Monday, March 14, 2011

Hitting Your Target Age Group

I saw "Fantastic Mr Fox" this weekend. It was dry. It was witty. It was excellently cast and voiced. The animation was perfect. It was peppered with brilliant references to other, famous films. It was fantastic.

It was not for kids.

This film was, in my opinion, way too violent for the 7+ age group it was targeted at. It included characters being drugged, shot at, drowned (but miraculously surviving), threatened with knives, bullied, and kidnapped. The main character, Mr Fox, breaks the law, lies to his wife about it, gets caught by his wife and promises not to do it anymore, and then in the end continues to steal and is applauded by the rest of the crowd of animals he hangs out with. There are very, very mixed messages being portrayed here. It's not for kids.

The jokes, while brilliant, are adult jokes. They'll go right over kids' heads - at least, they'd go right over my kids' heads, if I were to let my kids see the movie. So the humour isn't for kids, either. The target market for this movie is the 25-35 age group: the parents of the kids.

So why was this movie marketed to kids? Is it to get the parents to rent it for their kids to watch, and then get taken in themselves? What benefit is there to making something that looks like a kids' movie, has its trailers shown in the previews before other kids' movies at the theatres, but is so clearly not really for the kids? Did they know they were making a movie for grown-ups and teens, or did they just aim for younger kids and miss their mark?

This movie reminded me of the fine line we have to walk as children's writers between attracting the kids and keeping them reading, and pleasing the parents. Kids love Junie B. Jones for her quirky use of language and her spontaneity, and parents dislike her for the same reasons. Teens love Twilight because it speaks to their fascination with the line between life and death, and to the tortured nature of teenaged relationships; like it or not, teen girls can relate to Bella. Mothers hate that, and they think Bella is a poor role model. Write something too adult, and we lose the kids; write something too childish, and the parents start raising eyebrows.

That said, if I'm going to err, I want it to be on the side of writing for the kids. I don't want my jokes to go over their heads; I don't want to scare them into putting my book down; I don't want them to want to stop reading. And I want to make them think. And I have to believe that I can do that without making my book so risque that their parents won't want them to read it.

What do you think? Did you see "Fantastic Mr Fox?" Would you let your 2nd or 3rd graders see it? Is it appropriate to make a book whose movie version we wouldn't let our kids watch? Where is the line, and how do we walk it?


  1. I haven't seen this film yet, but it's not really on the top of the list. However, what you have to say about child apropriateness and erring on the side of the child is heartening. Did you see Celebrity Apprentice last night? The two teams had to create and perform a children's book. Very interesting! Meatloaf was in charge of one team and he came onto the stage speaking directly to the children and only giving them his attention, well, because it was for the children. There's something to that, like being true to the story. While I may/may not show Fantastic Mr. Fox to my third grader, I agree that a lot of animation is aiming for that "four quadrant" audience. And it shouldn't always be like that.

  2. I didn't see the movie. My daughter's too old for it. But you make great points. And I agree we should write for the kids, not the parents, though be mindful that for younger kids, it's the parents who buy the books. It is a fine line.

  3. I had heard that wasn't a good movie for kids in the least! Lost my interest in it just from the weird, bad messages, unfortunately!

  4. I haven't seen it. I've had one close parent warn me against letting my kids see it. And another parent let me boy watch it when he slept over - he is now 10 and said it was fine.
    But it really bugs me how they have to adultify kids movies. I get cranky about it.

  5. Have you read Lane Smith's picture book "It's A Book"? Talk about not being intended for children. One of the characters is a donkey, and most people who have issues with it are concerned about the use of "jackass" as an insult on the last page. That doesn't bother me so much, because it's going to go right over a 4-year-old's head - as will the entire premise of the book, and that's the true problem with it. It's written for adults (or at the very least, teens).

  6. I actually liked Fantastic Mr. Fox, but agree that it was best enjoyed by an adult audience. My son was old enough at the time but my daughter just didn't get it. On the other hand, we saw Rango this past weekend, and I thought the same thing. I thought that movie was even more philosophical (therefore over kids' heads) and violent than Mr. Fox. I was actually uncomfortable myself at a few lines, including an animal that said "I once had a human spinal column come out in my fecal matter." Yikes.

  7. Lindsey, I have IT'S A BOOK, but I keep it on the bookshelf in my office. When I found it at the bookstore, I asked the staff why they didn't have it in the humor section for adults - I agree that it belongs there more than it belongs in the picture book section. As you said, kids just don't get it. (Although my son totally got the "jackass" line - he knew that it was being used in a derogatory sense, and we had a big discussion about hurtful language.)

    I LOVED Fantastic Mr Fox, but I loved it for grown-ups. I thought it was really clever, but I just don't get why they marketed it towards kids who are too young to get all the jokes and references that make it so good. Shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy and King of the Hill should show that adults aren't above watching an animated movie that was intended for grown-ups; so why the supposedly kid-friendly spin?

    I haven't seen Rango, but I'll check it out. And I missed that epi of Celebrity Apprentice, but I'll be sure to look for it! It sounds really interesting.

    Do you think our society is demanding older and older content in kids' movies and books? Are we getting "older" in our attempt to be "edgy" and "fresh"?