Kids’ Films Move to the Small Screen

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This morning, I was greeted by the news that Top Gun: Maverick earned a gigantic $124 million in North America during the regular three-day weekend. When Memorial Day receipts are counted, the Top Gun sequel is expected to bank $151 million. That’d be, by far, the biggest debut in star Tom Cruise’s career. And it’s not like Cruise has built his reputation on little-seen indie movies.

I also discovered that Disney just released the first trailer for its much-anticipated live-action hybrid of Pinocchio, featuring the likes of Tom Hanks and Cynthia Erivo. The trailer trumpeted that the film hails from the studio behind such box-office blockbusters as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

But Disney’s newest Pinocchio won’t have a chance to rack up similar box-office numbers. Why? The film will premiere Sept. 8 on Disney+.

While COVID numbers are reportedly going up in many parts of the country, we’re now living in, essentially, a post-COVID world. Many wondered what theaters would look like in that world: Would people ever return to the big screen? How would the movie-watching experience change?

This morning’s news tells us two things: One, theaters are indeed attracting audiences again. And the biggest of blockbusters are just as big as ever. But two, the overall number of blockbusters is down. And that might be because movies meant for kids and families have increasingly turned their back on the big screen and are heading to family living rooms instead.

To this point in 2022, we’ve seen seven films cross the $100 million threshold. All of them are rated PG-13 or below. That makes them, by society’s standards, family friendly-ish

But of those seven, just one is really designed as a family movie. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 slides in at No. 4 with $185.6 million.

Many other high-profile family flicks never made it to the multiplex. Pixar’s Turning Red went straight to Disney+. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania went straight to Amazon’s Prime Video. Both would’ve surely joined the $100 million club. The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild seems like a pretty safe bet to make significant moolah, too, but it also landed on Disney+.  And we haven’t even mentioned Rumble or Cheaper by the Dozen or … well you get the idea.

Now, take a look at 2019, the last full year we had at the theaters before COVID. A healthy 13 movies, released May 31 or before, crossed that $100 million threshold. Kids’ movies that made the cut in that time frame: Aladdin; How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World; Pokemon Detective Pikachu; Dumbo; and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.

And that doesn’t count some family heavyweights that were released after May of 2019: The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Frozen II—which were three of the top-four grossing films of the entire year.

If there’s one hole we see in the box office these days, it’s the true fit-for-all-ages family movie. It’s not because these movies don’t make money at the box office. Clearly, they do: gobs of it. But moviemakers seem to be counting on the draw of such movies to goose streaming subscription numbers instead.

‘Course, that’s good news and bad news for families themselves.

On one hand, there’s a definite convenience factor in being able to skip the sticky floors, popcorn prices and the significant hassle of going to the movies. It’s so much easier to just flip on the telly and let, say, Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers play, just a few steps away from the kitchen and bathroom.

But to watch Chip & Dale, you’re paying $7.99 a month for that convenience. And given that every streaming service wants its own share of the family pie, those monthly charges can easily multiply. And, of course, as we’ve discussed, you’re not just letting Chip & Dale into your house, either. You’re welcoming in a massive catalog of entertainment—some of which might not be family friendly at all.

This mass migration of family films to the small screen can, in the end, come with some big problems.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

One Response

  1. -I don’t do streaming at all so this recent trend is just plain annoying to me, especially since I’d love to see movies like the Lady and the Tramp and Pinocchio remakes, all the Disney nature movies that have come out since Penguins, and so forth.

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