Friday, December 15, 2017

The enduring need for children's entertainment

When I was at Target on Tuesday for a little Christmas shopping, I happened to notice The Emoji Movie for sale on DVD. It came out here in September, so December is a logical time for the DVD release. No big whoop.

However, then I was at the Hoyts Highpoint on Wednesday for a little Daddy’s Home 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and I also saw The Emoji Movie available there. It was still, somehow, clinging to a nominal theatrical release, playing exactly once per day in a pre-noon showing.

Which goes to show just how much Australian parents require a cinematic babysitter for their kids.

Now granted, that’s not a suggestion that Australians rely excessively on screens to entertain their children. If anything, I’d say Australian parents are probably a bit better about that than their American counterparts. It’s really more of a commentary on Australian theater chains and their mission to cater to all demographics at all times.

I’ll note that at the time I saw that “there are no more showings today for this feature – please contact staff to enquire about tomorrow’s showings,” the last showing of The Emoji Movie, period, had already played. This was Wednesday at midnight when Star Wars was about to premiere, and lo and behold, Ferdinand also opened on Thursday. As soon as The Emoji Movie was no longer needed, it dutifully shuffled off into oblivion.

What I find interesting about this is that it represents a wholly different mentality from the U.S. Theatrical windows in the U.S. seem to be based a lot more on cold, hard dollars and cents. If a movie is earning, it stays, and if there’s nothing but violent action movies playing at a particular theater, meaning there’s nothing for the kids to watch, well then that’s just too bad for them. All money is equal, and the U.S. theaters don’t care whether it’s the violent action movies or the family friendly movies that are doing the earning.

Not so, or not quite so, in Australia. I’d imagine that the holy dollar continues to be the largest motivating factor, but a something-for-everyone mentality also plays a role in what stays and what goes. It’s been a weird year for animation, with not a lot of really compelling features and some big gaps between their releases. It may not be that The Emoji Movie was particularly performing for Hoyts, it’s just there was nothing to take its place. In Australia, that matters. In the U.S., not so much.

It also seems a bit or a lot less likely for American theater chains to keep around a movie that will play in only one time slot each day. Perhaps the fees paid by cinemas for the right to show movies are structured differently here, but I get the feeling you can’t keep around a niche movie in the U.S. because the cost is prohibitively high. When you have the right to show a movie, that means you have the right to show it 20 times a day if you want. You'd pay the same price to show it only once. Not so in Australia, or at least potentially not so. (What do I know? I’m not looking this stuff up.)

Something about seeing The Emoji Movie still available warmed my heart; it felt like an endorsement of my own perspective on the movie. I saw it with my younger son at this same theater back before Halloween, in that same pre-noon screening slot, which even then was the only time it was screening (if I remember correctly). I think it was even before 11, actually. I think I liked it more than he did, but we both liked it, making us two of the only people in the world who can claim that. The fact that it played at this theater for like three months feels like a small bit of evidence that we’re not crazy.

Or, maybe just evidence that Australian theater owners are.

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