A Cinematic Paradigm Shift?

Last week, I did something I rarely do: I went to the cinema. It’s been months and months – I think the last thing I saw on the big screen was Inception, and before that, Avatar (yep, I get out TONNES). Now, anyone who knows me personally knows that patience is not my forte – and the combination of overspending, restraint, ignorant texters, whisperers and chair kickers usually make it an experience I’d gladly avoid. But getting together with friends at 6:30 on a Wednesday night to see a children’s movie turned out to be just the ticket to avoid all of the above.

With a title like Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, it does leave a bit of an impression that this movie could be, as a certain someone delicately put it, “totally lame.” But when I saw the trailer a few months ago, I made a mental note that I was going to see it because I thought it looked fantastic! After an atrocious dinner out (waiting 1.5 hours to get two salads and some chicken fingers, then having to leave without eating so you can MAKE your movie does not give you the right to still charge us, Moxies), we made it with seconds to spare, donned our 3D glasses and set about eating in the dark (way more challenging than it sounds), settling into the opening sequence of the movie.

I’m going to cut to the chase here: this movie was INTENSE!! At the risk of sounding old, I remember the days (oh God) when a PG rating was given to a Disney movie because Aladdin made a sexual innuendo. Today, movies seem to be getting all the more terrifying, being injected with themes way more mature than 9 year olds should be able to understand, and being rated the same thing! Now, I should probably mention the fact that I’m actually all for this. I’m just wondering if it’s a sort of paradigm shift in the cinema – are movies getting scarier and more adult, or are children getting more and more desensitised?

Within minutes of LotG, the audience witnesses two highly adorable baby owls falling out of their tree, landing on the forest floor, and, unable to fly yet, getting kidnapped and taken off to join masses of other young abductees who are given the choice: join their “new family” of “Pure Ones”, or become blinded and enslaved. Pretty upsetting, no? Let’s not get started on the Holocaust allusions – this movie could basically be set in Nazi Germany, following a young hostage trying to escape an evil “King” hell-bent on worldwide racial purification – in the short 90 minutes, we observe brainwashing, torture, and epic, though incredibly gory battle scenes.  It was more than enough to make me upset – which leaves me with the question, am I just behind the times?

What was scary when I was a kid is laughable by today’s standards. The primitive TNG Borg in all their hooded glory, and Daleks with egg whisks and plungers for hands that were clearly being pushed along from behind. Today, kids’ movies are full of uncomfortable, upsetting, and downright scary themes and images, which make you wonder if the world’s senses to scariness have just been numbed. I remember thinking the same thing last summer at Coraline, a movie adapatation of a book by one of my favourite authors.  It was a treat for the fantasy lover in me, and, visually Burtonesque, was something I came away loving. But again with the PG rating: when I was a kid, a movie filled with grotesque images of a child’s father going crazy and melting in the garden, an insectlike creature, pincers literally pointing out of the screen, and a furiously controlling mother who turns into a monster, stealing away children’s souls by replacing their eyes with buttons… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch it. Yes, I was the kid who had to wait until she was 12 before watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I say I’m all for these scare tactics in family movies and TV shows. And I am. A couple of months ago I wrote about what can successfully deliver a fright, and what’s pretty much the equivalent of horror porn. I can’t stomach traditional scary movies, but I am genuinely affected by themes, hints, and possibilities of the frightening. These days, I’m seeing more and more of it in what are supposed to be “family friendly” – LotG, at times, was downright disturbing. Racial purification and slavery aren’t the most lighthearted of topics, and though watching a bunch of birds in helmets duelling it out is never going to be quite the same as watching Gerard Butler beating up a bunch of Spartans, Zack Snyder has still instilled fear, shock, and visual effects that are nothing short of epic.  You have to wonder though, what kids 15 years younger than me came away with – were they as simultaneously disturbed and thrilled as I was? Are children these days more immune to scare tactics, and what does that say about the future of cinema? I think giving people food for thought by genuinely creating a reaction is a good thing, but I can’t help but wonder where this trend is leading. Am I going to be more scared to go to a movie, fifteen years down the line, than my child?

Back to the Guardians. It was epic, it was visually stunning. The tiniest of details were captured beautifully, and dazzled through the elements leaving you absolutely exhilarated. It was emotional, and it was jam-packed with action, heroism, and an extensive list of Hollywood voices: Jim Sturgess, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, and – be still my heart – Sam Neill? Count me in. If you’re in the mood for a Tolkien-esque tale of fantasy, adventure, and triumph over evil, I can’t recommend this movie enough.


