This weekend weathered the release of the not-at-all awaited (except maybe by some beleaguered parents or babysitters) Smallfoot. This movie slid in on a one-horse open sleigh directly into a drifted bank—and it certainly got upsot (upsot?). While it’s too early for Christmas song references to be sneaking into my column, it’s also way too early for a “winter” movie like this. And, there’s no good time of year for an animated movie that is this mediocre-to-bad to come out. There’s little excuse or good reason for a movie like Smallfoot to even come out, period.
Dear reader, by now you know that I am happy to take offense at any bad movie that is released, going so far as to write entire reviews or columns as some sort of infrequently-read writer’s catharsis. In my defense, doing this literal job as an arts editor working 40 hours a week for a college publication for which I don’t get paid is a “better way to express myself” than accosting my classmates. So here we are.
Animated movies shouldn’t be so uninspired. I really think there shouldn’t be much of a middle ground when it comes to these kinds of things. Sure, you have a shitty low-budget movie that you plop your kids in front of for 90 minutes and pay nothing for because it’s on Netflix like Deep. Or you can have a well-budgeted masterpiece along the lines of Coco or WALL-E or The Incredibles. But Jacob, you might (but probably won’t) exclaim, those are all Pixar movies. They’re supposed to be good. Fine, but Pixar isn’t the only studio making high-quality animated movies. We can look at something like Disney Animation, which has given us gems such as Big Hero 6 or Moana. I’m not mentioning that ice-themed one for a reason and it’s because I hate it. But we can even move away from Disney-owned movies. Take the Studio Ghibli movies, such as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke or Howl’s Moving Castle. All great. Except, perhaps you take objection because Studio Ghibli is partnered with Disney. Fine. Let’s look at DreamWorks, Illumination, Warner Bros., Laika, and more. These studios have brought us films like How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, The Iron Giant, and Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s clearly possible.
No, it seems like studios make run-of-the-mill animated movies during film slumps like this for a reason: Money. Wow, yes, an entirely unheard-of notion. But I would like to make a case that this is not in the studio’s best interest. Yes, a movie like Smallfoot or Trolls or Storks will make its budget back and then some. It’s certainly a really sound investment, and a safe bet. I understand that movies like these are probably great business practice. While I, a liberal arts major who clearly knows a lot about the value of money, would claim that money isn’t always the most important thing, I realize that this might not be very convincing.
To this, I submit: staying power. A movie like Smallfoot has no staying power. Does anyone remember Storks or Shark Tale or The Emoji Movie? Maybe a vague recollection of a summer soundtrack, but there are few people who weren’t children or parents who saw it, and even fewer who remember it. Instead, take a movie like Inside Out. This was a movie that was created with quality in mind. It’s a fantastic movie. Critics and audiences alike enjoyed it. During its first weekend, families were the largest in attendance. This will happen with most children’s animated movies. For the following weekends, it was all of the people who read reviews or listened to their friends who had seen it and loved it. Inside Out ended up making almost $900 million. Storks made $183 million. Money talks. Inside Out is a movie that people keep coming back to. We buy the toys, we buy the DVDs and Blu-Rays, we go to Disney to meet the characters. The money keeps coming. Boss Baby is here and gone.
My desire is that every movie be good. But I know that this is impossible. My more realistic desire is that more movies be less mediocre. I can excuse a through-and-through bad movie, such as the above-mentioned Deep. But to see a film like Smallfoot—unexciting, middle-of-the-road, serviceable, and entirely forgettable—creep into and out of theaters is annoying and unnecessary.
Featured Image by Pixar