Friday, January 10, 2014

CUPID'S ARROW: Middle Grade Movies

Just a reminder: ***ARC Giveaway***
I'm giving away a signed ARC at Fiction the New Reality. She's also giving away an ARC prize pack that includes Sara B. Larson's DEFY! Time is almost up to enter. Throw your name in the hat here.

For this week's Cupid's Arrow, not only am I going to profess my love to something, but I'm going to make a plea to bring it back. Since I am a millennial, it's only appropriate that I wax nostalgic any chance I get. So today, I am professing my love to an endangered, possibly extinct, species of film: kids movies.

I was lucky because I was a kid when kids movies ruled. The one that started it all was HOME ALONE. That kicked off a trend in the 90s of movies starring kids, about kids, and for kids. Here's a semi-comprehensive list:

Home Alone 2
The Sandlot
The Secret Garden
Now and Then
Hocus Pocus
Free Willy
Rookie of the Year
Dennis the Menace
Little Big League
Life with Mikey
3 Ninjas
The Little Rascals
Angels in the Outfield
Richie Rich
Now and Then
Blank Check
My Girl
Monkey Trouble
and my personal favorite...Harriet the Spy

I would also include family movies were the main character was an adult, but kids had substantial roles in the action.

Mrs. Doubtfire
Curly Sue
The Addams Family
Addams Family Values
Little Giants
The Mighty Ducks trilogy

I know, I know. This is turning into a Buzzfeed listicle.

But these movies were amazing, at least to my kid self. And there were so many of them! Looking back, it was an embarrassment of riches for a 10-year-old. Millennials lucked out as Hollywood tried to capitalize on Home Alone's success. Movie studios basically catered to us all throughout the 90s, which also explains the teen movie boom of the late 90s. I admit that I wasn't a big reader growing up, and I realized that a lot of my reading time was spent at the movies.

These movies didn't try to talk down to kids. They were about kids dealing with kid issues. Kids drove the action; kids were the hero. I could see myself in these characters, no matter how outlandish their situation. Being left home alone and creating an elaborate trap for burglars was not something I experienced growing up, but I understood facing my fears and learning to be self-sufficient.

So where are the kids movies of today? Unfortunately, Hollywood has stopped making them. Studios now only want to make four-quadrant, broadly-appealing pictures that are as close to guaranteed moneymakers as possible. Why shell out $10M for a movie that may only make $20M when you can make a movie for $100M that you know will make at least $200M? Studios are producing less films and concentrating their resources on a few big blockbusters. (It's what some fear is happening with publishing.) Today, there are only two types of films available to kids: animated films and comic book movies.

Don't get me wrong. Those are two very lucrative genres that make entertaining films (Frozen and The Avengers just two recent examples). They're movies the whole family can enjoy. Kids can relate to Peter Parker's alienation and The Avengers' struggles with teamwork and Elsa's shame to an extant, but not as much as they can to other kid characters. There will always be a disconnect because these characters are older and inherently more mature. It's important that kids see characters who are on their level and whose world is closer to theirs. There's something to be said for a kid main character dealing with these same issues. Watching Elsa handle her ice power isn't the same as watching Henry Rowengartner deal with his suddenly amazing pitching arm. Tony Stark saving the world from the Mandarin doesn't feel the same as Max saving Salem from the Sanderson sisters.

The only way a kid movie can get made is if it's part of an existing lucrative franchises, hence the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies. The Book Thief was adapted for film, but it was positioned as an Oscar contender and marketed to arthouse audiences, not kids.

So Hollywood, I'm shooting my Cupid's Arrow right into your heart. Bring back kids films! Yes, they probably won't be as lucrative as an Iron Man or a Tangled, but they do have upside. You could come out with the next Home Alone, which made $285M, or $531M adjusted for inflation. (per BoxOfficeMojo) Middle grade books are so awesome because kids get to see themselves in those pages. I think we're depriving them of the incredible experience of seeing themselves on-screen, too.


  1. Thankfully, the movies you listed above stand the test of time. The Goonies, Jumanji, and The Sandlot are on my 11 year-old's top movie list!!

  2. Great post! And not just because I'll take any excuse to reminisce about Home Alone, Jumanji, Casper, etc. I actually hadn't realized how much that kind of kid movie had gone extinct with the shift towards animation and broader appeal films, but I think you're right. Maybe it will be a trend that comes back around? Regardless, I'll definitely introduce my hypothetical future kids to these 90s classics!

  3. *flails* Each time you listed another movie I went berserk. I can't count the number of times I watched Now and Then at sleepovers ... or oogled over Devon Sawa at the end of Casper (or in Little Giants).
    And Matilda! And The Goonies! And Richie Rich (I just bought this for my boys!!) Free Willy!

    This post made my night.