Skip to comments.The Culture’s Animating Values - (directors, producers see family-friendly themes on the rise)
Posted on 06/09/2005 3:16:04 PM PDT by CHARLITE
The conventional Hollywood wisdom has long held that religious and family-friendly movies are not high earners. But this wisdom is beginning to wane in the face of recent theater trends. The five top-grossing movies so far this year are rated either PG or PG-13, and all of them have surpassed the $100 million mark. Two of last years top 5, Shrek 2 and The Incredibles, were PG-rated animated films.
This kind of success is causing executives to rethink their standard fare. Family-friendly movies, especially animated ones, have brought people to the movies who havent gone in years. And they will be more inclined to return for moreprovided there is something for them to see.
In the past, religion writers have pointed the movie industry to the link between ratings and profits. And a study released this week by the Dove Foundation came to some important conclusions confirming this relationship.
Since 2000, R-rated movie production has dropped by 12 percent per year, while G-rated film production is up by 38 percent over the same period. This reflects the market reaction to the fact that between 2000 and 2003, the average profit for an R-rated film was a comparatively paltry $17 million when contrasted to the average G movie, which brought in a $92 million profit.
One comes away from the Dove report with a sense that the movie industry is beginning to recognize a profit opportunity in producing more morally robust movies.
In 1999, following an initial Dove study, Joe Roth of Disney made a pledge to change the ratio of adult action films to family-friendly films from 4:1 to 1:1. And the company is quite close to keeping that promise, as 48 percent of their releases since 2000 are rated either G or PG.
One of the much-anticipated Disney releases for later this year is the first installment of C. S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis was one of the most popular Christian theologians and apologists of the 20th century, and his fiction books are imbued with a deep sense of Christian morality.
This kind of religiously informed storytelling, along with J.R.R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings trilogy, has the potential not only to be enormously profitable but also to be morally salutary.
Disney stands in a long line of entrepreneurs and capitalists who had a unique insightgained in part from looking at the surprising success of wholesome fare and a certain intuitionand then profited from it.
Just as Hollywood has traditionally been reluctant to back films that tap into the religious interests of the buying public, organized Christian denominations have been too suspicious of the film industry.
The religious right has decried Hollywood for many years without understanding the core motivation behind film making, which is not to corrupt but to make movies people want to see. This drive is neither moral nor immoral: It only means that the film market is a moral blank slate.
Today, the message has been sent. Handsome profits draw new producers and new products into the field. This is the result one would expect whether a movie promotes God or the Devil. And it is a sad commentary that many businesses would serve either depending on where the profits are.
For now, it seems that the smart money is with faith and family, which is all to the good. May we appreciate the moment and all that it will do to channel the tremendous talents of Hollywood toward the kind treatment of religion.
The real challenge comes when the profits dry up and capitalists again face the temptation to profit from peoples desire to flee the good. The market is a remarkable institution that serves society precisely what it wants. Love or hate what Disney and others have done, the success of family films reflects the values that animate our culture.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute.
Maybe so, but even the G films are stupid and disgusting now.
Remember "Cat in the Hat"?
Let's be real.
Even the old Biblical epics were sword and sandal movies with some phony piety thrown in. Sword and sandal movies were about Hollywood showing as much bare flesh as it could get away with before nudity. The "piety" was so the Legion of Decency would not go ballistic over Gina Lollabrigida's costume. But once it was okay to show boobs, there was no reason to keep making sword and sandal movies. Nudity is the cheapest special effect.
The culture of Hollywood has always been bohemian and therefore intrinsically hostile to traditional religion. Pious movie stars (Deeply Catholic Loretta Young was nicknamed Attila the Nun. Marlene Dietrich sneered that the reason there were so many churches in Hollywood is that Loretta Young built one every time she sinned.) always stood out.
PIXAR Animation is a big contributor to this... Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Bug's Life, Incredibles ... all well-written STORIES with state of the art computer animation. I think each one did at least $300 million plus once merchandising is factored in.
Pixar was founded by guys who used to work at Lucasfilm, but left to do their own thing. (And did it well, I might add.)
Ed Catmull, Casey Hoddenfield (sic)and a few others worked down the hall from me at what was then known as Sprockets Systems, now Skywalker Sound and Lucas Digital. Catmull and his co-workers all came from pretty solid family backgrounds. They were intent on producing a solid story with good dialog with the technical aspects taking a backseat. (Of course that backseat was pretty deluxe and top-of-the-line due to the incredible talent involved in the undertaking.)
Ben Burtt, Lucas' Academy Award-winning sound designer recently announced he will be leaving Lucasfilm to go work for Pixar.
That is fascinating to me - I remember reading somewhere an article about the (SmallTalk-based???) sound processing they had, where (back in the 80s even) you could graphically manipulate the sounds on screen, on what at the time must have been fantastically expensive hardware.
Yes, some of the digital sound equipment used today in the film industry was developed for the Lucasfilm sound designers by the technical support team in the 1980's. Today, Skywalker Sound has one of the most amazing and up-to-date recording and post-production facilities anywhere--and Sywalker Ranch is still the place to work for many entertainment industry folk.
Great interview! Thank-you. Ah, yes, the early days at Lucasfilm were full of promise, creativity, and optimism.(Not that it still isn't--it's just changed. More work specification; less chance for individual talent to spread their wings unless they go elsewhere.) Nice to see Ed Catmull's vision come to fruition.