"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kids' Stuff

It seems that the most logical and commonsensical movies these days are those directed at children. Increasingly, moreover, kids' films are also among the most insightful into social realities. The Incredibles, for example, comically places litigiousness and a concern for individual responsibility at the center of its story. Sky High observes how the American education system suppresses children's natural creativity and ambition. The two Shrek films are full of satirical jabs at modern society.

It should be little surprise, then, that the new film Hoodwinked, based on the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, actually deals with issues such as intellectual property and piracy. In this cheeky version of the story, Granny has a snack-food empire that is threatened by an unknown intellectual-property thief who has been stealing recipes from businesses all around the forest. Beginning with an incident at Granny's house—where Red is menaced by the Wolf, disguised as Granny, when the lumberjack bursts in and all are carted off to the police station so that the authorities can set things straight—the film moves on to a Rashomon-style investingation in which each of the various characters involved in the central events gives their version of the story.

Comical allusions abound in the subsequent flashbacks that look at the central events and place them in context, as is appropriate for a film dealing with intellectual property theft. We see references to Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Mission Impossible, The Matrix (all too inevitably, alas), and much more.

The use of a Rashomon-style narrative form, however, does not induce any doubts about the human search for truth, as it does in Kurosawa's film. The makers of Hoodwinked treat the central story as a puzzle-style mystery, with the investigation being led by a suave detective, a long-legged frog named Nick Flippers, based on Nick Charles of the Thin Man novel and movies. As a result, the effect of the film is exactly opposite that of Rashomon, for in Hoodwinked everything has a cause and it is indeed possible for humans to know the truth.

Naturally, everything turns out well at the end. The thief is identified and taken into custody, Granny has been revealed as a swinging elderly babe, Red is given a chance to throw off the chains of her all-work-and-no-play lifestyle, and the forest's economy is able to get back to normal. On the whole, an interesting and surprisingly mature treatment of the issues.

Would that we could say the same about movies aimed at adults these days. For those who are sick of watching sensitive men moon over distant, emotionally disturbed women, or hikers tortured and killed by strangers in the wilderness, or young adults out on benders and venery hunts, or modern-day cowboys whose love dare not speak its name, or tendentious dramas about the evils of corporate America, or repressed individuals who throw off the shackles of conventionality and learn to follow their impulses—or much of the rest of the wonderfully mature and sophisticated movie fare of our time—today's movies aimed toward children may be just the thing.

Judging by their output, it appears that today's Hollywood believes that true maturity, intelligence, and decency are kids' stuff. Apparently they have studied their Jean Jacques Rousseau well but not wisely.

7 comments:

JC said...

Good points.
I hate watching movies aimed at "adults" (R or sometimes PG13) and thinking, "Wow, this movie rocks, but I could have used a little less vulgarity/gratuitous violence/etc." One example that comes to mind is Snatch, about a stolen diamond, which is an absolutely hillarious movie, but has some scenes with way more blood than I would care for.
The Incredibles was an excellent movie. I happened to see it with several other adult males, and we all liked it.

James Elliott said...

I liked the dig at the gratuitous "let's torture teenagers" genre that appears to have taken over horror films. Those films are even more blatant than The Passion in raising the question "When does violence stop having legitimate artistic intent and simply become pornographic?"

Tlaloc said...

A film that is animated is not automatically a film for kids. Exhibit A: fritz the cat.

I wouldn't have considered either Shrek movie a kids movie by any stretch of the imagination. Incredibles is closer but you can tell Pixar is dying to stretch their wings after ebing smothered by Disney for so long.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Along these lines, Turner Classic Movies is running a series of Hayao Miyazaki films every Thursday evening this month. The past couple of weeks have been devoted to the films that have already been widely distributed in the US and which you've probably already seen if you're interested in this sort of thing (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa) but tonight and next week they're showing some more obscure ones, including my most loved Miyazaki film, My Neighbor Totoro. It is charming, innocent, and beautiful, completely lacking the darkness that creeps into his later films, particularly Mononoke. Porco Rosso, the second film tonight, is little known here and also an interesting film. The third, Whisper of the Heart, I have never seen. I find it interesting that it's being shown after *my* bedtime, much less my children's. I suppose TCM assumes the entire country is TIVOed by now.

James Elliott said...

Kathy, you just scored huge points. Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away (stolen by my friend's crazy ex-wife during the divorce - darn you, Molly!) occupied places of pride in my DVD collection.

Hunter Baker said...

S.T., How young could kids be and still enjoy Hoodwinked? Would my three and a half year old like it?

S. T. Karnick said...

I should think a three-year-old could enjoy it as much as they would any other film. There's a lot of goofy action and not too much talk. Plus, when are dialogue-driven scenes, the talk is being done by frogs, wolves, badgers, etc., which ought to make it fun for a young un.