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October 11, 2006

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Dennis Brennan

The Muppet Show and the Muppet movies don't count? Or are they in the "weird" category because they were edgy and worked on two levels? Also, I believe that Mister Rogers premiered in 1968 and Sesame Street in 1969-- would you put these in the "weird" or "suck" categories, or simply early manifestations of sincere efforts to produce programming for really little kids?
(Me, I think the Teletubbies and Baby Einstein are sorta weird. And then there's http://www.puppetparade.tv/index.php?cid=17 and http://www.tbn.org/index.php/2/4/p/126.html . Oh, the horror.)

Royce

(whimper) I *like* Bedknobs and Broomsticks...

Anyway, I think you're mixing up The Legend of Boggy Creek (a craptastic horror movie about a Tenessee Bigfoot) with Return to Witch Mountain (a slightly less craptastic movie about telekentic alien kids, which inexplicably featured Bette Davis and Christopher Lee.) Which doesn't make your point any less valid.

I believe Disney's long journey through the wilderness in the 70's and 80's had a lot to do with their aging animation team. The original Nine Old Men where getting... well, OLD. Meanwhile their successors hadn't the chops yet to replace them. The new guys' initial effort, the PG rated Black Cauldron, was a wierd assed mix of some good animation (for the time) combined with a storyline that was the most incoherent POS I've ever seen.

Doug M.

Dennis, we're talking movies here, not TV. There was some good kid's TV in the seventies, although almost all of it was on PBS.

(I note that kids' TV does not fit Strauss & Howe's paradigm nearly as well as kids' movies. Why? For discussion.)

The Muppet movies are an interesting borderline case. They're odd, but I'm not sure you could call them weird in the way that, say, The Secret of NIMH was weird. And they were a modest box office success.

But one or two good movies in twenty years won't break the paradigm; the presence of an occasional oasis does not make a desert any less sandy.

Royce, try going back and seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks again today. I think you''ll agree that, even if the "suck" bullet misses, the "weird" one will hit home.

Boggy Creek: no, that's the one. It was marketed as a kid's movie. Yes. A horror movie for kids. (Because it had kids in it, you see.)

The seventies were a strange, strange decade in which to be a child. Remember that the next time you encounter some fortyish person behaving oddly.

Escape to Witch Mountain: weird and suck. I still remember the commercials for that. "Them two kids... is WITCHES!" (Actually they were telekinetic aliens.)

There was a sequel, which was just as weird and sucked worse: Return From Witch Mountain, in which the kids come back to Earth for a vacation. That's the one with Davis and Lee.

Note that this story of persecuted children fleeing evil, greedy adults was one of the darkest things ever brought out under the Disney label. As with all other Disney movies from the 1970s, it has been quietly swept under the carpet. (Although, bizarrely, there is a fan club. Seventies nostalgia is a powerful thing.)

Black Cauldron, yeah, weird and suck again. It's based on the Lloyd Alexander book, in which the eponymous cauldron turns people into zombies. I remember thinking, wait, Disney's going to make a movie out of /that/? How's that going to work? As it turned out, not very well.


Doug M.

Bernard Guerrero

you either took him to movies a little too old for him and hoped he wouldn't get nightmares about Darth Vader

Heh! Vader was cool, but the pseudo-documentary about Bigfoot (sort of "In Search Of" like) that I saw right before Star Wars scared the bejeezus out of me. And my Dad got mad at me about it!

That said, I think you're reading too much into the period and not enough into the specifics. Disney's magical transformation can be traced directly to Eisner coming over from Paramount in 1984, and bringing Katzenberg along with him. Them plus Frank Wells is all you need. And Eisner was helping make solid movies (along with Barry Diller) well before moving over to Disney: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Heaven Can Wait, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Elephant Man, Reds, Flashdance, Footloose, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Airplane and three installments of the Star Trek cycle.

I'm willing to give you a period of time in the late Sixties and Seventies where kids as an audience weren't being courted, but I suspect that this, as with most bad things that happened to America in the 20th, had something to do with the Baby Boom. :^) Specifically, I think, the dead period in there corresponds to when the Boom was just starting to get post-college disposable income but had not yet settled into having kids. Just plain old supply and demand. As soon as they started having kids, the bright boys started making stuff for them to take their kids to.

