Recently, ParaNorman, the animated film about kids and monsters opened in about 3,500 theaters across America. Next month, it will be followed by Hotel Transylvania, an animated kid's film about monsters, to be followed in October by Frankenweenie, an animated film about a kid and his monster. Sense a pattern? This got us thinking—why now? Is the creepy kid’s movie an new phenomenon, or part of something ongoing? Here’s what we came up with.
Making creepy movies for kids is nothing new. In fact, in the past, virtually all scary movies were for kids. Any classic movie monster from the 30s, 40s, and 50s (think Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Godzilla) was intended to draw the kids in for a Saturday matinee. Nothing was more satisfying than sending little Timmy and Susie down to the movie house for a double feature and then having them come home too scared to put up a fight when it was time to do their chores. Generally, the plots of monster movies weren’t about kids—that would come later—they were about a subject matter that just seemed childish—spooky pretend monsters mostly borrowed from literature or mythology.
The 1960s and 70s saw a turn in the horror genre, when movies started to show up that were clearly not intended for children. Films like Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, and The Exorcist helped to kick off a new era where horror was an adult (or at least teen) genre, and during this time horror for kids became a wasteland.
In the 1980s, this vacuum began to fill with a new breed of creepy kids movies. Often mixing heavy fantasy elements, these films frequently featured kids as protagonists thrown into a world of bizarre and dangerous circumstances. Over the course of a decade The Dark Crystal, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Gremlins, The NeverEnding Story, Return to Oz, Legend, Labyrinth, and The Witches were all released. Many of these have become classic kid’s movies and a surprising number hold up well over time.
Also beginning in the 1980s (and continuing until today) was another important development in the history of creepy kid’s movies—the Tim Burton flick. Burton virtually defined himself by his dark, playful films. Over the last 25 years he has directed or produced Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks!, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland...and of course, Frankenweenie.
That brings us up to date, but it still doesn’t answer why this particular year is the year of the creepy animated monster movie. The answer can likely be found in two films from the last few years—Monster House & Coraline (Keep in mind that animated films take several years to make, so the question isn’t, “Why are so many animated monster movies being released in 2012?” but, ““Why were so many animated monster movies being greenlit over the last several years”?). Monster House and Coraline both made money and were both well treated by critics. Monster House was even nominated for an Academy Award. As you know, the best idea in Hollywood is an idea someone else has already made money off of, so it should come as no surprise that producers started feeling more charitable toward these kinds of films.
If you like these movies, soak them up now, because no doubt this 3-in-one-year pace isn’t likely to happen again for quite some time.
What creepy kid’s movies did we forget? Which ones got to you when you were younger?