  1. Personally I avoid movies like this like the plague because I don’t enjoy their simplicity. The black/white, evil/good scenarios aren’t appealing to me. I need ambiguity, and I don’t expect them to write a movie for an 8-year-old where I can relate to the villain as well as the hero. Not that those movies are bad, just that I’m not their target market. Basically my rule is that someone has to die in it for me to see a film these days, with very few exceptions. I’m odd, I know.

    That being said, I do think the possible paradigm shift has to do with parents/adults seeing the movies (parents with their kids, adults like you just for fun). If Cars or Ice Age didn’t include something that appealed to adults (the thing being humor above the heads of children) it would be 1.5 hours of absolute torture. In many households, kids watch these movies back-to-back, even the same film in a lot of instances, and this would multiply the torture exponentially.

    I was “allowed” to watch R-Rated movies when I was a kid, though I had to cover my eyes for the sexy parts. For the most part, though, I understood the violence and heroism to be what it was: movie production. It’s all part of the entertainment aspect. I’m not sure the same could be said of the entirety of that demographic these days, therefore you get animated films with bits here and there inserted purely for adult satisfaction while cloaked in child-friendly symbolism or enigmatic puns.

    But, again, I don’t watch that type of film, so I could be WAY off the mark here. 🙂

  2. wow what a cast, jim sturgess, i’m sold!!!

    very interesting thoughts em. i think films are getting a bit more scary, because young people in this generation do seem to be a bit more desensitised than we were when we were little. i was such a baby getting scared of disney films lol, and kids these days (hahaha look at us oldies) are out there dressing adult, watching adult films, all sorts of things. but this can be good or bad, like you said some of the films have more mature themes than they used to and I don’t think its a bad thing that it gets children thinking about things earlier.

    looks like a great one, i’ll probably end up seeing it this weekend 🙂

    1. ahahha don’t be ashamed for being scared of Disney movies. I’m 17 now, and I live with my nose in a book. In Disney movies and in Harry Potter, I still get scared when I know the character is about to do something wrong. When I was little-er, I used to actually go and hide when Harry chose to go after the Philosophers stone. I had no problems with attacking Quirrel, but if Harry ever thought about breaking the rules (even for the greater good), I would panic and hide… 😛

  3. I see two movies a week! Lol. I am such a theatre geek, but I love it–I think it’s the smell of popcorn that gets me, even though I never indulge! But getting back to your choice in film. This movie’s previews looked absolutely awesome—graphics and everything. I am glad to hear YOU enjoyed it, however, I agree whole-heartedly with your bits and lines about how ratings and films have changed for kids since we were younger. It may be because parents are going to bring their kids to these movies no matter what–but really, sometimes the ideas behind the films are truly just too profound and epically scary for a young kid that it’s better to leave them at home. I remember my aunt brought my cousins to the movies three years ago, and it was a Disney movie–and there was a preview for like the haunted mansion or something that TOTALLY terrified the kids. It was awful. It’s amazing how different the movies are these days for youngsters. let’s be honest, Toy Story 3 wasn’t made for young kids–it was made for us, and if I was a young kid there’d def be parts of that movie that may have really truly scared me.

  4. Interesting thoughts, Em.
    I personally do not really like that movies that are intended for kids seem to get scarier and scarier.
    Example: I really enjoyed the first (and maybe second) Harry Potter movie(s). I liked the whole story that J.K. Rowling had thought up, but did it really have to turn so dark and violent in the subsequent books/movies? I don’t know.
    It’s like nothing can shock kids these days anymore and that is, IMHO, shocking.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy well-written movies, even if they have scary and violent elements, but there needs to be a purpose for it in the storyline.

    Maybe I am just a sissy, though. I’ve never been a big fan of scary movies.

    P.S. And what is it with the Holocaust allusions… for someone from Germany, those hints in movies can get pretty old pretty quickly. Just sayin’. When are we going to get over this?

    1. I’ve never been a fan of scary movies either, and I don’t like scary for the sake of scary. I like things that cause a reaction for a reason though, and if that reason’s to educate and plant seeds of awareness or curiosity, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  5. I don’t get to the movies much, myself. It’s irrationally expensive, and when you factor in snacks and drinks and all that, it becomes more expensive than a nice dinner out. I really only go when it’s something I literally CANNOT WAIT to see on DVD.

