Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lollipops, Velociraptors, and Other Childish Nonsense

Little Susie doing what she does best.
This is Little Susie. Remember her from all those old school cartoons? She comes up to the main character’s knee and skips around with a lollipop the size of her face. When she doesn’t have a lollipop, she skips around with a kite or kitty, which will inevitably get stuck up a tree and rescued by an adult. Then Little Sally can say, “Gee, thanks, Mr. ___ sir.,” before skipping away.
In a movie staring an adult, you can be sure the kids will do nothing useful. If it’s an old black and white film, the kid will wander into the parlor, say “Gee Golly” a few times, and then never be seen or heard for the rest of the show.
Little Timmy doing what he does best.
Remember that part in Jurassic Park when the adults are barricading the doors with their bodies and reaching for the gun with their feet and Timmy just watches? I know he's a kid, but surely he is capable of handing them the gun. In the book, Timmy isn’t so incompetent. He’s the one sitting at the computer contacting help.
His sister Lex takes over in the movie because their ages are switched. 

That's right. Teenagers do have an advantage over adults: technology. But most movies turn this into a flaw. They'll be engrossed by a tiny little screen. Phone for a girl, game console for a boy.

Instead of "Golly gee," they'll say, "Chill out", "Whatever", and sigh so dramatically it borders on a growl. In movies where Adult is a non-parent, they'll seem somewhat justified. They don't want a stepmother/uncle/dad's girlfriend intruding in their life. If Teen isn't the only child, they'll be the shepherd of two younger siblings and feel challenged.
People say I look like her. Now you know why I don't post pictures of myself.
The Littlest One, usually an innocent girl, is immediately won over. Either she just loves people, she needs a parental figure, or she simply recognizes how cool the Adult is before her siblings do.
He has a dog. What's not to like?
Adult is usually a very reasonable person, but they become understandably outraged when the Teen tries to push the limits by being with boys or sneaking out or going to that wild party. That's when they'll have their intense fight and shout something really harsh before seperating. "I wish you weren't my dad!"  "Just get away from me!" "I wish I could just go away!" "You know, why don't you just go?" "I won't miss you!" or perhaps a simple "I hate you!"
Then the Teen's life will be placed in jeopardy. Adult mightily moves heaven and earth to rescue their kid. In Ice Age 4, Manny and Peaches are actually torn apart when the continents split. Symbolism, much?
Then the Teen will realize the error of their ways. That cute boy is actually working for the enemy. The cool crowd are no replacement for your true best friend. Family is more important than anything.  The movie ends with Teen blissfully accepting the Adult's role and guidance.
Every. Single. Time.
Some movies downplay this. Pixar is usually youth-friendly. In Finding Nemo, it's Nemo who rescues himself from the dentist, but then good ol' Marlin who saves him from the net. Brave has Merida saving Lady Elinor-but Elinor's literally putting words into her mouth when Merida has to stop the clans from fighting.
Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...
I'm not going to go too deep into Pixar because most of their movies are about ageless toys and robots. But I don't feel like this post would be complete without mentioning Up.

A perfect love story, a cool old guy, and squirrels. Really, what more could you want? They all defy expectations. Except the squirrels. Those are...squirrels.
Then there's Russell. Wide-eyed idealist. Bright. Cheerful. Innocent. Too dumb to live. Like a squirrel.

Occasionally newer movies will juxtaposition a wise-cracking child with a ridiculously stupid adult to remind you how pathetic the adult is. Look at Failure to Launch.
Big Tripp doing what he does best:
Towards the beginning of the movie, we see Tripp living in his parents’ basement and playing video games with a ten year old.  This is the audience’s signal to belittle Tripp. The kid gets some more screen time to crack jokes, but he’s not really important. Then you find out that the kid is the son of Tripp’s deceased fiancee. Tear-jerker. Suddenly we see Tripp in a new light. He has an excuse to live in his parents’ basement.
This is character development for Tripp. Not the kid. Just like Little Susie and her imperiled kitten, he exists only for us to form an opinion on the adult.
I've been feeling nostalgic lately, so I've gone back through my favorite childhood movies. I realized most of them aren't actually about children. Just talking animals and teenage princesses.

Left to right: 16, 19, unknown, 14, nearly 18, 18, 16, and the rest never specified.
There are plenty of expections. I'm sure if I thought hard enough, I could come up with a handful of movies where the kid doesn't exist to get saved, get reformed, and provide contrast for the adult. Why don't we see more movies with competent, well developed young heroes? 

"Real children don't go hoppity-skip unless they are on drugs."
-Terry Pratchett 

No comments:

Post a Comment