Of all ages.
Well, hi there. How are you? Did you have a good weekend? I’m once again on the single-parent beat (my wife has her last school trip of the year, once more to Disneyland, once more I am envious, once more the beat goes on, etc., etc.), and yet I managed to squirrel away a few minutes to watch the latest installment of the Film Twitter discourse unfold in the last couple of days.
“Oh no, what was it this time?” I hear you asking. “Was it someone bad-mouthing Scorsese? Ranking the Coen Brothers’ filmography?" Close, but no cigar.
It was — and my friends, I hope you are sitting down — this devastating comment from Matt Singer of ScreenCrush:
You OK? Are you still here? Did you lose all your hair from the hot fire Matt was spitting with this…uh…extraordinarily innocuous comment? I realize that you probably read this tweet — because I know everyone reading this is a relatively reasonable person — and are now asking, “…wait, that started a discourse?” Well, it certainly inspired some very displeased comments, like these ones.
Matt, yesterday, remarked with the same level of relative calm and bafflement on how his initial tweet had gotten under so many people’s skins.
Now, a couple of points. One: I’ve written at ScreenCrush before, so I’m friendly with Matt. Two: I, unlike Matt, have not seen Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, and from what I gather via many reviews, including the one Matt wrote, I am quite glad to have avoided it. Three: I, like Matt, have kids. I’ve got two sons, ages 8 and 3. (I believe, though am not 100 percent certain, that one of Matt’s kids is 5. But I could be wrong!)
Now that those points are established, I’ll say only that I can’t tell if the people who got mad at Matt’s tweet, using examples like Shazam! 2 or Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, are idiots or just willfully trolling him.
I’m not a gambling man myself, but if I was, I’d bet a hefty amount of money that most of the people who got het up about Matt’s tweet do not have children themselves. (Say, 90 percent of those people.) Now, for all of you out there who don’t have kids, come close. Come real close. I have a secret I want to tell you. You ready? You know what parents love more than anything? More than their own children? It’s…being told what to do with our kids by people who do not have children! We love it! So much!
I won’t quibble too much about the definition of a children’s movie, or a movie appropriate for those under the age of, say, 10. Part of the reason is that for some people, the phrase “children’s movie” is tantamount to a dirty word, and the definition of what is and is not appropriate for kids under 10 is flexible for each of us. What I find appropriate for my children is not the same as what Matt may find appropriate for his own children, and so on. (Per Matt’s follow-up remarks to some of the ruder tweet-replies, there is apparently a scene in the new Shazam! where a friendly teacher jumps off a building to their death, and that answers my question of whether or not I’d want my 8-year old to see this movie!)
What kept this whole thread is my mind is the true root of why people got so annoyed at something so innocuous. This wasn’t a film critic committing the great horror of — gasp! — not loving a superhero movie. This was a person musing about the lack of family fare for little children at the movies. It’s true that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is still in theaters (but also streaming on Peacock by now), and that very much is a film for the whole family. (Even if the bad guy is a personification of Death, which is maybe a bit dark for the little ones.)
But Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opened in theaters literally last year, and in case you skimmed past the parenthetical, it’s already streaming. There have been no family films in theaters for three months, as long as we rationally presume that “family film” means it has to be rated G or PG.
What I think bothers people about Matt’s comment — the unspoken implication being that the films currently available are not films for the whole family — is the same thing that bothers most of the same people when they see criticism of Marvel or the like. To point out that those films have flaws, and to point out that they may not suffice for the whole family, is vexing if you have chosen to make these films your whole cinematic identity. These are the people who chafe when it’s suggested that Marvel movies’ color palettes are bland and uninspired, that the cinematography is not #OnePerfectShot after another, that the one-liners are not witty and trenchant. To attack these films is to attack how all-in both the industry and so many fans have pushed on a specific type of blockbuster, tantamount to a personal attack. Superhero movies are both for the whole family and also Very Deep And Mature And Adult, and how dare you suggest otherwise? Of course Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is for children. But it’s also for adults. It has to be. Because the children who grew up with Iron Man are now adults, and they’re still watching these movies.
Which leads me to this comment.
It’s not just Disney that is making the mistake of turning the multiplex into a desert for kids for so many months per year. And from what I gather, both from responses to my tweet and previous remarks online, many movie theaters would love to show older Disney films, but Disney has this weird vibe of punishing theaters that dare to show their films in repertory. (I’m being nice when I say it’s weird, because it’s genuinely ridiculous.) Some folks responded to my tweet and said that Disney doesn’t care about its older films except as fodder for live-action remakes, and the thing is, that’s only true now.
I won’t turn this into a historical treatise, but there was once a time when re-releasing animated films was a large source of income for the Walt Disney Company. (Yes, this was pre-Marvel, pre-Lucasfilm, pre-Pixar.) While that certainly wouldn’t be the case in the year of our Lord 2023, what mystifies me, truly, is that Disney puts up a big show about its history — they changed their logo to celebrate the 100th anniversary, for goodness’ sake — but they don’t actually do anything of substance.
It’s your 100th anniversary. Your company’s entire foundation is animation. There are plenty of options to re-release some of the films that have been your biggest successes, right now. Fantasia in IMAX. Sleeping Beauty on the big screen. Beauty and the Beast. And so on. This is not hard, and I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel here. But Disney seems unwilling or unable to grasp it.
Here’s the last thought. My initial response to Matt’s tweet on Saturday was in thinking about how many boatloads of cash the upcoming Super Mario movie is going to make. Leave aside my opinion of the film’s existence (I haven’t seen it yet, but…it is what it is). This movie is going to be huge, and it will partly be huge for the same reason Avatar: The Way of Water was huge: because it has no competition. Avatar had an open multiplex for six weeks. Super Mario’s first big competition will be the second Guardians of the Galaxy, opening a month later.
“But, Josh, you just said superhero movies with a PG-13 rating aren’t family films! How can that be competition?” Well, you and I both know the difference deep down, right? Kids are excited for the new Super Mario movie. (Mine sure is.) But so too are the same adults arguing that Ant-Man is a family film. And they’ll probably argue the same for Guardians 3. The next true family film — at least in terms of the MPA rating — is the remake of The Little Mermaid, opening nearly two months after Super Mario.
So much time to make so much money, instead of offering up competition. Alas.