Rant: Family Films Don't Have To Suck

As a critic, there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than handing out a negative review. Not because it’s difficult to do, any writer who’s being truly honest will tell you those are the easiest reviews to write and let’s face it, inventing clever new ways to say something sucks can be fun. No, it’s difficult because no matter how awful the movie is there will always be defenders. And those defenders always resort to blaming you. Any critic who gives a bad review to something someone likes is inevitably a bad person, or a snob, or an unimaginative boob. Folks often have a hard time accepting that sometimes, people simply have different points of view.

Never is that more true than with family films. There’s a growing tendency among audiences to give anything with a G or PG rating an instant nod of approval. For instance, in response to our blisteringly negative review of the recently released, quickly forgotten PG-rated movie Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour one reader took us to task commenting, “Sarah Landon was a wonderful movie for our tweens. A bunch of us went to see it and we were so surprised we didn't have to watch a bunch of half naked, fake boobed under age girls get slashed to death. If you want a film for kids 10-13 this is it and you won't have to explain why everyone in movies has their pants down!” As if that somehow means the movie is good.

The depressing thing is that this is a fairly commonly held view. I’ve heard it a thousand times before. Many reactions to The Game Plan seemed almost fatalistic, in some cases our commenters readily admitted that the movie sucked, but still urged people to see the film since it was family friendly while attacking us for daring to point out the movie’s glaringly obvious flaws. It’s as if audiences have gotten it into their heads that family movies are by nature, bad, and thus should not be criticized.

Except that’s simply not true. It may be hard to believe after sitting through dreck like The Game Plan and Sarah Landon, but it’s no harder to make a great family film that it is to make any other type of movie good. Hollywood’s history is littered with absolute gems. Disney’s vault is packed with great, family friendly movies. You remember them, they were probably a big part of your childhood. They were definitely a big part of mine. I grew up spending my Sunday’s watching the Magical World of Disney, laughing and crying along with my parents to imaginative and wonderful family films like Marry Poppins, Swiss Family Robinson, The Shaggy Dog, and The Absent Minded Professor. The Incredibles was not only a great family film, it’s probably one of the best superhero films ever created. Movies like those aren’t just good because the kids they marketed them too didn’t know any better, they’re legitimately great films which hold up both for kids and adults.

Family films don’t have to suck, and slapping a PG rating on a movie doesn’t give it license to be as awful as possible. Yes, kids will watch anything but why should you feed them a steady diet of garbage if you don’t have to? Kids love McDonalds, but a wise parent avoids the drive through and forces asparagus on them. Bad family movies are junk food, and you make your kid stupider every time you let him watch one.

Maybe the quality of family filmmaking has gone down in recent years, but the answer to that problem isn’t supporting crappy releases. If you buy a ticket to a bad family movie, you’re only encouraging Hollywood to make more of them. Yes, I know you’re looking for somewhere to drop your kids, but you have other options. That’s not an excuse. Great family films are out there, you just have to look for them. Instead of The Game Plan, why not wait for the next Pixar movie? Most families don’t go to the movies more than once a month. If you’d simply waited another week Bee Movie hits theaters, and looks promising. Fred Claus opens the week after that, and it looks fun. There’s always something worth watching at the theater, and a lot of the time the best stuff ends up ignored so that parents can buy a ticket to whichever PG movie had the most advertisements on Nickelodeon.

There’s no reason for family friendly movies to be treated as if they’re critic proof. A critic’s job is to give their opinion on the film they’re viewing. That’s just as true with G movies as it is with R-rated ones. We review, you read it, it generates discussion, you see it, and form your own opinion based on a variety of factors, none of which is whether or not the hero says “fuck”. I guess we also hope that you might put more thought into your viewing choices than checking the movie’s rating. If it’s The Game Plan and Bee Movie up on the marquee, we reviewers hang on to this slim hope our their review might help nudge you toward the better one. Determining whether or not a movie is good is an entirely separate process from determining whether or not you should take your screaming kid to see it, assuming of course that you don’t care if your kids watch crap and are only concerned that when they walk out of the theater they don’t ask you any questions about sex.

Let’s call a spade a spade people. Movies like The Game Plan suck, and you know it. You supported it because you were lazy, and there’s nothing else to it. Stop right here and vow to avoid using the lack of ass-crack exposures to justify your sloth. If you’re looking for a way to shut your kids up, then say that. Let’s not pretend movies have some intrinsic value because there’s a PG next to them on the marquee out front. The number of curse words contained in a film do not necessarily determine whether a movie is any good. It may have something to do with whether or not you take your kids to it, but then that’s why we have those oppressive MPAA ratings in the first place. The MPAA doesn’t hand out movie reviews, just nipple counts. Leave the reviewing to us.

Josh Tyler