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?