It might sound controversial to say, but why can’t children’s films be for children? I’m sick and tired of taking my niece to the pictures to watch some mindless fluff involving a talking dog trying to save the world, when about fifty times throughout the film there are references – often gratuitous, sometimes subtle to all sorts of adult content, be it in-jokes, references to sex, or yet another scene stealing dialogue from hip, well-known films. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction a million times, the last thing I want is two bears to walk around in black suits like Jules and Vinny. In the time it took to cheekily nod at shooting Marvin in the face, they could have written ten more gags for their actual target audience – children, not eager parents and loving uncles who will go and see these films out of the kindness of their hearts.
I watched ‘The Rugrats Movie’ the other day (behave, it was a Wednesday morning and Pan’s Labyrinth had already been rented out.) Within the first twenty minutes there had been three penis jokes, and a thousand nods to sexual inadequacy, unemployed dads, and the slating of ginger hair. Now I’m all for all of those things, but not in a kids film, and certainly not when I’m eager to find out whether Tommy and Chuckie are gonna save the rest of the rugrats from a killer dinosaur. This is an interesting point, as when I watch these films the story is all I genuinely care about, not whether the aforementioned duo are actually an allegory for gay rights. Serious issues have a time and a place to be discussed, but is a film aimed predominately at children really the place for it?
When I was a young man settling down to watch Disney classic ‘The Jungle Book’ sporting my Yogi Bear jumper and permanent scowl, not for one moment did I assume that King Louie, the loveable jive talking monkey was a racist pop at African-Americans by the closed-minded Disney scriptwriters. Yet now, as an older man, with far less novelty sweaters I look back on films of that ilk and feel rather uncomfortable, especially considering at one point the King proceeds to sing ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. Under the umbrella of the racial strife and tension of America in the middle stages of the twentieth century, the song just about makes sense in a crude sort of way, but looking back now with opened eyes and with equality brewing through the world like a particularly fine mug of tea, it makes me feel rather sick.
So are all the old Disney classics tainted and smeared by the cruel hand of Father Disney? Walt Disney himself was a man of sketchy political views, and sensational moustache notwithstanding, was a plain man who rarely enjoyed fun. With this portrayal of the head honcho in mind, can we read more into the old Disney films we used to know and love? I’m unsure really, your Snow White’s, Cinderella’s and Sleeping Beauties are all films of their time, like say ‘Gone With The Wind’, or ‘Debbie Does Dallas’. That’s not to say casual racism is ever excusable, but if we once watched plastic robots fighting each other, and haggard Texan porn stars fucking each other, then who is anyone to complain really? As long as we realise that we are all equal then we can enjoy the great Disney fables as they were intended to be – stories for children to be enraptured with.
‘Up’ is a new film aimed at children which is also one of the saddest and emotional films I have ever seen. I won’t ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but the first ten minutes are filled with so much poignancy and poise that it makes so-called emotional films like ‘Juno’ and ‘The Hottie & the Nottie’ seem like the emotionally vacuous rubbish they are. It’s films like ‘Up’ which make me believe that you can appeal to both children and adults alike, not by patronising either group, just having the emotional delicacy, and wicked sense of humour that makes cinema – and especially children’s films so damn appealing.