How often have you heard “it’s just a kids’ film” as the go-to defence for a lacklustre children’s film? This is not only condescending to kids but is demeaning to film in general. This argument is no justification for the failings of a film. People hold kids’ films to a lower standard than the rest of what is released each year, even though they should be held just as high, if not higher.
I have many problems with this insufficient defence of bad kids’ films for many reasons. The first is that bad kids’ films are no different than bad films for adults. It is usually big-budget animated features that get this defence, from Shrek 3D to Monsters Vs. Aliens. While they may entertain kids for the duration of the picture, these are films that will not last in the kids memories for weeks, let alone for years to come. This is no different from films like Transformers 2; films with no redeeming qualities other than mindless action. Yet because these mindless children’s films are aimed at kids they receive a pass.
Of course kids will enjoy something that we see as lacklustre, however as they are certain to leave no positive or lasting effect on the child, what is the point? Inspiring and challenging a child’s imagination is fundamentally important to developing his or her creativity, and film is the perfect medium to do so.
If you think back on the great children’s films that you viewed as a kid, and the films which came and went, the difference in impact is astonishing. While Shrek did nothing for my creativity, Iron Giant made me want to become a filmmaker. People often say that not every kids’ film can be Pixar-quality, and while this is true to a point, why shouldn’t they strive for that? It is simply laziness on the parts of the filmmakers and the studios which do not attempt for anything of lasting quality. A good film for kids does not have to say anything particularly deep, or make the audience cry like in Up, however it should show some respect to the intended audience and deliver something of lasting value.
It seems that to justify the mediocre schlock which accounts for most films aimed at kids people classify Pixar films as films appropriate for kids but aimed at adults. This is simply untrue, they are films which do not condescend or look down on their audience. They embrace the sense of wonder and enjoyment which kids want and add true heart to the mix. This is why Pixar consistently releases beautiful and inspiring films. Filmmakers like Brad Bird, Hayao Miyazaki and Andrew Stanton keep the bar for children’s films very high, as it should be. This high bar should not be an excuse to give up, or deliver something that will only entertain for the run time.
In many ways the genre of kids’ films should not even exist, as a great film for children is a great film for everyone. It just happens to be appropriate for any age. Children may be a film’s primary audience, yet as we see with any children’s film classic, they work for all ages.
I often find myself looking back on the films from my childhood and feeling sorry for the kids of today who have to sit through Yogi Bear 3D. Knowing that the new Pixar film is just around the corner reminds me that there are still great films for kids released each year. It is simply a matter of not accepting the excuse that “it is just a kids’ film”, and holding these films to the appropriate standard.