetastic said...

Um, theoretical kids? I guess I don't know for certain that today's kids would find Bambi square -- my guess is that most of today's kids have not actually seen Bambi, because their parents would bet that it seems square and never subject them to it in the first place. Plus, isn't Disney always removing it from availability on DVD?

Ugh, spot the reference -- that's the worst. I have blocked most of this movie out, but I think Madagascar may have been a good (or should it be bad?) example of that. Although the funniest example of this I can think of IS actually a kiddie movie, called Doogal. I doubt most people have seen Dougal, but there's literally a moment in the movie where a character (voiced by Jimmy Fallon) shouts out "Pirates of the Caribbean!" It's a total non sequitor -- it has nothing to do with anything going on in the plot at all. My wife and I always joke about that.

I don't think Legends of the Guardians is kiddie oriented at all. First of all, the animation looks absolutely breathtaking. Second of all, it's directed by Zack Snyder, who has directed nothing but incredibly violent movies. I'd actually like to see this on the big screen, but I think it will lose out to what is shaping up to be a surprisingly fertile September at the multiplexes -- and to me having a newborn. (Speaking of kiddies.)