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Get uncool, boy.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  Kids' movies didn't used to be hip. Heck, kids didn't used to be hip. There was a time young sprats were happy to sniffle when Bambi's mom died and when Old Yeller died and when Snow White died and...man, there was a lot of dyin' in kids' movies, wasn't there?

Well, not anymore (unless you count Pet Sematary as a kids' movie, which some twisted creepos apparently did when I went to see it; they carried their 7-year-old daughter out of the theater dazed and shaking). Not only is there no dying in films aimed at the brat set these days, there's also no anything—no passion, no sweeping drama, not much at all except hip quips and cynical winks. (Yes, this is an overstatement; indulge me—I'm trying to build a theme here.) Kids raised on Nickelodeon and Nike are too cool and too bored to take anything—even comedy—seriously.

So what we get are big smashes like the soon-to-be video hit George of the Jungle (PG, 1997), a movie so self-consciously self-conscious—a live-action film based on a cartoon, and an obscure one at that—that it renders the whole idea of criticism useless. It's a morass of repetitive physical humor (mostly involving jungle boy George, played by Brendan Fraser, smashing into things), knowing asides ("Meanwhile, over at the expensive waterfall set..."), and cheeky send-ups of other hip films. Some of the gags are clever, especially ones involving Ape the talking ape, with voice by John Cleese (and hey, when was the last time he was funny?). But the final scene sent chills down my spine—in a mind-bogglingly self-referential moment, this Disney film parodies the coronation scene from The Lion King. I don't know what's more frightening—the smug assurance of the filmmakers that every kid in the audience has seen that bit of concocted product, or the fact that they're probably right.

A number of films in recent years have resisted the urge to cater to their young audience's cathode-ray minds. Among them: The Indian in the Cupboard (1995, PG), a good old-fashioned tale of wonder; Toy Story (1996, G), which balances its computer-animated trendiness with a compelling, imaginative narrative; Babe (1996, G), quite simply the best kids' animal movie ever (and a real find for vegetarians); and, going back a ways, The Secret of NIMH (1982, G), still the best animated feature anyone's made since the Disney heyday (their artistic heyday, that is; not their world-domineering, ABC-owning, Michael Ovitz-firing, shut-up-and-wear-your-mouse-ears heyday).


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