Every holiday has its traditions. A key one is that there must be a new children’s film to wile away the money from parents on every school break.
Since the release of Toy Story in 1995, a theme in children’s movies has been anti-consumerism.
There has been a wave of soft subversion in many films, but at this stage it is merely sugaring the pill.
And the message comes with every available spin-off toy—in fact anything you can stick a label on. The Persil washing powder Madagascar 2 puppets were a personal absurd favourite.
This Easter’s offering is Hop, mixing animation with live action.
Russell Brand provides the voice of a rabbit that wants to be a drummer, oh joy. And among the product placement the film gets a joke out of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy “bunny” empire.
Animated films made for children have long included winks directed at adults.
The old Disney and Warner Brothers shorts are loaded with grown-up humour.
But something is going on here. Whether the environmentalism of WALL:E or the middle-aged regret of Up, the themes of most children’s movies are aimed at adults and most of the marketing at children.
In the weaker movies, that becomes a random television reference or 1980s song.
Critics often think less of movies that cut down on the grown-up cultural references. Cars, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo for instance. DreamWorks franchises like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda are seen as the lesser relatives. But this is overstated.
Disney is now simply remaking its own cartoons—see Winnie the Pooh at a multiplex near you.
This is deliberate. The big studios want to find ways of getting us into the cinema.
A nauseous side effect is to make the grown ups feel smug and superior to their children.
Of course some of the films are wonderful, some are great art.
But please, no more stand up comedian sidekick, main characters prevailing over obstacles and learning valuable life lessons.
And the 3D glasses aren’t helping. To Burger King, and beyond!