Need a "kid stuff" category. (I said that was enough politics for now.)
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a pretty good kid's cartoon. Oh, it's not the solid wall of awesome of, say, Justice League Unlimited or Samurai Jack. But it's consistently good in a way I respect: good art, decent stories, well-choreographed action scenes. Also, it bucks the current trend of gender differentiation in kids' cartoons (which just bugs the hell out of me), While it's more of a Boy's Adventure kind of thing, there are female characters who are important and get to Do Stuff, and it spends a fair amount of time on character development and relationships. A boy between 5 and 12 will probably like this; a girl of the same age might not, but then again she might.
Avatar is from Nick, which is a bit of a surprise since Nick's animated works tend to, um, suck. Even the better ones -- Danny Phantom, Hey Arnold!, and of course SpongeBob -- are pretty formulaic and limited. But Avatar is telling a big epic story that's designed to extend across a certain number of seasons (five, I think) and end up being a more or less coherent whole. And it's doing a pretty good job of it. It's a kids' cartoon, but it feels like good YA fantasy.
-- Something that came up when Carlos was here: in the last few years, high-end kids cartoons have been doing more with story arcs and metastory. The latter is not so new -- Rocky and Bullwinkle were breaking the fourth wall and commenting on their own narrative tropes almost fifty years ago. But it's getting more common, and a lot more sophisticated. As for story arcs, a startling number of kids' cartoons are now using narrative structures that would map to a season of The Sopranos.
Anyway: Avatar, v. good.
We also watched The Goonies this morning -- yah, the movie from 1984. I'd never seen it before! Claudia picked it up -- she'd liked it a lot, way back when.
Some while back, I noted that the 1970s and 1980s were a dark age for kids movies; Disney was making stuff that kinda sucked, and everyone else was making stuff that sucked worse. Hang on, let's see here...
Okay. October 2006:
[A]ll through the 1970s and 1980s, movies for kids came in two flavors: weird and crap.
Weird included stuff like the 1971 version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (which included a drug-trip style ride on the chocolate river, complete with psychedelic color bursts and visual distortions); "Bugsy Malone" (1976) which had grade-school kids as Depression-era gangsters, pinstripe suits and all, fighting gun battles with pies and seltzer bottles; and "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), which is a rather dark and violent film about politics among a bunch of genetically engineered rats. These are not bad movies, but if you watch them today, you may find yourself slightly unsettled: wait, this is a kid's movie?
Crap... oh, man, the list is long. Just taking Disney alone, we have stuff like "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971), "Pete's Dragon" (1976) and "The Fox and the Hound" (1981). Go to Disneyland or Disneyworld and you'll search in vain for the Fox and the Hound ride. These were movies so feeble that even Disney, which is still squeezing money out of five-minute skits from the Eisenhower administration, consigned them to merciful oblivion.
And the Disney movies were the good ones. Beyond that you had stuff like "Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny" and "Return to Boggy Creek". No, I'm not providing links. Just being reminded of these movies is creeping me out a little.
Basically, if you were a parent with a four-to-eight year old kid back in the Carter administration, you either took him to movies a little too old for him and hoped he wouldn't get nightmares about Darth Vader, or you wrote off the movies altogether. It was that bad.
Okay, so. You can question whether 'The Goonies' is a kid's movie; the protagonists seem to be between 10 and 16 years old, so arguably it was aimed more at a teenage audience. Other hand, the plot is pure classic kid stuff (pirate's map found in attic leads to treasure hidden in gangsters' hideout) and, well, so is the writing and dialogue. It was intended as a kids' movie... older kids, maybe, but still preteen.
And it falls pretty firmly in the weird category. The character of Sloth alone... (How many kids must have been scared senseless by that particular makeup job?) Not to mention the weird admixture of preteen, teen, and adult elements: the abundant cursing, most obviously, but also the violence and the bits of teen-sex-comedy stuff. It's not a bad movie (though the first half hour is painfully slow, and the plot has some pretty godawful holes), but it's definitely one that wouldn't be made today. Or if so, it would be unrecognizable.
The boys sat through it, and enjoyed some of the action sequences, but overall weren't that interested. If I'd seen it before, I probably wouldn't have let them see it -- too much profanity, some scary bits, plus some of the "mushy stuff" that Alan fiercely dislikes -- but I don't think they took any harm.
It's very much a period piece, I think. Generation X, God love them, don't seem inclined to whine about their awul childhoods. But I do notice that all the adults in this movie, without exception, are incompetent, absent, or actively evil. (Sloth excluded. It's not clear he's an adult, anyway.) That's common enough in cartoons, but in live action movies rather less so; kids wandering off and being kidnapped, tied up, trapped in underground dungeons, and what have you? Seems a bit less fun and more scary when it's live action.
Anyway. That was our Sunday on the screen.
(Chipmunks: did anyone see the new one? Thoughts?)