By Caitlin Orr | Contributor Published: 02/28/2014 1:40 pm EST
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.
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 3became 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, andTurboall 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.
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 graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Media Arts. While her main passion is screenwriting, she's been in love with movies, books, and television since before she could come talk about them on the internet. You'll most likely find her with a cup of coffee in hand, talking about her latest obsession with a more-or-less willing listener.