Carlos

"Carlos thinks that their theory of generational change is a great pile of steaming dingo's kidneys."

Well, this is somewhat overstating the case. The generational concept is very useful -- would I diss the Boomers as often as I do if I thought the concept had no validity? -- and I find Strauss and Howe's almost Hegelian progression of the generations intriguing.

But I dislike the way it's casually (and causally) applied, becoming almost like Chinese birth-year astrology in the process.

Doug M.

"Disney's magical transformation can be traced directly to Eisner coming over from Paramount in 1984, and bringing Katzenberg along with him."

Mm, no. From Eisner's arrival to TLM's opening is five and a half years. That's an awfully long time to get a revival under way. And it was Eisner's much-maligned predecessor, Ron Miller, who made two key decisions: greenlighting "Roger Rabbit" and setting up the Disney Channel.

Eisner's first films were... "Flight of the Navigator", "The Great Mouse Detective", and "Benji the Hunted". It's almost forgotten now, but Eisner didn't come in to bring a golden age of Disney /movies/. The big moneymakers at that time were the theme parks; the symbol of the early Eisner Age was not brilliant new animation, but the groundbreaking of EuroDisney in 1987. Disney had to be forced into producing TLM... it was a direct response to Don Bluth's success with "An American Tail".

Counterfactual: whack Eisner in 1980. Disney stumbles, because Eisner was actually a good manager back in the pre-Ovitz days. And it probably doesn't respond as quickly to "Tail" -- Eisner picked up on that quickly.

But we still have "Tail" and the rest of the Bluth movies. And we still see an uptick in kids movies, because there was a sudden surge in good live-action kid's movies around 1989-90; "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids", for instance. And there's still Roger Rabbit, which was a success, so we'll still see a strong Disney response -- just delayed by a year or two. And Disney still has Clements and Musker, so that first film will probably be The Little Mermaid.

(There is a worst case scenario, in which Clements and Musker do "Treasure Planet" first -- a movie they'd been wanting to make since the early 1980s. But I don't see it, because TP was rather wild and experimental, and they had to earn the right to do it by producing several hits first, most notably TLM and "Hercules".)

So, take Eisner out, we get changes in the details but the Revolution still occurs on schedule. (You get bigger changes after 1990, but that's something else again.)

"Eisner was helping make solid movies (along with Barry Diller) well before moving over to Disney"

Yes, and...?

We're talking about kids' movies here. To make it concrete, movies you'd be comfortable taking your six-year-old-daughter to, and that she'd enjoy.

... I wonder if a youthful fling with Ayn Rand may leave a long term tendency to believe in the Great Capitalist Entrepreneur theory of history. Certainly Rand would have found Eisner incredibly hot... But point is, it doesn't work here.

"I think, the dead period in there corresponds to when the Boom was just starting to get post-college disposable income but had not yet settled into having kids. Just plain old supply and demand."

This is an elegant and plausible theory. Unfortunately, it doesn't map to the facts very well.

If it was about the Boom, then we'd expect the upswing in the late 1970s, when the first Boom-spawned tots started wailing for cartoons. In fact the opposite was true; the Carter and early Reagan years were the desolate nadir of kid flicks.

Now, you could argue that the first wave wasn't numerous enough to make a difference. Well, okay. Let's go to the numbers. The US birthrate declined steadily through the 1960s and early '70s, and then ticked upward in the late 1970s -- the so-called "Baby Bump", which was really more like a long, flattened hump stretching from 1977 until about 1994. (The local maximum was 1990, with 4.2 million births; that absolute number wouldn't be matched again until 2005, and the 1990 birth /rate/ still hasn't been matched.)

So, the number of six-year-olds bottoms out in the early 1980s, then begins to rise steadily. That maps to the data better.

But still not very well, because the rise was slow and gradual, while the advent of kids' movies was explosive -- there were none in 1980, none in 1985, a whole bunch of them in 1990 and thereafter. It's hard to connect this to the slow, gentle rise in the number of kids.

