The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Are grown-ups stealing movies from the children?

with 27 comments

boulderingIt was 1 PM a Saturday afternoon – a timeslot you’d normally believe theatres reserve for a younger audience.

But something must have gone wrong this time. There wasn’t a single child within sight when my eyes swept over the audience as we were waiting for the afternoon screening of The Muppets to start. In fact I don’t think anyone was under 30 years old.  What were we? Big children? Muppets? Ageless adults?

There isn’t any clear border between movies for grown-ups and movies for children anymore. When we engage in discussions whether Brave or Wreck-It Ralph should have won the Oscar award, it’s not from the perspective of a parent speaking on behalf of their children. We speak as the target audience.

If you ask me, I’m very happy with this development. I think we overstate the importance of physical age and understate the mental. Besides it’s very fluid, isn’t it? One day I have the mental age of an 80 year old. The next day I’m ten. Most of the time I’m 17, regardless of what the passport claims. My inner child doesn’t give a crap about labelling. A good film is a good film.

Snatching toys
But not everyone approves of this development. Sometimes you hear people criticizing movies that give nods to the older audience. The idea is the adult jokes and references take away something of the experience of the little ones. I think this goes back to that it’s considered rude to have conversations that the third party, in this case a kid, doesn’t understand.

Here’s an example of this in Jim Lane’s review of Horton hears a Who!:

They also trot out a lot of pop-culture in-jokes that no one under 30 will get, giving amusement to grown-ups but only squirms and confusion to the kids who are supposed to be the good Dr.’s audience. It amounts to making entertainment for adults by hijacking a story intended for kids—and despite the gleaming animation and all-star voices, it’s unseemly, like a playground bully snatching the best toys from helpless toddlers.”

Since I haven’t seen the movie myself, I can’t tell if Lane is right or not. Is this film indeed hijacked? Or is it possible that there’s enough left for the kids to have fun movie experience nevertheless? I think it is and I’m going to explain why.

Different routes
Recently I tried an activity called “bouldering” – a form of climbing where you don’t use any rope.  The climbing took place inside a hall where they had covered the walls with handles in all sorts of shapes and colours, so called “problems”. You could choose whatever route you wanted to climb the wall. Each colour meant a different level of difficulty. You could also ignore the colours altogether and come up with your own way to the top. Thanks to this flexible system, the same wall could cater to a five year old as well as a 25 year old or a 75 year old. They could all climb I, but they’d come up with different solutions.

And this is how I think of a movie like Toy Story 3. I don’t think a child and an adult will respond to the same things and think of it in exactly the same way. Their routes to the top will be different. But the way up will be enjoyable to both, they’ll have the same lovely view from the top and when the movie is finished, they’ll have a great conversation about the wall they just climbed.

To include some jokes in a movie that make it more palatable to the parents isn’t stealing. It’s a strategy to encourage grown-ups to join their children and watch the movie with them, rather than using the theatre as a babysitter. You create a common playground where you can meet as equals and have fun together, regardless of age. And this, my friends, can never be a bad thing.


This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “childhood”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):

Except fear
Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Mode + Film
Moving landscapes
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

February 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

27 Responses

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  1. Hmm…a good take on the subject!
    I agree with you on “sometimes I´m 80, sometimes 10” and so on….

    Perhaps that´s filmviewing at it´s best? 🙂


    February 27, 2013 at 11:24 am

    • Thanks Steffo! The question is if we watch a lot of different movies because we’ve got a flexible mental age or of we become more flexible since we watch all those movies, helping us to stay openminded.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm

  2. I think if a film can work on a level of both adults and children then it’s all the stronger. It’ll also likely do better commercially. I think if an ‘adult’ joke goes over a child’s head then the child isn’t going to be confused or annoyed, they probably won’t even notice there was supposed to be a joke there and carry on watching happily. All of Disney Pixar’s films are packed full of jokes for adults but they’re also loved by children.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    February 27, 2013 at 11:47 am

    • I think this definitely is a reason why they’re so successful. Disney/Pixar manage to make the balance, approaching both audiences. The adult stuff is fun but doesn’t take overhand.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm

  3. Couldn’t agree more. When I was a child my mother/older brother would gladly watch certain Disney Classics with me because the stories had something that appealed to adults. Recently I re-watched some of those films, and I found plenty of references/scenes that I never understood completely, but that also never interfered with my movie experience as a child. Scenes that now make it possible for me to enjoy the same movie I loved 15 years ago in a different way; a way that fits who I am at this age. So yes, of course it can only be a positive thing that animated films have regained the ability to entertain both kids and adults.


    February 27, 2013 at 11:50 am

    • Oh this reminds me of that there are a lot of classic animated films that I haven’t watched since I was a child that I should revisit. Like you I think I’d notice a lot of things that went over my head last time. The same movie and yet not the same.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm

  4. Whatever helps you get through it; i would say. I’m not that interested in that kind of movies, never really have been either, but my opinion and experience is that kids get caught up in everything. For instance, I watched Bond-movies long before I was ten years old. I didn’t understand a bit, not even the language, but hey, I liked it anyway.

    My point is that references kids don’t understand is not bad. It’s a favor to the older ones watching it with the kids. Everybody’s fine, then.


    February 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    • What they don’t know they miss won’t hurt them.:)


      February 27, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      • Exactly my thoughts!


