Concept Crucible Goes to the Movies

…With a kid. I’ve been watching my friends’ kids for most of this week, and I’m learning all kinds of things, many of which I want to share. The kids and I do all kinds of things together. We go to the park, play with toys, make music, and watch a lot of movies together. Not having kids myself, I haven’t watched a lot of kids movies, though I have noticed a trend of people writing animated features that appeal to both adults and kids. Over the next few weeks, I want to examine some of those themes, because I think there’s some important distinctions present, especially in the three movies we watched yesterday. Kung Fu Panda, A Shark’s Tale, and Happy Feet. 

Penguins from Happy FeetThey’re all pretty good movies, but what I found more interesting was how they explore themes that we’d typically think are adult in a way that’s accessible to kids. Whether that’s for good or ill isn’t something I know enough about to talk about, but they’re there, regardless. They do it overtly, rather than using subtext and cultural references inspired by the idea that the kids won’t get it, and if they do, it’s your fault. I don’t watch a lot of tv, or kids’ shows in general, but it seems like this kind of writing is becoming more common, partly so adults can watch shows with their children and be entertained, rather than quietly wishing for escape. Or maybe I’m just easily amused.

Still, the writing philosophy seems to be one of accessibility, focused on the idea that you can make something for kids without having it be devoid of the subtlety and complexity which makes it appeal to adults. Kids pick up on the emotional overtones when there’s strong characters to empathize with, and they’re capable of understanding complex interplay between characters. They do it in real life all the time, after all. What they don’t pick up on so much is the subtlety, but there’s something to be said for over the top characters. Every character has a defining trait usually, whether it’s size, ambition, courage, or greed. Piglet is cowardly. Eeyore is glum. Tigger is…Well, Tigger. And the same is true in Kung Fu Panda and Happy Feet. The over the top-ness isn’t necessarily a mark of being for children. You can find the same broad strokes in films like Singing in the Rain or the Avengers.

Kung Fu PandaOver the next few weeks, I’m going to explore some more subtle distinctions that are shown in these three movies, the kinds of things that adults pick up on which kids might not. Happy Feet showcases the distinction between sex and romance in a story. Kung Fu Panda does the same with the difference between fighting and violence, and for A Shark’s Tale, it’s killing and murder. I found it really neat that these movies serve as examples of these differences, because while they’re aimed at kids, they use the adult side of the pair in every case. The relationship in Happy Feet is about sex, not romance. Kung Fu Panda has violence, not just fighting. And Shark’s Tale has murder, rather than just killing. But they’re good movies, and we don’t think that they ought not to be watched by kids. I’m not going to moralize on their appropriateness, I just think it’s neat, and I look forward to taking a deeper look into them over the next few weeks. What are some adult themes that you’ve found in kids’ movies?


  1. My favourite kids’ movie remains The Emperor’s New Groove. Not only is is very colourful and eye-catching (appealing to kids and special adults alike) but there are a number of subtle comedic elements included that really aren’t meant for kids, or at least aren’t meant for them to fully understand. That appeals to me, because it lets me know that it’s still ok to both watch cartoon movies like this, and want to read books out of the older teen section of Chapters. 😀

  2. TENG is all about murder. The main antagonist spends the entire movie trying to kill the titular character. He starts off as an arrogant jerk that deserves it, but sees the error of his ways and eventually becomes the hero. But this is hardcore murder here, with poison, then stabbing, theres even a scene with crocodiles trying to eat people. It’s simply presented in a humorous way.

    • You’re right. Murder plots are actually pretty common in kids’ stories. An attempted murder is central in both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel are left to die by their parents. Peter Pan has one too, and Tuck Everlasting has been pulled from shelves in some places because of the significance of murder in its story.

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