Children’s Cinema: Finding Dory Vs The BFG

There is, for once, a very legitimate excuse as to why this article is published later than usual. I am attempting, for the first time, a back-to-back review of two recently released kids movies, and instead of reviewing them individually I feel that a side by side comparison would be beneficial, for the two films offer interesting counterpoints to the issue of whether kids movies can and/or should be accessible to adults.

Let me open this article with a snozzcumber to the face and tell you that I was ultimately disappointed by The BFG. Its visuals are impressive and the motion capture was some of the best I’ve ever seen, with Mark Rylance stealing the show with his performance as the titular giant, but my praise for the film more or less stops there. For one of Roald Dahl’s most charming, moving and in places terrifying stories, this latest adaptation is exceedingly lacklustre. The giants are shown as more lumbering idiots than genuinely threatening, as opposed to the 1989 animated ones which gave me nightmares, and the bookish and somewhat geeky protagonist Sophie simply comes across as a bit of a bossy know-it-all, as well as some seriously ham-fisted acting. And before you throw the ‘she’s only a child’ or ‘it’s a kids movie’ defence at me, you may remember that child actors even younger than this one have performed to considerably moving degree (see Georgie Henley in 2005’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe for that particular crash course). All in all the film is let down by its safeness, and its refusal to do anything risky.

On the flip-side of this review we have Finding Dory, the long-awaited sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, a kids movie in which the protagonist wife is EATEN in the first five minutes. Pixar have never been ones to pull their punches emotionally speaking, and Finding Dory sails very close to the wind, with its continuing allegory for disability being placed at the centre of the plot. The visuals are, as usual, stunning, with the dark ominousness of the open ocean contrasting beautifully with the warmth and colour of the various reefs, and the writing makes the most of the subject matter while still being simple enough that children can understand it. But within this simplicity is woven a truly fascinating portrayal of mental health, and the flashbacks in which Dory’s parents struggle to raise their child with memory loss is, simply put, heartbreaking, and would be very close to the bone for any parents watching who found themselves in a similar situation.

I’ve tended to avoid aligning myself with production companies ever since Marvel started pounding holograms into every movie they make, but it does seem to me that Pixar are the real heroes of the film industry, as it’s the only studio of its type (branded and big-budget) to be consistently making new and above all ORIGINAL concepts. In addition it’s noteworthy that Disney and, to a lesser extent, Dreamworks Animation have understood the difference between a kids film and a ‘fun-for-all-the-family’ film. The first one is utterly nauseating to anybody over the age of 5 (see the upcoming Trolls, which would probably look astonishing if viewed under the influence of a mild hallucinogen), whereas a family film can still be kid friendly but have enough adult themes to keep the parents interested, such as Hercules Oedipus joke or the name of the villain in Shrek (seriously guys, he’s called Lord Farquaad!)

Basically what it boils down to is that childrens films shouldn’t be ruled out as a genre to be enjoyed by anyone, so long as the producers take that into account during the creative process. One could easily forget that The LEGO Movie is a kids film, and I’d rate that as nothing more or less than a cinematic masterpiece, as well as another reason why I think The Oscars are completely arbitrary. If these films are taken with a bit more creative integrity and are willing to take risks, which The BFG didn’t do and suffered for it, then this genre can be equally observed as one in which quality films are being made. But until then, we’ll just have to rely on Pixar to save the film industry, one heartbreaking chortle-fest at a time.

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