Parents and their young kids are champing at the bit as they wait for the European release of The Adventures Of Tintin, reflecting a chronic shortage of quality films suitable for the unfashionable but super-lucrative family market.
I had a very good time watching Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn at its first press screening on Sunday and all the children in the audience appeared to love it as well, their attention fully consumed for the 106-minute running time which is a tad longer than the average animated movie.
Every parent I have spoken to in the last few weeks has told me that both they and their kids are excited to see Tintin. In fact, their enthusiasm made me realize that the family audience is a generally under-served sector, somewhat desperate for quality entertainment which is appealing to – and suitable for – children of different ages and adults. And by children, I mean as young as four or five year-olds.
Talking to a female friend of mine who has two children under the age of ten, I realized that the criteria for selecting films as a parent of young children are specific to that audience demographic.
Cost: when a parent takes two children to see a film, the cost is at least $30 and in expensive cities like London that is close to $60. Add concessions and parking, and the visit to the movies is not such a cheap outing after all.
3D: parents are feeling fleeced by the additional costs of 3D screenings, especially when there is extra cost for 3D glasses. Mums don’t relish the prospect of carrying three or four pairs of glasses around in their handbags, should they be required to bring their own, and are not disposed to buy new ones each time out. The glasses are too heavy for the noses of younger children who often remove them early on in the 3D screening. As a result, parents are increasingly opting for the cheaper 2D screenings of the 3D films.
Variety: There is an extremely limited range of films for a family which includes younger children. Studio tentpole movies like Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides or Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows were both rated PG-13 in the US (PG-12 in the UK) and both are of a length and intensity that precludes a family audience.
But most important of all is:
Kids will often beg parents to see the film again in the theatre or buy the DVD and watch it repeatedly. In that case, parents want the film to be of a very high quality such as Pixar or DreamWorks Animation deliver. Many films targeted at young children, my friend said, are just no good, perhaps reflecting a reluctance on the part of A-list writing and directing talent to work in this field. When the films are sub-standard – Cars 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, the Wimpy Kid films – parents will personally not want to see them again, let alone buy the DVD for their kids to watch. But even when the films are bad, families often find themselves seeing them because the range is so limited. The disappointment is sometimes acute – particularly on the part of the parent who get quickly bored by inane titles which talk down to kids. One poor, expensive outing could mean parents look for alternative forms of entertainment.
Watch those box office numbers soar when Tintin comes out as parents enthusiastically take their families to see it. Indeed if you look at the numbers for the Ice Age, Madagascar or Shrek films or indeed for the recent Smurfs movie, you realize the potential appetite of the parents-and-kids market, and wonder why, Disney aside, more high quality films aren’t made targeting them. There’s a real need.