Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kids Films Versus Family Films...


You know, I've thought a great deal about this...

Believe it or not, I have. I've debated putting up a review of my Endless Summer Movie List ever since I saw "Iron Man" last week. I procrastinated about it for a while and then decided against it. After seeing "Speed Racer" over the weekend I decided I would do a review of it; especially after seeing all the negative reviews and venom spewed at the film makers and those that liked it... and then I stopped again.

Why? Was I afraid of the reaction I'd get from readers of the blog? Not hardly(to quote John Wayne), I just thought that maybe it would be better to address the movie in a broader context... one that analyzes what people expect versus what they get. I have had as much trouble with the marketing of this film as I'm sure the marketing department of Warner Bros. had. Right from the start it was a different kind of sell that had to be done to the audience. It was made by the Wachowski Brothers who are famous for their "R" rated fare. But the trailer and the very style made it look like some bizarre kids movie. And I'm sure the people at Warner wanted to get across that it was a family movie. After this weekend, I think it's clear that they failed to do that. So this post will examine the movie and what I thought about it in terms of the difference between a "kids" movie and a "family" movie. This correlates to Disney as well since its brand is that of family films.

First, let me describe my impressions of "Speed Racer" and forgive me if I blather on a bit...

Honestly, I was amazed at the world the Wachowski's have put up on the screen. Now, before you start to whine that I'm just some geek that grew up on it and I saw it through tainted eyes... no. I actually didn't grow up on it. I mean, I am a pop-culture geek and I knew about Speed Racer. Not that much, though. I knew the song vaguely and had seen clips from time to time on the TV. Never really paid much attention about it until I heard talk of Johnny Depp playing the character years ago. Then it fell off the radar again. When I heard the Wachowski Brothers had decided to direct this as their first follow-up to the Matrix Trilogy I again didn't think much about it because I was so profoundly disappointed with the two sequels to the original(particularly the last one with its "Rodney King: can't we all get along?" ending). All this changed in December when I got my first look at the trailer.

Whoa! What the heck was that? I was unsure what to think of it at first. But I kept replaying it. I hadn't been expecting that. I was interested. My curiosity was piqued. I didn't have the reaction some had. The ones that were visceral against it from the first images. I could tell what the Wachowskis were trying to do. But I was unsure if they could do it. So I just waited. Then another trailer was released and another and yet... another. I felt I had to see this film just out of sheer curiosity. I had no idea if it would be good or bad. I know some people want to lay into the Wachowski's for their writing on the Matrix, but I've read several of their other works and find them to be very, very skilled screenwriters. I read their script for "Assassins" well before it got made into that mediocre piece of crap that Sylvester Stallone stared in years ago(trust me, it's not their fault it sucked, the movie was largely different from the script they wrote). That was when they were these fresh faced hot writers. They then sold a script called "The Matrix" that a friend got hold of and I was given a copy. I got distracted and didn't get around to reading it till later. A while later another friend got an early cut of their new movie "Bound". We stayed awake late into the night watching it... and loved it. It was a very dark, film noir and we set around talking about it. I was given a copy of the script and read it. Just like their other script it was really well written and fresh and almost exactly what you saw on the screen. I then read their gorefest "Carnivore" which was sick, sick, sick. Very twisted and totally demented. But it was also well written... not my style, but good none-the-less. Just as I was about to read the script to "The Matrix" I saw the trailer. That was one amazing trailer and I really wanted to know what it was about so I started to read the script. I got two pages in and realized I wanted to see what they had come up with before I read anymore. So I waited until I saw the film. I was able to go to a screening on the Warner Bros. Lot a few weeks before it opened with my best friend. After it was over we left the theater literally high off of the experience. To us, it was amazing. I rarely have experiences like that. That week I went and read the script... as before it was really well written and I loved it, but was amazed that it got made knowing Hollywood as I do. I then got a treat from a friend when he sent me a script called "Plastic Man". I was confused. Why would he send me a script based on a third rate superhero? One that I considered a joke of a comic book. I looked down and saw who had written it: The Wachowski Brothers. I immediately opened it and started reading... it was again, great. Very, very clever and thoroughly enjoyable. Too bad it didn't get made.

So... long way about saying it; I've been familiar with the Wachowski Brother's work for a long time. I was an admire of them until the sequels and their bizarre personal lives made me loose interest in them. And then the trailer(s). A friend of mine loaned me his copies of the old Japanese cartoon when I told him I was suddenly interested in seeing what this was going to be. So I watched them. All of them. And I liked them... I didn't love them, but found them fun and interesting; particularly for the over the top violence. If you're a fan of animation like me, you'll note that cartoons in the late 60's were nothing like this and I could see how it would interest some kids. Boys in particular. So now that I had immersed myself in this world I looked forward to seeing what they had done. The trailers had grown on me. I only hoped that the movie would as well. Unlike some, I don't hope for a film to fail. Having seen how hard it is to make one, I know the work that goes into these things and don't wish anyone in this business the pain of having worked on something for years only to have people tear it apart in a matter of minutes.

