Pop Off: Family films a dying breed?
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 23:03
It’s always sad to see a type of film fall out of popularity and into the archives. It happened with silent films in the 1930s, musicals in the 1970s and today the world is witnessing the decline of the family film, at least a certain breed of it.
Animated features are still going strong, and we do get a couple family oriented films a year, but most now have an epic nature, with large fantasy elements; such as “Hugo,” and the upcoming “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” But we no longer see films are centered on family drama, take place in one or a series of small towns, and are down to earth and relatable.
First, what makes a film a family film? I see it as a movie made for kids with adults in mind or vice versa. A film with a sophisticated and serious story, but with a child protagonist (“King of the Hill”). Or a drama with an adult cast, but with a lighter and softer tone (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”). What makes these films so special they feel much more personable and the characters and setting are relatable, even in films that incorporate science fiction and fantasy elements. They often contain a large palate of emotions, and even in the darkest of stories there’s a coating of sweetness and innocence. From the 1930s to the 1970s, these movies were everywhere, largely due to the success of Disney, and all the studios looking to take a slice out of their market. It’s also worth noting many of them were excellent and highly respected in the industry. The depression-era story “Sounder” received a Best Picture nomination in 1972, “Old Yeller” practically became the definition of the coming of age story, and “E.T.” is a staple of modern film culture.
So what happened? Well in later part of the 20th century as censorship decreased, dramas took a turn for the grittier and comedies for the raunchier and the focus turned to movies exclusively for adults and exclusively for kids. The only family picture from the 1980s I can recall is the outstanding “Never Cry Wolf.” But when the Disney renaissance began at the turn of the 1990s, the floodgates opened and family pictures made a triumphant comeback.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t handled all that well. There were a lot of great pictures, but for every “Secret Garden” or “Home Alone,” there were half a dozen “North”(s) and “Jungle 2 Jungle”(s). It always seemed the latter made it in front of more eyes. It also didn’t help that many focused one of two premises, sports and pets. Now I love “The Sandlot” and I love “White Fang,” but to say the market was over saturated would be an understatement; and again, a lot of them were just awful. By the end of decade, audiences had had enough, and family pictures were experiencing diminishing ticket returns. By midway through the 2000s, they were a rarity.
As family pictures fade into obscurity, the biggest shame is there are so many great stories yet to be told. I can think of several potential family films, that if put into the right hands could rise to the level of some of the mentioned masterpieces. How so and which ones? I’ll reveal that next week.