Which children's film is the worst

Just a kids movie?

| by Stefan Stiletto

Sometimes I escape from the cinema at press screenings as soon as the credits have started. When a film for children has once again relied on a loveless, formulaic story, when pup jokes should lighten the mood, when adult - and often renowned - actors have once again laid out their roles as one-dimensional slapstick numbers. There are children's films that are terrifying. “But that's a children's film,” it says defensively. Or even worse: “But that's 'just' a children's film!” And that just doesn't work.

Can't we expect just as much from children's films as from films for other age groups? Because a film is aimed at children, it doesn't have to be soulless, shallow and lying nonsense. Children's films are not synonymous with children's stuff. But precisely this equation is one reason why, especially in commercial children's cinema, stories are sometimes so frighteningly uninspired and banal.

The problem is the image some adult filmmakers have of children

The children are not the problem. The problem is the image that some adult filmmakers, consciously or unconsciously, have of children. An image that is shaped by small beings, whom one does not trust very much, who must not be challenged, who have neither content nor formal requirements. Anyone who has ever seen how even toddlers discover their world and are happy when you talk to them at eye level and give them suggestions on how they love some pictures early on and reject others, knows how wrong this attitude is. The current level of development of the children and their experiences in the living environment must be taken seriously, with all the associated skills and competencies.

Is there a similar line of argument for other film genres or age group-specific films? Statements like “This is just a documentary film” or “This is only an adult film”? No. Only in the area of ​​children's films does one seem to be allowed or even to have to make compromises. To write, produce, shoot a film in the mode of “just a children's film” - and ultimately to see it that way, means to be only half-heartedly involved in the matter. And in the worst case, using a clichéd, old-fashioned image of children's films that can be reduced to the formula "colorful, funny and fast".

That doesn't mean that children's films shouldn't be colorful too. And of course this is not a plea for the children's cinema to become a humor-free educational event. “Drum belly” by Arne Toonen is a wonderful example of how a candy-colored world can be combined with a good story. Rather, it is about perceiving children's films as full-fledged films to which one can also make certain demands. Films, television programs and series for children shape their media biographies. This meaning is played down by a "just".

Films for children are also allowed to have a certain height of fall

A lot is possible in children's films. If only because the target group is not uniform and, depending on age and development, you have to and can tell differently for them - after all, we're talking roughly about the age group of four to twelve year olds. Stories about death, about mourning and dying are in principle just as little taboo as about stressful experiences and lifeworlds that do not correspond to the ideal world cliché. Certainly: These do not fulfill the cliché of always funny children's films and are not "feelgood movies". But they pick up on experiences with which children are already confronted. Children have the right to have these reflected in stories for them seriously and in a multi-layered manner in a manner appropriate to their age. Putting yourself on the same level as children does not mean that you have to keep some things secret. You just have to tell it differently.

Perhaps that is why some of the most remarkable films for children in recent years reveal a deeper truth that only adults can rationally reflect, but which is emotionally understandable for children. “Where the Wild Things Are” by Spike Jonze is one such case. A film that does justice to the spirit of the picture book of the same name by Maurice Sendak about a toddler who has to learn to deal with his anger and yet can still rely on his mother's love and explores limits. Sendak was already harshly criticized in 1963 because his reflection of uncontrollable, negatively charged childish feelings was seen as so inappropriate. Films for children are also allowed to have a certain height of fall.

In the best case scenario, films can help children develop when they tell them stories that concern them and that are related to their experiences. It does not matter whether these stories are humorous and light or tragically serious, set in fantasy worlds or in the authentic close range: the artificial world in "Pettson and Findus" by Ali Samadi Ahadi, the ironically exaggerated Berlin in "Rico, Oskar und die Tieferschatten "by Neele Leana Vollmar or the socially realistic environment in" Kopfüber "by Bernd Sahling. It is noticeable that all these very different films were made with a good eye for their young audiences.

It is high time to get rid of the negative connotations of children's films. Cinema operators, distributors, marketing departments and producers should be able to proudly say “This is a children's film”. A film that takes children seriously in their development. Honest, full-fledged cinema for young viewers, without any “just” restrictions. You don't have to be ashamed or justified for that.

This article appeared for the first time in the film service supplement "Kinder- und Jugendfilm-Korrespondenz" (1/2015). The article is reproduced here with the kind permission of the film service.