They Just Don’t Make Kids’ Movies Any More

You’re probably thinking, “What?”

The past five years have arguably brought us some of the best children’s movies yet. Continuing their tradition of excellence, Pixar brought us Toy Story 3, a film so good that it was also nominated for best picture of the year, as well as writing nods. Even more recently we’ve been given Frozen, an instant classic and one of the best Disney princess movies in years. And now we have The Lego Movie, which has earned higher ratings than most of this year’s Oscar nominees. However, these phenomenal movies have all led me to one conclusion – they just don’t make movies for kids these days.

All the best “family films” have always been aimed at children with certain jokes added for the benefit of any adults in attendance. For decades children’s films were made with a pre-adolescent audience in mind, and the best ones tried to make sure older viewers wouldn’t be miserable during the show. However, I think there’s started to be a shift in the way these movies are being made. 

frozen

I realized something had changed while watching The Lego Movie. Near the end of the film, as Emmett was confronting Lord Business with the Power of the Special, I couldn’t help but feel like this film was almost being made with my generation in mind. Almost every major publication has run an article about millennials being the trophy generation, the kids who were lied to and told they were special – and here I was being told by Legos that it may have been made up, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t all be The Special. A huge chunk of the humor was sophisticated, and there were almost too many layers of social commentary to sift through. As kid-friendly as The Lego Movie is, there’s no way it was made with children as its prime audience.

This trend started most obviously with Toy Story 3. Sure, it was a film that was extremely accessible to children. The gags were almost always on a young level, and any child would be able to follow the plot. However, the emotional heart of Toy Story 3 was directly aimed at those who had grown up on the Toy Story franchise – namely, the millennial generation. The themes of growing up, moving away, and moving on simply weren’t meant to connect with the kids, not in the way it did for the twenty-somethings in the theaters. As a result, Toy Story 3 became the highest grossing film Pixar has ever made.

And what Pixar discovered, the rest of the industry has run with. Frozen is another example. Again, this is a film that’s obviously child-friendly and packed with messages kids need to hear. But the viral success of Frozen has come not only through the youngest audiences, but also through its popularity among teenagers and young adults. The strong social and psychological commentary that runs throughout the film have made it a hit, especially with college students – a group that also typically has a large amount of expendable income.

Perhaps it isn’t entirely fair to say that they aren’t making kids’ movies any more. They certainly are still making – The Croods, The Smurfs 2, and Turbo all came out this year. All of these films were traditional family movies, squarely aimed at children. But looking at the critical ratings and the box office, people just aren’t responding to them. So yes, some kids’ movies are still being made – but no one is talking about them. 

toy story 3

I think the studios have found a way to guarantee successful children’s movies. With a limited number of kid-friendly movies out at any given time, parents are almost guaranteed to bring their families. However, by making these films self-aware and adding layers of social commentary, the studios have started to bring in the older audiences, especially the millennial generation. At times it feels like these films are playing on our nostalgia outright – and given the penchant animation studios have for sequels, it’s becoming more and more obvious. At other times, it feels as though the studios simply forgot to stop making kids’ movies for my generation. The films are growing thematically darker – toys dying, princesses with anxiety and depression, and the complete irony of a corporation making a film about evil corporations. Whatever the reason though, it’s not a trend that’s likely to stop in the near future. I just hope today’s kids can keep up – it’s hard to compete with the box office. 

Caitlin Orr

Caitlin Orr

A southern native, I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in Media Arts. Over the past several years I've had the opportunity to write and shoot a number of short films. My biggest passions are writing and talking about movies with anyone who will sit still long enough to listen - something my family and friends can attest to! Some of my favorite filmmakers include Christopher Nolan, Stanley Kubrick, and Wes Anderson. Now located in Nashville, you can usually find me in my off hours hiking, baking, or watching more movies.

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  • Caitlin, I wonder what your thoughts would be on French animation? I’ve thought about this “not for kids-kids movies” question for a while and when I found Dragon Hunters (the film, not the show), I thought, “This. This is the perfect children’s movie.” It is exactly what a five year old kid would tell you if you asked them to make up a story. There’s another movie called “A Monster In Paris” that’s almost as good, and then of course if you look at Japanese animation, Studio Ghibli does beautiful work, and most of their movies are simply delightful. I wonder if it’s our state of arrested development that keeps the creators of these “kids’ movies” making movies for us? (And I’m not saying I don’t enjoy them – I adore animation!)

