Dear Hollywood Executives, Producers, Directors and Screenwriters,
I love movies -- so much so that I make my living watching and writing about them. I'm also a mother of three kids under the age of 10. So it's with considerable professional and personal expertise that I ask you to please, for the love of previews and popcorn, make better family films. Why? Because so many of the movies released in the genre are, as my 6-year-old daughter likes to say, stinkalicious. They seem more like gimmicky ploys than well-thought-out projects.
Last December, it was so easy to come up with the worst movies of the year that it became ridiculously obvious that some family film tropes should be avoided (unless, perhaps, the movie is handled by the geniuses at Pixar). Here are some ideas that should be given an immediate red light during a pitch meeting:
- Talking Animals: With very few exceptions, talking-animal movies are awful. I don't mean animated movies with talking animals, because those are the Mouse-Eared standard (from Mickey to Bambi to Nemo). I'm talking about animals that look "real" but talk. Best-of-the-worst examples include 'Marmaduke,' 'Garfield,' 'Alvin and the Chipmunks,' 'G-Force' and on and on and on.
- Live-Action/Animation Hybrids: As memorably enchanting as 'Enchanted' was, most family movies that regularly feature the combination of live-action and animation are just as unwatchable as talking-animal flicks. In addition to some of the examples in the previous point, there's also 'The Pink Panther,' 'Hop' and 'Fat Albert.'
- Cartoon Remakes: Again, this isn't just about 'The Smurfs,' but it's a good example of why Hollywood should veer away from adapting beloved Saturday-morning cartoons or even comic-strips. The funnies live on best in our collective memories and DVD shelves, not repurposed, rebooted and regurgitated for a "new" generation. Seriously, we can just watch these shows on Hulu or Netflix -- no need to turn them into feature films.
- Toilet Humor: The occasional scatological joke is to be expected -- and even welcomed in cases like middle-school comedy 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid.' But too many poop, pee and fart jokes (even in movies specifically aimed at kids and tweens) start to metaphorically stink up a flick, so please, proceed with caution. A little goes a long way.
- Unnecessary Sequels: Sometimes you don't know when to quit. Every good family movie does not require endless subsequent installments (unless, of course, it's a series of books like 'Harry Potter' or 'The Hunger Games'). Yes, some of them are wonderful ('Toy Story 3'), but more often than not, the last one or two are stale when compared to the originals. For example, 'Shrek,' 'Spy Kids,' 'Ice Age' and even 'Cars' all need to be finished, period. Move on, Hollywood, move on.
So what do I like, you're wondering? Lots!
- Beautiful Animation: Studios that take animation seriously, and not just as a vehicle to get parents and kids in the theater: Pixar, Studio Ghibli and Blue Sky Studios all make animated films that everyone can enjoy.
- New Literary Adaptations: Instead of remaking television shows and older movies, focus on fabulous children's books, young-adult fiction and graphic novels that have yet to transfer to the big screen. 'Bridge to Terabithia,' 'How to Train Your Dragon' and, of course, the 'Harry Potter' films prove that when done right, children's book adaptations can rank among a year's best movies.
- Coming-of-Age Tales: We need more tender comedies about growing up that can appeal to tweens (think the middle-school humor and adorable first-romance theme of 'Little Manhattan'). Kids deserve more than just over-the-top fart jokes and "I'm a geek" plot lines.
Get it together, Hollywood. Families want brilliantly made, well-acted, memorable movies just as much as child-free adults. Stop feeding us stale leftovers and pretending it's gourmet cuisine. Eventually, with the increasing cost of movie tickets and concessions, we're going to spit it out and stay inside with our customized Netflix queues.
The Moviefone Mama
What do you want to tell the Hollywood powers about family friendly movies? You have a say! It's your money that keeps studios in business, after all.
Images courtesy of Paramount, the Weinstein Company and Warner Bros.