While casually surveying a trailer for Goosebumps last week a sudden thought hit me. It dawned on me just how few kid’s movies there are these days. Not of the animated variety, we have plenty of those, but live action ones with, like, people in them. As a poor-soul of a child bought up in the pre-packed boil-in-a-bag meat rich era of the 80s, I would be down the Elite cinema in Uttoxeter (now a storeroom for a church) quaffing free Cornettos (my mates mum worked there) week after week watching a seemingly endless supply of great films that would still resonate with me 30 years later.
This is not to say that the animated films are bad, quite the opposite, Pixar have redefined the children’s film industry with their brilliance of both technology and story-telling, unsurprisingly prompting every other animation studio to grab fully on to their coattails with varying results. It’s just that I suddenly realised how much I missed watching great comic actors in ridiculous situations in downtown New York, which for a nine-year-old in the East Midlands was as wonderfully alien as watching the moon landing.
The eighties and nineties now seem a golden era for children’s films; Big, Labyrinth, ET, Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, The Dark Crystal, Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Flight of the Navigator, Teen Wolf, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Uncle Buck and Willow all released in the eighties. Home Alone, Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hocus Pocus, Drop Dead Fred, The Mask, Flubber, Jurassic Park, Ace Ventura all nineties.
Then something seemed to shift towards the dying embers of the old millennium and film companies became convinced that all children’s films must be animated. It’s probably not excessively surprising given that Toy Story came out in 1995 and was a colossal success, and maybe this is what sent a shockwave through the offices of the children’s writers. If you take away all the animated films since 2000 and look what you’re left with it’s meagre pickings; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was rubbish, Night at the Museum (2, 3….), Enchanted, Pan and amazingly you then start to struggle.
So what happened? Are we lacking a big enough actor to pull it off? Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams all fabulously carried the flag for a while. Who are our modern Tom, Jim and Robin? Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller? Christ.
Maybe certification and how much modern parents actually care about them are the issue here. It’s worth noting that Goonies was a 12 and Gremlins a 15, yet I remember very well sitting down to view the latter on Christmas day afternoon on BBC 1 scoffing e-numbers while watching Stripe trying to dismember Gizmo. Jurassic Park somehow managed to get a baffling PG rating when released. All superhero films are now out of reach for the under twelves, a staple in my day. Even over half of the Harry Potter movies are 12. Are the film certification board getting stricter, part of the ever-growing non-offensive society we find ourselves in, or maybe it’s just to save the next generation of under 10s from the nightmares I had of being eaten by a T-Rex while sat on the loo.
Or maybe it’s just all nostalgia. My kids don’t have the patience to sit through the first ten minutes of Big. My son thought Bedknobs and Broomsticks had finished before it had started because the credits were at the start. Was Big all that really? Or does it just remind us of the wonderful stress free days of push bikes, Commodore 64s and having three channels on our chunky CRT tellies? Either way, I’m about to dust off the Back to the Future trilogy to double check that the third one really was that shit.