    I, personally, think that children are become desensitized due to the things they are now exposed to. When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch several shows on basic cable and MTV because it was “too mature” for my age. Now I see children playing violent video games and watching movies that make ME blush at the age of 27 and that makes me sad. Childhood isn’t something to be rushed through or spoiled.

    1. Agreed – it’s a fine line between growing up too quickly and being exposed to things that make you really think at an earlier age. Children should be allowed to be children, but encouraging them to think about big issues is a good thing too.

  6. Yes, I agree that children’s movies have become more violent, intense and noticeably politically charged. However, Disney movies had a few of these themes as well, they were just covered better. Lion King had a brutal murder and was based on Hamlet, Bambi’s mom got shot in the beginning of the film, and did you ever watch the Secret of Nimh??? That movie was crazy intense for a kid. Don’t forget The Neverending Story, where the Nothing is going to eat a world, and a kid must save it.

    So really, these intense, war-torn, adult-themed movies have been around for awhile.

    But one movie that pissed me off because it was obviously going for the brainwashing technique? Happy Feet.

    But I guess I can’t talk, because Fern Gully did the same thing, and I used to love that movie. ha…and to this day I think we should stop deforestation because we need to save those little fairies! : )

    1. Oh I LOVED Fern Gully!! I still do! 🙂 I haven’t seen Happy Feet but it’s interesting you mention it because I think it’s the same people that made LotG…

  7. Hi Emily,
    I think that I will definitely check this out.
    I’m wondering if it might be a good thing that these movies are being made?
    You mentioned Holocaust allusions and while we might shudder at the thought of children being exposed to atrocities, I’m much more afraid of what will happen if they aren’t.
    Children do need to know about the incredibly serious dangers in the world and let’s face it. Boring history lessons just don’t cut it.
    All around me I see and hear evidence of the kind of thinking that leads to these atrocities and adults are often completely unaware how they are contributing to the possibility of violence.
    Another movie that I totally enjoyed was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. While it was a bit more fun than really scary, it sure made a massive statement about our current culture and I think it is imperative that we urge children to always question the norm.
    These movies might not accomplish that, but I applaud the creators for trying.

    1. Yes! It definitely is a good thing. There’s a difference between exposing them to adult themes and making them scary for the sake of being scary. That’s one of the many reasons I loved this movie. You’re right, children aren’t going to pay attention reading textbooks or being lectured, but when it’s snuck into something they’re already engaged in and raises their awareness, I think that’s a very good thing 🙂

  8. We used to go to the movies ALL THE TIME but since we got netflix and started streaming movies online we’ve stopped. It’s just too expensive.

    This movie does look good though! And I totally agree with you that “Disney” movies are getting worse and worse. Where are the good ole’ musicals and sketched characters of the good ole’ days! Haha

  9. I kind of miss the days of innocent films that weren’t so graphic… I saw the trailer for The Scorcerer’s Apprentice and was bummed as it looked way too intense for me to take my nephew to it. But I might be a bit of a prude. I just miss the days of great Disney movies, like Beauty & the Beast. Granted, I do really love the Pixar films of the last couple of years…

    Sounds like an interesting movie!!

    1. I really want to see the Sorcerer’s Apprentice!! I remember the animated one when I was a kid, I’m excited to see what they do with it this time around. It’s funny I say now that I’m all for mature themes and exciting movies, but when I have kids I’ll probably end up doing just what my parents did and make them wait until they’re 12 before watching ANYTHING lol

  10. Concerning what commenter San said about the Holocaust in films: Though I disagree with the idea that we should stop caring about the Holocaust, I very much agree that “THIS = HOLOCAUST” is a film cliche that needs to be retired — along with the “arms-out-like-Jesus-means-you’re-a-martyr” device.

    Thoughtful post. I will say, though, that kids movies might be getting more “adult” and more scary, but they’re also getting more awesome, which means that when kids grow up and re-visit their favorite movies, they’ll fall in love with them even more as opposed to cringing and wondering how they could ever have liked it. (I am looking at you, Little Monsters starring Fred Savage and Howie Mandel!)

