As a child, I spent hours on end sat in front of the television watching my way through piles of video tapes. The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Chicken Run, and The Lion King are just some of the video cassettes now left gathering dust at my mum’s house. I return to these films again and again, not just out of a sense of nostalgia, but because even in my twenties, I still appreciate many of these films to be funny, moving and genuinely well-made. Even now, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit ranks as highly on my list of best films as Goodfellas or The Shawshank Redemption.
Why do these movies appeal to adults? Personally, I think it’s because of the timeless messages that they convey. Take Finding Dory, for example, the highest grossing film of 2016, and deservingly so. Yes, it appeals to children because of its likeable characters and charming narrative, but the film also acts as a nuanced statement on disability. We see Dory, an amnesiac, team up with Hank, an octopus missing a tentacle, two whales, one whose radar is faulty, and the other with poor vision, and little Nemo with his damaged fin, in order to find her parents. Finding Dory has a hopeful message about the differently-abled and their unique strengths.
“These films don’t talk down to children, but they also don’t try too hard to get the grown-ups onside”
Look at The Lego Movie; a gloriously absurd film that champions anarchy and anti-authoritarianism, a film whose anti-government ideology is barely disguised by bright colours and zany visuals. Similarly, A Bug’s Life is almost communist in its outlook. The oppressed masses, the ant colony, stand up and revolt against the regime of the tyrant grasshoppers, in a move that Marx himself would applaud. Likewise, Zootropolis is so overtly a social satire about institutionalised racism. It is no wonder that these tales of unity and revolution are embraced by millennials.
These films don’t talk down to children, but they also don’t try too hard to get the grown-ups onside. I tend to dislike kids’ films with nudging and winking references to adult films that the mums and dads enjoy. This tactic was way overused in Dreamworks’ Shark Tale, which was awash with references to The Godfather, even featuring Robert De Niro as the leader of the shark mafia. The best animated films don’t have to rely on these references. They rely on strong narratives, compelling characters, and inspiring messages.
No collection of films demonstrates this better than the PIXAR canon, revered by children and adults alike. Who doesn’t stifle a sob at the end of Toy Story 3 when Andy hands over his toys and heads off to college? Who isn’t moved by the first ten minutes of Up, a montage of a married couple’s lives, their hopes and fears, or Inside Out, which examines the depression of a young girl as she moves home? Unless you have a heart as black as charcoal, it is impossible not to appreciate the warmth and gravitas of these films.
And so I look forward to the upcoming releases of The Lego Batman Movie, Moana, and The Incredibles 2, pleased that the adults in the audience will be just as charmed as the children, and comforted knowing that these wonderful children’s movies will stay with me for the rest of my life.