So last week I finally watched Paddington with my family. I loved it. It’s clever, whimsical, beautifully-shot, and explored serious themes in a sensitive way. In short, it’s a good movie.
You’ll notice one word I purposefully avoided: cute.
*Climbs onto soapbox*
We should stop calling art for children “cute.” Here’s why:
- It sets a bad precedent. Let’s be honest. When most people describe a kids’ movie or book as “cute,” they don’t actually think it’s good. They usually mean it’s insipid or simplistic, but it’s just for kids so who cares. Talk about setting the bar low. Do you have any idea how easy it is to create something “cute”? Start with a talking baby animal, give it bright colors and a jazzy song, throw in a happy ending and message about believing in yourself, and you officially have a “cute” work of art.
This sets all the wrong incentives for creators. There’s no sense in putting all the time (and therefore money) needed to make a good work of art. As long as it’s “cute,” you’re set. So all the labor-intensive good art gets replaced by the mass-produced “cute” art. And we all suffer for it.
- It disrespects its audience. Below the “cute” surface is a low opinion of children: “Sure the movie’s dumb, but it’s just for kids, and kids’ll watch anything.” So shovel them the entertainment slop, because kids don’t care either way.
That’s probably why so much “cute” art refuses to show real conflict or real emotion: it assumes that kids can’t handle it. It’s also why “cute” art is so poorly planned and has so many gaps in narratorial logic. Kids won’t know the difference anyway, so who cares?
- It belittles children’s artists. A friend is working on a novel. Based on the topic and protagonist, I asked if it was a Young Adult novel (YA). She recoiled at the label.1 It’s easy to see why. So many of us view art for kids (or teens) as lesser. The important art is made for adults. Kids can get the simple stuff left over.
This is backwards. Think of the books, movies, and music that formed you. And no, I’m not talking about the books you pretend to love at fancy parties; I mean the ones that really shaped your imagination. Odds are, they’re the things you loved as a kid or teenager. I know that’s the case for me.
Because art has such a huge impact on young audiences, that should make it more important than art aimed at adults. As such, it should be taken seriously, and evaluated on its own merits.
So instead of calling the next kids movie “cute,” give it an honest evaluation. Is it good? Then say so! Is it bad? Then say that too.
When it comes to kids’ imaginations, there’s too much at stake to make excuses based on cuteness.
*Steps off soapbox.*
1 She changed her mind now, and is presenting it as YA. I don’t want to take all the credit but…
Photo by Matt Brown