        February 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm

  5. Very interesting post. As a father of an 8 and 11 yer old, this is something that’s important to me. I’m kinda in the middle on this. Yes, I appreciate that “kids movies” have broadened their audiences. I love being able to thoroughly enjoy a “kid’s movies” such as “Up” or “Frankenweenie”. But I think Hollywood has done a disservice in a few ways.

    First, the vast majority of “kid’s movies” or family films are animated. Hollywood makes practically no good live action films for kids and adults. Often times when they do they are either poor movies or they have what seems to be mandatory innuendo or suspect content.

    Even worse is that the majority of other films that come out cant be watched when my kids are in the same room! PG-13 movies often times contain as much if not more profanity than R rated pictures. On the flip side, I can turn on TCM and not have to worry a bit. So we know it can be done. Hollywood has adopted this form of filmmaking and it makes it harder for kids to see many films that would otherwise be suitable.

    Anyway, sorry for the incoherent rant. It’s such a great topic for discussion and I appreciate you bringing it up. I have a similar piece written but just haven’t gotten around to posting it. Maybe soon! 🙂


    February 27, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    • As much as I love animated movies, I agree on that there’s a lack of live action films for kids. At least foreign. In Sweden we’ve actually been quite fortunate. There were a lot of film and TV series adaptions of the books by Astrid Lindgren in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I grew up with it and my children grew up with it and while not all of it holds up to modern tastes, I remember how much I loved it when it came out, and so did my kids.

      It’s a topic worth dwelling over more and I look forward to see your take!


      February 27, 2013 at 6:28 pm

  6. Actually, I think the best “children’s”-movies are the ones that adults can enjoy as much as younger people, the ones that treat kids not like a dumber kind of species, but like real human beings, with their own personalities and interests, who can understand and process stories and conflict. I think we are onto the same thing: a good children’s film is a film that you still like when you revisit it as an adult. A film that you could enjoy just as much as a kid, even though it might be for different reasons than as a grown-up.


    February 27, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    • The exception I could think of is if you do movies/TV intended for a VERY young audience. Like Teletubbies. It’s unbearable to watch for adults, but actually seem to work very well on toddlers.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:29 pm

  7. As long as we don’t get those bland “family”-targeted pictures which only manages to bore everyone who watch them to tears, I don’t see the problem in trying to aim movies (or books, for that matter) to more than one specific group. Everybody wins. Also, I would hazard that you are right in that the void between children and adult culture has narrowed considerably during our lifetime. All the more enjoyment for me 😉


    February 27, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    • Bland and boring is bad! But I think that for instance the Toy Story series avoids just that.
      It’s true also that the void has narrowed. And that’s a very good thing.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:43 pm

  8. Interesting topic. This is something I tend to struggle with. On the one hand, I don’t watch animated films very often because they seem less important and juvenile. I appreciate when an animated film is smart enough to appeal to more mature audiences. But at the same time, I have found that my favourites are the classic Disney films which feel more like targeted children’s movies than Studio Ghibli for example.

    It always puts me in a predicament when I think about the value of animation. Should it be for kids or do we need them to be just as thoughtful and smart as “adult” movies? I’m still undecided.


    February 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    • There are so many different sorts of animated movies and far from all are intended for children. Being a fan of animated movies, my answer to your question is a firm “no”: it shouldn’t be for kids. Not always. Some movies can be for only kids, others for kids and their parents and others again for adults.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:37 pm

  9. I have always loved animated movies, as a child, as a teenager and now as an almost 18-year old teenager. And the fact that I loved these movies as a child makes me love them even more now that I see their various layers and understand what I didn’t understand back then.
    I mean, it’s not like a child doesn’t understand or enjoy The Muppets – isn’t it great that these movies have a larger target audience nowadays? It’s a win-win situation really.


    February 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    • It really is. You grow with the movie, like you can do with some furniture for children, like a chair or bed that you can adjust to what age they’re in now. The movie will change over the years and stil hold up.


      February 27, 2013 at 6:34 pm

  10. “A good film is a good film”. Amen to that! I think it´s nice that they do films that fits both young and old. It´s much worse to have to sit trough some Pokemonfilm thats mainly for the kids but then i used to fall asleep.


    February 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    • Thankfully Pokemon was never on the agenda when my children were at the age that they needed company. I steered them towards movies I though I could enjoy too. 🙂


      February 27, 2013 at 6:32 pm

  11. I think it is often similar with kid-lit. I reread The Giver, a book perhaps most often read by tweens, in college for a class and picked up a lot of things that didn’t fully resonate in my young mind. But I do think the point on mental age is important too, I don’t think who gets what jokes will always be neatly divided by age, different people respond to different things no matter their age so reaching to a diversity of angles will help engage more people either way.


    February 27, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    • Oh you’re so right. Actually I think I enjoy for instance Winnie the Pooh more now than I did as a child. But you rarely hear people accusing that book for being above the heads of the kids.


      February 28, 2013 at 11:38 am

  12. Great analysis, Jessica! 🙂


    March 2, 2013 at 8:18 am

  13. Great post, Jessica! I think you “hit the head on the nail” (as we say in Sweden), I think watching different kinds of films is a great help to stay openminded and age-less and I think it´s great for kids to get the opportunity not only to see easy-going-colorfull-movies-made-for-children but also a bit more adult ones.


    March 2, 2013 at 11:11 am

    • Thanks Fiffi! Yep. I’ll try to keep watching “children’s movies” for the rest of my life, in the firm belief it will keep me alert and openminded.


      March 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm

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