  • Caitlin, I wonder what your thoughts would be on French animation? I’ve thought about this “not for kids-kids movies” question for a while and when I found Dragon Hunters (the film, not the show), I thought, “This. This is the perfect children’s movie.” It is exactly what a five year old kid would tell you if you asked them to make up a story. There’s another movie called “A Monster In Paris” that’s almost as good, and then of course if you look at Japanese animation, Studio Ghibli does beautiful work, and most of their movies are simply delightful. I wonder if it’s our state of arrested development that keeps the creators of these “kids’ movies” making movies for us? (And I’m not saying I don’t enjoy them – I adore animation!)

  • Darragh O’Connor

    What about the likes of Mr Peabody and Sherman

  • Pronk

    The trend has been going on since at least shriek 2

    • While that might be true… prior movies were not as successful or won as many awards as well as audience reception than the ones being mentioned in this article.

  • Pronk

    The trend has been going on since at least shriek 2

    • While that might be true… prior movies were not as successful or won as many awards as well as audience reception than the ones being mentioned in this article.

  • 7992

    this article infuriates me. every Hollywood film gets cut/watered down so its suitable for kids, a great example of that is when they attempted to adapt his dark materials, the books are for children yes but with dark themes it should’ve been a fifteen yet they decided to make a pg film.hardly ever does a Hollywood film come out that has more thaan 3 swear words in it or violence on a 300 level and its ridiculous! they show someone getting shot yet they don’t show blood because apparently kids don’t know you bleed when your shot. it makes some of the most anticipated films dumb over hyped kids films pacific rim! im not a comic reader but from what ive seen others say this is why they ruined deadpool in origins aswell. I dread to think what the ff reboot will turn out like

    • Brian

      Uh…wut?

  • 7992

    this article infuriates me. every Hollywood film gets cut/watered down so its suitable for kids, a great example of that is when they attempted to adapt his dark materials, the books are for children yes but with dark themes it should’ve been a fifteen yet they decided to make a pg film.hardly ever does a Hollywood film come out that has more thaan 3 swear words in it or violence on a 300 level and its ridiculous! they show someone getting shot yet they don’t show blood because apparently kids don’t know you bleed when your shot. it makes some of the most anticipated films dumb over hyped kids films pacific rim! im not a comic reader but from what ive seen others say this is why they ruined deadpool in origins aswell. I dread to think what the ff reboot will turn out like

    • Brian

      Uh…wut?

  • fred

    I grew up in the 80s, and I know full well animation has become a diluted affair. Articles like this prove nothing of the authors knowledge of history. Please, look up the last unicorn, anything by Ralph Bakshi, Moebious, even don Bluth, secrets of the ninth anyone? Kids movies? Seriously, the art form that is animation, has been used for story telling effectively for a long time, I feel this article is misplaced, and the erroneous issue is the commercial nature in which a kids movie is spawned, will it tie into a video game, toy line clothes etc. These factors are more important now than the story to be told.

  • Dalinkwent

    The Lego movie would logically relate to the 80’s and 90’s generation seeing as thats when the brand was at its apex. Many children today play with gadgets, as opposed to spending all day playing with Legos. Its the same reason the Wreck It Ralph movie was made to a similar taste with similar high praise and box office results. Its refreshing many “kids movies” are made to hold up so that multiple generations can get in on the fun. Many strait kids movies became corny to me before I even reached being a pre-teen, while Pixar movies still make me laugh or get even funnier as I get older.

  • Dalinkwent

    The Lego movie would logically relate to the 80’s and 90’s generation seeing as thats when the brand was at its apex. Many children today play with gadgets, as opposed to spending all day playing with Legos. Its the same reason the Wreck It Ralph movie was made to a similar taste with similar high praise and box office results. Its refreshing many “kids movies” are made to hold up so that multiple generations can get in on the fun. Many strait kids movies became corny to me before I even reached being a pre-teen, while Pixar movies still make me laugh or get even funnier as I get older.