The new wave of kids' cinema is remarkable but limited. Children of the future should be donated films of the past so that they know what's really out thereby Mark Cousins / December 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
Children’s films seem to be on a roll. Exactly a decade ago, Toy Story married kids’ themes with adult jokes and computer-generated imagery and created what has since become a dynamic, shiny, intelligent formula. It revived the animation genre, took $360m in cinemas around the world and made it fun again to take kids to the movies.
Then came Shrek, Toy Story 2, Shrek 2, A Shark’s Tale and The Incredibles: high-quality American family fare for the computer age. Defiantly post-Disney (whose wholesomeness they lampooned), they were marketed aggressively and drove the DVD boom. At last American family cinema had ditched its Eisenhower-era cosiness.
Ten years later, the wonders of computer-generated imagery (CGI) no longer surprise us. We are used to seeing toys, cartoon characters, dinosaurs and spaceships in three dimensions and photorealistic detail. Does this render earlier kids’ films so pictorially primitive that they will no longer speak to young people? Imagine the birth of a child—perhaps your own. Now put in a sealed shoebox a DVD of a film for them to watch on their 17th birthday and another, in another box, on their 14th. What would each film be? A Shark’s Tale? Toy Story 2? Each of these would capture some of the cinematic dynamism of our age, our knowingness and sense of fun, but is that enough of a gift to seal in a shoebox and donate to the future?
I’m not sure. Here are a few films I’d donate to tomorrow’s children.
Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (France, 1956). Compare it to Chaplin’s films about kids and you see how great it is. Seen entirely from the perspective of a six-year-old boy, it shows him finding the balloon of the title, befriending it and losing it. He isn’t allowed to take it—his metaphorical pal—to school. Schools are no place for poetry. Like many great children’s films, it has little dialogue and deals with feelings of loneliness. The Red Balloon was much copied, never bettered. Dorota Kedzierzawska’s film Crows (Poland, 1994) is also about loneliness, and the most moving children’s film I know. It tells the story of a neglected ten-year-old girl nicknamed Crow who kidnaps a toddler and tries to mother him. Its title sequence is copied in Billy Elliot, and it would appeal most to girls of around 12. Brilliant and devastating.
The Singing, Ringing Tree (East Germany, 1957) was based on stories…