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Chris Hicks: Why must filmmakers fixate on potty humor?

Published: Thursday, July 14 2011 7:18 p.m. MDT

With a few exceptions here and there, I no longer go to movies made for children. As an adult, most are just too juvenile to tolerate — that is, unless you're in the company of a child. It's true that the joy on your little one's face can make even a Smurfs movie tolerable.

I'm flashing back, of course, referring to the 1983 theatrical release "The Smurfs and the Magic Flute," which I reviewed for the Deseret News that year, with a couple of my younger kids in tow.

They liked it. I panned it. And I'm gloating a little in the knowledge that I don't have to see the 21st century version of "The Smurfs" when it opens in two weeks.

These days, you only have to see a trailer for a children's picture to notice that there's been a big change over the years. The abundance of scatological humor in nearly every movie aimed at our young ones is astonishing.

Gags about flatulence, toilet habits, animals with no control, sometimes blunt, sometimes more subtle. They permeate these movies as if it's a contractual obligation.

"The Smurfs and the Magic Flute" may have been awful, but at least it was clean.

On the other hand, there's no denying that potty humor does get a rise out of children.

I was reminded of this recently when my daughter Mel dropped by, along with my granddaughter Kalli and her friend Mazzy.

During conversation I jokingly responded to something Mel said — I don't even remember what it was — when the words innocently tumbled out of my mouth: "Hey, it's my duty."

The girls began to giggle wildly, so I asked what was so funny. Kalli grinned and looked down as she answered: "You said 'doody'." And the giggling began again.

"No, no," I quickly replied, "I said du-ty" (emphasizing the "t"). But it was too late. The giggling had taken on a life of its own.

In "High Anxiety," Mel Brooks' spoof of Alfred Hitchcock films, there is a sequence where Brooks, as a psychiatrist, is delivering a lecture when someone comes in late with two young girls in tow. This prompts Brooks to start using euphemisms as he discusses various subjects, including "the trauma of toilet training," referring to "cocky-doody" instead of the clinical term.

It's low humor, of course, but it's amusing because we can all identify with worrying about the terminology our children pick up for various "taboo" words and phrases. In my case, more than once, teaching my kids the correct words backfired in public situations — and suddenly using a silly euphemism didn't seem like such a crazy idea.

Anyway, toilet humor is easy, and it's sure to get an embarrassed laugh from the intended audience. But it's also extremely lazy screenwriting. Especially when you see it in film after film after film.

And it's apparent how widespread it has become when even the most jaded critics are lamenting about such gags being used in films as varied as "Mr. Popper's Penguins," "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Cars 2." Yet, these are also the gags that always pop up in the trailers.

Last spring, the preview for "Hop" had so many poop jokes I began to wonder how many more were in the film itself. This was just a two-minute trailer!

Am I naive to believe there really was a time when filmmakers wanted to make the best movie possible and not just pander to the lowest common denominator?

This attitude isn't restricted to kids pictures, of course. These days there's hardly a comedy of any stripe that doesn't include some kind of crude joke dealing with some kind of bodily function.

Take "Bridesmaids" (in theaters now) or "The Change-Up" (opening Aug. 5), whose trailers offer examples of how modern filmmakers are ridiculously fixated on these kinds of jokes. And since they are played up in the trailers, the studios apparently think they are the best, most creative gags in the films.

Is this really what brings in an audience?

It just makes me want to stay away.

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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