    1. Oh goodness, “arms-out-like-Jesus-means-you’re-a-martyr” is SO overdone. It’s the worst part of Kenneth Branagh (shudder)’s Hamlet. Next to when ninjas start busting through the windows and breaking chandeliers, lol. I think it’s important kids learn about these things, and totally agree with what you said about it being scary if they DON’T…

  11. We don’t get to the movies much either – at least not without the children. We went to see The Social Network a couple of weeks ago – our first “grown up” movie for about 3 years!

    Love your blog btw – just found my way here via the comment you made on my blog. You write wonderfully!

  12. I have to agree that Coraline actually really freaked me out. Maybe it’s just the whole Burton thing, but I felt like it wasn’t something I’d just be fine watching as a kid. Or maybe kids aren’t as concerned or scared because they’re still thinking the world is just fine and nothing like that is even conceivable. So they’re not worried. That said, it’s gotta be hard to write a kid’s movie. I mean, it’s hard to think like a kid, put something that’s interesting and new and creative out there without making it super boring and safe. Maybe writers and directors and producers are struggling to walk that line.

    1. I imagine it must be SO hard… especially knowing you’re putting something out there that not only has to please young and old alike, but also is safe enough for all the protective parents out there not to want to send in complaints by the bucketload. I’ve always been drawn to Tim Burton though – I’ll definitely be raising my future kids with Jack Skellington and the Corpse Bride 🙂

  13. We haven’t been to the movies in a while until last weekend when we saw The Town (which was excellent!) I saw the preview for Legend of the Guardians and right away it looked scary to me because I’m kind of afraid of owls…haha. I think kids’ movies have always had some scary, grim themes, but they’re just being shown in more graphic and visually frightening ways – probably because kids are so desensitized these days, they don’t care if a mother deer gets shot or if dinosaurs are roaring. They need to see something creepy in order to be affected. But this is coming from the kid who was frightened of E.T….I’m kind of a baby!

  14. I agree that I think as a society we are becoming, or have become, desensitized to all those things that used to be shocking. Hollywood is in it for the almighty buck ($) and they create movies they know will create a buzz with parents, whether it’s because of the storyline or because of the graphics. THEN it seems they consider the kids and what they’re able to handle, not the other way around (consider kids first, then dazzle the parents).

    In any case, this movie looks interesting and I suspect we’ll review it once it comes out on DVD. If it looks like something our y 8YO can handle, then we may let him watch it. Then again, we may not if the themes are too upsetting. We’ll just have to see. 🙂

  15. I have to say thank you everyone for commenting and apologise for the lack of response – I usually write a lot on my lunch break but there’s a filter just gone up, so I haven’t been able to 😦

  16. I was never into going to the cinema to watch a movie. I always wait for the DVD to come out and watch it at home, where I can lie down and relax. While eating!!! 🙂

  17. I enjoyed this post! And you write really good reviews. And you make them very thought provoking I could have sworn I was reading this in TIME magazine in the entertainment section. Great work. I’m going to have to see this movie now that you’ve recommended it. As far as your point, I agree. These movies are so much scarier than they used to be for kids.

    Caroline was disturbing for me. I didn’t like the movie actually, there was nothing in it that was appealing. I’m not all for that kind of movie, but I do understand when the darkness has a point, like in Harry Potter. People say she shouldn’t have killed all those main characters but she was trying to teach kids how to deal with death, a very real thing some kids have to face.

    Anyways, I’m all for darkness that has a point to it, but goriness or violence or scary things for the sake of being gory violent and scary is not for me. I’m not a big fan of horror movies for this reason. Paranormal Activity 2? Skipping it!

    1. Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for your kind comments about my post 🙂 I REALLY appreciate that! And shh shh shh I haven’t finished Harry Potter yet! LOL!

  18. “Am I going to be more scared to go to a movie, fifteen years down the line, than my child?”

    I wonder about this a lot. It always worries me to see the underlying story plots of movies and how, yet, they are made for children. I think I will opt to get my kids reading at a young age ha ha.

  19. ahahaa. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but it does seem wicked cool.

    I also see what you’re going on with the desensitized thing. I can’t handle scary movies either (well, the old ones like The Shining are almost funny now because effects have changed), but I watch my share of television and anime, and there’s some pretty graphic stuff. We never realized just how graphic the Eragon video game I bought was until we also bought a bigger TV. 🙂 And Eragon is pretty cheezy when it comes to video games.

