The problem with child-centric narratives

Sometimes, the story of a film plays out from the perspective of a child, and this can lead to mixed results. In Stand by Me, this is done right because of the film’s realistic depiction of the characters, but in many other films, such as Empire of the Sun, the narrative plunges to often uncomfortable levels of sappy idealism.

empire of the sun

Get ready for two and a half hours of some kid being a whiny moron.

For me, the main problem with a child-centric narrative in film is that in Hollywood, this forces the film to be family-friendly in nature, especially in today’s world, where Hollywood will only know to do it that way. On top of that, kids have no experience with the ways of the world, so if you put them in a situation where morality isn’t quite as black and white as they’ve been taught, they’ll have no idea what to do.

In other times, a child-centric narrative is just there in a rather jaded, cynical attempt to pluck your heartstrings, like in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a film that tries to convince you to empathize with a robot boy, let alone a robot being played by a mediocre child actor. Of course, child-centric narratives suffer because the writers think that childhood could only be associated with innocence. Unfortunately, this means that whenever writers want to create a child-centric narrative, are usually limited to zany family-friendly adventures.

This problem didn’t start becoming a plague until the 80’s, with such notable box-office hits as E.T.: The Extra-TerrestrialThe Goonies, and The Wizard, all of which were saccharine family films with a child-centric narrative. Ever since films like those brought in tons of money, the producers saw a pattern and kept wanting more and more of them, and all of them just got sillier and sillier.

andre 1994

Even after we got that god-damn seal, it still wasn’t enough.

Another big problem is that a lot of successful films of this kind are made by producers instead of artists. I’m willing to bet that The Goonies was a product of committee thinking, and let’s not forget the sheer volume of family movies that got made in this fashion (by the way, many of them sucked).

I’ll admit that I don’t like creating family-friendly material, nor due I want to overtly audience, mainly because there’s always a degree of self-censorship involved with appealing to that audience, and because family-friendly, child-centric movies are all full of air-headed characters and cartoonish villains, and that’s the problem with writing a narrative based on a naive, relatively immature perspective.

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