This is an article I wrote at a Star Wars collecting forum in September 2008, discussing the release of The Clone Wars animated movie. I’ve been reflecting lately on the quality of what my kids watch and comparing it to what I used to watch. With my kids now coming to better appreciate Star Wars, should I introduce them to The Clone Wars movie and the animated series? Read on!
Kids shows are often written poorly, and the excuse is that kids don’t need good plots, just smarmy messages. And if they aren’t exposed to quality stuff, then they pretty much expect everything is supposed to be that bad, and think of it as normal.
When you consider how many kids (including me) were raised to think so many bad shows from the 70s and 80s are “classics” despite them being essentially just advertising disguised with some minimal plot elements, it shows part of the problem that film goers and TV audiences accept the poor state of film and TV writing as normal. They simply do not know any better.
Which, I suppose, is part of the point. Why would you invest in decent shows and writers if you didn’t have to? Why break away from the formulaic style if people don’t expect anything different?
Yet, then we decry the state of TV, and the horrible films, and the tissue thin plots and barely cognizant themes. People are willing to accept bad film and television, because they just don’t know that there can be anything better. Part of the problem is also Political Conservatism. Kids movies can’t have swear words now, or nudity let alone an intricate story line. Some of the best movies of my childhood have naughty words and boobies.
Childrens’ literature is fine wire to walk. You have to have plots and characters that resonate, and that are understandable, and expose kids to good writing. Reading well, they will be able to have a bar set to shoot for themselves. Same with TV and film. If you hold that bar low, that’s what they’ll shoot for. They may extend beyond it eventually, but the bulk is going to be mediocre at best, and if the bar is set low to begin with, then that is where it will stay.
As far as the animation goes, Pixar and old-school Disney (the original movies up to the early 90′s. None of the direct-to-video sequel garbage, certainly almost none of the new stuff) prove that childrens’ movies can be excellently made on almost all levels. When the possibility for quality is proven, it leaves studios no excuse for sub-standard crap, even if it’s sub-standard crap for kids.
Compare the Pixar movies to the Dreamworks /everyone else releases that inevitably copy them. Both studios ostensibly make kids’ movies, but Pixar produces wholly excellent stuff like clockwork, while Dreamworks’ films are all over the place and are sometimes quite amazingly shitty.
Clone Wars comes from Lucas’ inability to put together a compelling narrative or create characters we can sympathize with. It’s just another example of Lucas losing all track of what made Star Wars great to begin with. That Lucas used the same excuses for Clone Wars as he did for the prequel trilogy, and that the Clone Wars suffers from the same weaknesses as the prequel trilogy, indicates that it’s a failing of a movie as a movie, not just as a childrens‘ movie.
Maybe we all look at the original trilogy through rosy glasses, but I can still watch the first three films and enjoy them, and also the prequel trilogy though I accept some can’t stomach them. The special effects hold up, the lines are more memorable, the pacing is generally better, and it generally just felt… more cohesive. Not some hastily cobbled together mess which turns Star Wars into a horrendous whirling abyss of sulphurous feces. I maintain that the six movies by themselves are great. It’s every other SW movie which is bringing things down – Ewoks, Caravan of Courage, The Holiday Special, and the special editions. Those animated Cartoon Network SW CW cartoons do have some merit, at least for me.
You could argue “Well, you’re an adult. Your opinion doesn’t matter because it was made for kids.”
In conversations about movies, there is nothing that pisses me off more than a statement like this. (Well, if you were to say Keira Knightly is unattractive you’d see me go all Hulk on yo ass). What you’re saying is that if a movie is made for kids, then nobody need bother trying to make it good as long as kids enjoy it.
It’s this attitude that leads to cheap, crappy, mind-numbing, toy-selling Saturday morning cartoons and pure shit movies like “Shark Tale” and “The Country Bears” that have no standards beyond keeping kids still for 90 minutes.
Anyone setting out to make a kids movie should be aiming for Pixar/”The Iron Giant” quality. If you don’t get there, at least you tried. But the people who make kids movies without any ambition toward doing quality work that stands up to scrutiny are just out to make money off the fact that most parents have very low standards for their children’s entertainment.
Of course, in a world where “reality” shows and talent competitions dominate pop culture, these same parents clearly have low standards for their own entertainment too.
The point is, kids are not dumb, and adults shouldn’t underestimate their intellect. Being a “kid’s movie” is no excuse for lazy movie-making, something Pixar has proven over and over again. Dreamworks frankly just doesn’t “get it” – they think the key to success is running formulaic franchises into the ground (Shrek 3 anyone?). But Pixar enjoys massive commercial and artistic success by purposely avoiding formula, being inventive and original and talking to kids like real people (something Walt Disney used to do). I find it difficult to truly classify their movies as “kid’s films”, because actually, they’re not – they’re just great films that also happen to be very kid-friendly. Maybe that’s the example Dreamworks and Lucas should follow.
As for George Lucas, I give him all the credit in the world for being a great visionary and bringing the original Star Wars to life. At the same time, it’s very clear he’s lost his way these last 20 years, and he’s only a shadow of the artist he once was. In a funny way, the independence he so boldly sought was his undoing once it was granted.