    We have to write horror stories in Writer’s Craft class, and a lot of us are having a hard time coming up with a “monster” we actually find scary to write about. Gone are the days when the Frankenstein monster terrorized children (I actually wanted really bad just to hug the poor thing and tell him it was all going to be okay when I read it…), and a lot of the things we suggest as lame, or average, are things that scare the hell out of our parents and our teacher (who is only a few years older than we are now). Like one girl suggested a demonic life sized Barbie doll that ate children, and we all laughed, while our teacher looked at us in horror. My mother told me that the scariest thing I could write about for her was a disease brought about by aliens, a world-wide pandemic; but I don’t find this scary at all, having grown up under flu and SARS and AIDS pandemics, not to mention with cancer being in the forefront of all you’re taught in school.

    I think the best example of this is with Doctor Who. It used to scare people back in the day (or so I’m told) and now we laugh at multi-coloured Daleks almost thwarted by a Jammy Dodger, and smile as Amy, Rory, and the Doctor are chased through Venice by supposed Vampires. Yet what scares us all the most are those damn angels (yes, I’ve seen the original [I was in grade 6 too and it was the second episode I ever saw])… Which perhaps suggests that our concept of what is terrorizing has shifted rather than changed. In the past it was creepy enough just to mutilate or disgrace the human body, and now… perhaps it is what we don’t know that scares us, or a fear of an alternate reality outside of what we can sense.

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this too much, haven’t I? Personally, the scariest thing I can think of is to realize you are the monster yourself. Perhaps that’s why I related to the Frankenstein monster…

    Great post. 🙂

    1. Thanks, and thanks for such an insightful comment 🙂 One of the reasons I loved Torchwood so much was that often the “monsters” weren’t big scary aliens, they were things like Death or genetic experiments gone wrong – that much more close to home made them that much scarier. I don’t know what I’d write about if I had to create a genuinely scary monster these days…

  20. “Are movies getting scarier and more adult, or are children getting more and more desensitized?” I totally feel A and B. Because kids are becoming so numb to age-appropriate horror, their movies are being bumped up to “adult” level just to get a reaction, and it’s really sad. Mainly its because nowadays, we provide them with intensely realistic and cruelly themed video games and they’re all watching R-rated flicks with older siblings since they are mere babes. Sad right? Because I remember watching NBC when it came out in 1993 and being completely creeped out! LOL.

    Also, side note, even at 27, Coraline can still give me the heebie jeebies based simply on the button eyes.

    Also, total tangent, but Sean and I have been noticing the same trend with animal violence in movies. It seems movie makers have noticed that people are no longer shocked by cruel, inhumane and unnecessary violence to humans in movies as much — but we still provide a reaction when it is to a pet or animal in a film, and we’ve noticed a much larger amount of THAT in flicks now when they try to define the “bad” guy. Boo, so crappy. Because it makes me think it’ll just make younger generations a lot more tolerant and numb to animal violence, just like the horror flicks and video games have numbed them to people violence.

  21. I thought about this a lot after watching Coraline. That movie freaked the hell out of me and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to watch it as a child.

    Overall, I think kids today are exposed to so much more than when we were kids. They see more, hear more, get more from the internet, ads and music. What was shocking many years ago – two people in the same bed together show in a movie – is commonplace these days. In order to illict reactions, things have to get more and more shocking.

  22. Thanks for the review, you are very passionate and I will put this on my list of “must sees”. I also don’t go to the cinema very often, however this weekend I went to view “Hereafter” starring Matt Damon, directed by Clint Eastwood. I was so excited to see the movie. Did not live up to what I had hoped it would be. Overall good movie, however nothing to rush out and see.
    Hope you feel better soon. Sending you love and wellness.

  23. I haven’t seen the movie but is it possible kids would look at it just as an animated movie? Would they actually get the historical and social context of it? Maybe that’s why it was rated PG?
    I always found it interesting how in Germany movies with violence are rated up while in the US it’s the movies with nudity or sex. In Germany no one bats an eye at a nudity even in (daytime) TV commercials.

    1. I know!! I remember being in Portugal and we had some German TV channels and ALL the ads and music videos had naked chests on display lol. I think Europe is way more liberal than North America when it comes to nudity – even in magazines, I remember trying to explain the concept of “page 3 girl” to people here and they were just mortified!

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