So I went to see it last weekend with a large group of friends. Friends that like myself, were not fans of the show. When the lights went down and that kaleidoscope studio icon began to swirl in front of us, I smiled. It was trippy and funny and then the movie began. So what did I think?

Just like the trailer... I've never seen a movie like it. But I did like it. In fact, I loved it. And just so you know, every single person I went with loved it. And they ran the gambit from early 20's to late 30's. We all had a blast and a few have already seen it again. I'm seeing it with a friend and his son tomorrow as well... in IMAX which should be something. I've heard a lot of people trashing this film and I can tell you that it's not a dog. It's not a bad film... simply one that was hard to market and one that pushed the envelope of what audiences would expect. Did I like it better than "Iron Man"? No, I didn't. As far as personal taste go, that one is more up my alley... but speed racer was a great big bizarre experience. It's a 21st Century family film and I believe in the long run it will become a cult classic. It's a shame that it will have to find its audience on DVD and Blu-Ray though... it was made to be seen on a giant silver screen. It truly is a trip. In every positive sense of the word. And it isn't shallow. It has a story. A deeply sweet story about family and loyalty and doing what's right when everything and everyone says to do something else. Is is Shakespeare? Of course not! It's Speed Racer, after all. The script may be light, but it is perfectly designed to move the story along to each race which is what a movie called "Speed Racer" should do. If you don't want to go see this movie then don't... it's clearly not for everyone. But if you have a kid at home or a kid in your heart you should give this film a chance to win you over. Truthfully, it's worth the experience of seeing it at least once just for the groundbreaking visuals alone.

So now that I got that out of the way... I wanted to talk about family films versus kid films. Took a little longer to get here than I thought, hmmm? A lot of people were comparing this movie to another film. One description I heard was that it was "Spy Kids on crack". Well, for me that's not a plus... I didn't like "Spy Kids". Not that it's bad or whatever, but it truly was a kids movie. Some interesting visuals, but overall not my cup of tea. It's juvenile and tells you so right up front. There is some of that in SR too, but not near as much. There is more of a story there than Spy Kids. Much more for me. The depth of the relationship between the brothers and Pops(played so well by John Goodman, btw) was well above what I got out of Robert Rodriguez's movie. Not bashing it... just saying it didn't appeal to me. But after viewing "Speed Racer", perhaps they should have marketed it more as a kids movie... because I think the problem is most families didn't drag their kids to see it, because they either didn't know that it was a film kids could watch(this is the Wachowski's remember?), or the kids didn't know that it was for them. Warner's marketing gurus didn't know how to present this to kids as pure fun. But that is what it is. Fun. Much fun...

Alas, it's a missed opportunity.

Now Disney has had some experience making family films. I think they've been doing them for what, seventy years or so... I would think by now that they've perfected it. Or at least gotten it down to a pretty good science. So what in and of itself defines a kids film or a family film?

Well, a kids film tends to aim pretty low. It usually has a story that is very limited. Very. It usually has zero character development and it tends to follow a simplistic outline with predictable endings. Family movies tend to have some of these traits, but they tend to have a much more emotionally developed plot that can engage and captivate an adult audience. Of late, Pixar is one of the best practitioners of this. With films like "Monster's Inc." and "The Incredibles", the Lamp has found a way to connect to the little kids that love to watch these films and get the parents to enjoy them enough to bring the kiddies back for a second or even third helping. And Pixar also tends to do good at bringing in the college crowd, which tends to be hard to get into what would be just a "kids" film. That's the whole reason Pixar was bough by the Mouse... somewhere along the way they had lost their barrings and weren't creating family films. At least not consistently... that was the point of having to by the Lamp. John Lasseter's taste in animation and family films is on the level of someone like Stephen Spielberg... and that is a valuable commodity in Tinsel Town.

A film that is designed to appeal to a large audience tends to have to have something for everyone. A base plot with wild characters and interesting visuals to interest kids, complex characters to interest adults and a little bit of innuendo for the college crowd thrown in for those late nights when there's nothing to do at the dorm. In a nutshell that's it. A film like "Iron Man" is a mass audience film, but it's not a family film. There's a couple scenes that establish Tony Stark's playboy persona that would put this outside the realm of family entertainment. Ironically, a Suit, a Disney Suit last year coined a phrase that helps apply to these films. I guess even a Suit can contribute something every so often. He said that "Our films will have a love story in them, but it's a vertical love story, not a horizontal one". I'll let you read between the lines on that one. A film like "Indiana Jones" is a mass audience film too, but not necessarily a family film. The same thing would apply to "The Dark Knight"... films like "Narnia: Prince Caspian" and "Wall-E" on the other hand tend to fall squarely in the family film slot. And they're made by... Disney. What a shock. The Mouse has been pretty good at coming up with entertainment for the whole family lately... partly due to the people in charge and partly due to luck(never underestimate the power of luck, friends).

