Why Criticising Children’s Films Matters

If you follow Flicks like a church for cinema (bless you), you probably know that I raise my hand to review any animated family film I can get my eyes on. They are the kind of films I care about the most, which is ironic, because they tend to be the ones Academy Awards-certified critics care about the least.

To be fair, it feels like almost nobody cares about reviews for family films. Yes, many people don’t care about movie reviews of ANY kind – more power to ‘em – but there’s an extra special bag of “go f*ck yourself” that’s given to anyone who dares to criticise a flick aimed at children.

It reminds me of Aaron Yap’s middle-of-the-road review of Pixar’s Brave and the nasty set of responses he received.

These comments seemingly came from the typing fingers of Helen Lovejoy (aside from the two that just say “wank wank”). They are blunt, they are angry, and they carry the honest intent of defending children’s enjoyment.

They are also wrong.

In slamming Aaron for writing a thorough analysis of a children’s film, they suggest there is no point in being thorough or analytical with children’s films. As ‘Steve’ promptly stated: “It’s a kids movie, right? Stop psychoanalysing, start enjoying.” This is to say, there is no point in highlighting limitations in the storytelling and artistic direction if the film is at least fun.

However, it’s easy to overlook the fact that children are being exposed to cinema for the first time. Introducing these young minds to movies means the storytelling HAS to be, at the very least, solid. If anything, children’s films are the films we need to be critical of the most.

Yes, that means the plot has to make sense.

Yes, that means the characters have to have decent motives.

Yes, that means we have to be aware of the morals being delivered – and how they’re delivered.

No, it doesn’t matter what super fun Bee Gees dance number the film ends on. If the movie can’t get the basics right, we should call it out.

Storytelling matters. Characterisation matters. Art direction matters. If there is no voice holding a critical standard to these films, we no longer demand quality movies for kids – just funny noises and flashing images. That’s when we trade magic for mania.

Aladdin wouldn’t have been very memorable if it was just about a guy who gets a lamp and wishes for everything to go his way without any consequence. All the tunes in Disney’s animated The Jungle Book wouldn’t have amounted to much if you didn’t warm up to the characters and friendships. The Lion King wouldn’t be the cultural phenomenon it is if it had skipped the tragic father-son stuff and just had Timone and Pumba farting Elton John songs for 90 minutes.

This is not to say that every children’s film needs to be Pixar and go for the emotional Kali Ma. I’m all for having a good dose of family movies that simply wants to make you laugh, but the stories cannot be an afterthought and they can still be judged on their own comedic standards. It’s how you separate the great family comedies from the lousy ones.

And even if a children’s film gets everything right in every department, that doesn’t mean your kid will like it. That’s why ‘Sam’s’ suggestion – “Lets have a review from a group of appropriately-aged children, please!” – makes no sense. By all means, get children to review films on Flicks or Letterboxd or IMDb – that would be incredibly awesome and make me insanely happy. But don’t get sucked into believing that a group of kids can speak for what every kid wants.

They simply can’t. No one can. And if you don’t believe me, then you were never an eight-year-old kid having an argument with a big dummy dumb dumb who refused to believe that Pokémon is the single greatest show in the history of moving images.

This is because children have their own opinions, too. They might be very precociously well-reasoned opinions or stupid doo-doo brain opinions, but they deserve respect for even forming an opinion.

It shows that they’re developing taste, so why not demand the best for them?