Further: while the number of kids went up, it never got close to the numbers seen in the peak Boom years. (We have yet to match the 1957 peak of 4.3 million births, and we'll probably never see that year's birth /rate/ again.) The number of kids, in absolute terms, was about the same in 1971 and 1991. The number of kids _as a proportion of the population_ was of course higher in 1971. Yet 1971 was a the beginning of the empty years, while 1991 was well into the new Golden Age. In fact, the "market share" of kids as a proportion of the population bottomed out in the mid-to-late 1980s... exactly the time that the kids' movie renaissance was getting under way.

So, I don't think demographics is a strong explanation.

No, I think there was a sudden sharp cultural shift here. And I don't think it was market-driven. It may have discovered a market waiting for it, but that's something else again.

More anon.


Doug M.

Dennis Brennan

I liked Bedknobs & Broomsticks too. Angela Lansbury and a bunch of cartoon characters versus the Nazis. What's not to love? (It was also nominated for five Oscars, and won one (for special visual effects)).

James Bodi

I liked B &B too. Mind you, I was six. Witch Mountain seemed okay too, when I was 8 or whatever. But I think Doug's right, not many good movies for kids when I was one. OTOH, my impression of the seventies was not much consideration was given to kids generally. The schools had old text books, antique educational movies and ancient teachers.

tim gueguen

The Fox and the Hound has just been reissued by Disney. I saw an ad for it the other night.

Luke

I loved "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" too, for precisely the reasons Dennis states.

Having been born in 1985, I can attest to the joys of this resurgence; NIMH remains really weird and creepy. When I saw "American Tail" I had pretty bad nightmares for a month--I was three, people, but one does check with one's parents--though the sequels were pretty tame and fall in line with better kids entertainment, the first is more decidely weird/scary than "kids movie" though it does establish the animation/songs formula, and did to some degree cash in on its soundtrack--a cover of "Somewhere Out There" remains wildly popular on soft-rock stations and it's on request at some people's weddings. If you were 5-7 in 1987, you'd be ~26 today, and thus defying the odds by marrying young. Or you're weird and like to reappropriate children's sings.

As to children's TV...hmm. Doug notes that the best Seventies kids' TV was on PBS, which makes me think of Sesame Street. By the Eighties, you had the wildly popular /Ghostwriter/ and by the eighties you had Ghostbusters, Thundercats, GI Joe [Watch it again, it stinks of Americana Reaganism, especially the Nancy Reagan-Betty Ford Sponsored season about drugs.] Muppet Babies, Ducktales, Tailspin--which, in retrospect, was Casablanca for kids, sans Nazis.

I suppose children's cartoons should be divvied up from Sesame Street and live action shows, but, well, hmm. It seems that children's TV gets better before children's movies, but doesn't head quite the same way; in part because Sesame Street-PBS doesn't have the same values as Disney. GI Joe lacked the song-and-dance stuff of Disney, but was totally about selling the action figures. Captain Planet...oh, man.

I'll get back to this.

Nora Bombay

I find this fascinating as I was a 1976 bicentenial baby. The year with the absolute lowest birth rate ever in the history of the united states.

So I've spent my live in between the trends of those a big older than me - see things marketed at "Generation X"

or the things marketed younger- see this catered group.

My brother was born in 82, and we had a radically different cultural upbringing. Living in the same house with the same parents.

I think technology may have played a role as well. When I went to computer summer school in 83 or 84 it was the ultimate in geekdom. By the time the brother got there in 89/90, it wasn't..

And as always, the early 80's was when the older, wealthier segment of the boomers first started to have kids.

(my mother had me at 29, and was the first of her friends to have a baby).

Nora Bombay

I find this fascinating as I was a 1976 bicentenial baby. The year with the absolute lowest birth rate ever in the history of the united states.

So I've spent my live in between the trends of those a big older than me - see things marketed at "Generation X"

or the things marketed younger- see this catered group.

My brother was born in 82, and we had a radically different cultural upbringing. Living in the same house with the same parents.

I think technology may have played a role as well. When I went to computer summer school in 83 or 84 it was the ultimate in geekdom. By the time the brother got there in 89/90, it wasn't..

And as always, the early 80's was when the older, wealthier segment of the boomers first started to have kids.

(my mother had me at 29, and was the first of her friends to have a baby).

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