All in all, a family film is a film that tends to have a longer shelf life as well. You see, those kids grow up. A film that is enjoyed by them as kids can be enjoyed by them as an adult. This gives Disney and other companies a nice benefit of selling a copy to a child and then selling it to them again in a different format when they grow up. This way, our American capitalist system moves forward and our childhood classics get preserved. See? Greed can be used for good... Everybody's happy. Then there are movies like "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" which can become such a classic when it's been in the culture over decades, or another example is how a film like "Blade Runner" can go from a bomb to a classic in a generation...

Such will be the case of "Speed Racer" in my opinion. It's going to be one of those films that's a cult classic. One that they have midnight showings of where college students will rush out to see it and love it for the insane loopiness that it is. And then there are those that will discover this at home on a Blockbuster night. Perhaps one of those Blockbuster nights will be yours, perhaps one of those people could be you...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. Piqued, not "peeked."

2. What person in Middle America actually knows who the Wachowski's are and would influence them on their decision to watch Speed Racer.

3. You are a terrible, terrible writer...thank goodness what you write about is interesting, otherwise it wouldn't be worth the headache of reading such amateurish tripe...

Anonymous said...

And Honor, I'm not trying to be mean -- just please stop trying to sound all hip and stop using "insider" lingo, etc.

Sea World Fan said...

Hey Anonymous if you dont want to read this blog go somewhere else its a free country. and since when have blogs been about gramatically and punctionally correct. Honor has very interesting info to share with us. Yahoo news even mispells things get over it move on and if you are going to make comments like that Go somewhere else or shut up~

Anonymous said...

@sea world fan

I agree with you that Hunter has interesting things to say.

Just hoping that he stops dropping ridiculous phrases like "On this day..." as if God himself was responsible for what is about to be said, "Man in the Hat," "The Mouse," "The Lamp," "Bothans," "The Suits," "The Creatives."

It's not clever. I'm sorry.

But I really do appreciate his insights. My only response to that is that with Disney -- until things are built and opened, they will change.

Anyways, Sea World Fan. I read this blog because I enjoy the information. The way that it is presented sometimes drives me up a wall. I hope that you can respect that. If Honor doesn't want feedback of this nature, he can always modify Blogger's comments system for BSD.

Spokker said...

Kid's aren't stupid. Kid's movies assume they are. And that is the inherent problem with kid's movies.

I'm surprised you didn't mention Hayao Miyazaki, whose work is also distributed by Disney.

His films, except one, are appropriate for children but also doesn't insult their intelligence. And like the Pixar films they can
be appealing to adults.

Walt Disney and Miyazaki don't have much in common, but one thing they never did was play down to children.

Mike said...

anonymous, please don't post all this negative stuff. It's unpleasant and kinda childish.
At least post as your true self so those of us that wish to engage you can do so off of the blog.

Spokker said...

"anonymous, please don't post all this negative stuff."

When you post things on the Internet expect anyone and their mother to criticize you on it. I write for a web site and I get called much worse than anything anonymous has said.

I agree with him in his number 2 point though. I kind of zoned out on all the Speed Racer stuff.

Also I believe Honor Hunter said in a previous article's comments that he can take criticism.

Anonymous said...

i totally agree with you
the term "kids movie" is a dirty word in my house...and yes i use it as one word. always hated it when they talk down a movie because of what it appears to be. give things chance. well said again. couldnt agree more

Dutchduck said...

Honor, I like your use of this "slang". It sets your site apart. Your way of writing is neat and I read your stuff daily. If people are only interested in the information you provide, they can also go look somewhere else on the internet.
Keep up the good work.

Thadeus P. Hornswallow said...

I saw Speed Racer last night. I LOVED it! I don't care what people say, it's a great film. Go see it and judge for yourself, not all the haters that tore it up without even seeing the film.

Spokker said...

"Go see it and judge for yourself, not all the haters that tore it up without even seeing the film."

It's pulling down a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. Did all of those critics tear up the movie without watching it?

Your theater going dollars are better spent on Iron Man.

Anonymous said...

Hey I saw both. Why do we have to see one or the other? Iron Man's great, but Speed was a cool movie as well. I don't judge liking something based on what a critic says anywayz. Look at the average age of those critics that hated it. They're old and they don't get the kids today with the video game mindset. It was a fun film. It was wild and loopy and I loved it. My boyfriend dragged me to it. I didn't want to go and I'm glad he did. Pure fun. And everyone around us seemed to love it as well.

solomon Bundy said...

I saw it over with my friends the other even. I agree Honor. It was a whole lot of fun. People should go see it for themselves and not make up an opinion based on a bunch of critics that are too busy taking their senior medication to have a little fun.

mickhyperion said...

Hi Honor Hunter,

I tend to agree with a lot of your opinions, but you really should consider working with an editor for long blog entries like this one. It was a lot to wade through and it diluted what was a very good point. "Brevity is the essence of wit."

Thanks for the blog.