Family-friendly movie year in review

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27 2012 7:00 p.m. MST

With such tepid responses to all three stop-motion features, what should have been a breakout year for the medium could instead result in studios being unwilling to back future stop-motion projects, leaving the world of animation to less-ambitious CGI films instead.

Additionally, the underperformance of “Frankenweenie” mere months after another Tim Burton disaster, the vampire soap opera comedy “Dark Shadows,” could seriously damage the Burton brand after a box office peak with 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

PG hits

There were, however, plenty of films that both critics and moviegoers could get behind this year, including many aimed at family audiences.

For parents looking for alternatives to violent action movies like “The Dark Knight Rises” or gross-out comedies like “Ted,” this year offered a number of options, including Pixar’s extremely Disney-esque “Brave” and Disney’s extremely Pixar-esque “Wreck-It Ralph."

The two family-friendly animated features are currently ranked at No. 7 and 12, respectively, on Box Office Mojo's list of the year’s top-grossing movies, and “Wreck-It Ralph,” in particular, has been called by many a return to form for Disney Animation.

Families also turned out in droves to support sequels to established franchises like “Madagascar” and “Ice Age,” as well as “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” which all ranked in the year’s top 20.

Although far less successful financially, Ang Lee’s meditation on religion and spirituality, “Life of Pi,” is another standout film from this year that’s suitable for a broad audience. An adaptation of the best-selling book by Yann Martel, "Pi" has also been tossed around as a probable contender at this year’s Academy Awards.

What happened to the G rating?

While 2012 saw quite a few movies aimed specifically at families with older kids as well as teenagers, moviegoing experiences for families with younger children have been almost non-existent this year.

With the exception of a handful of 3-D re-releases of Disney and Pixar classics, including “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.,” G-rated films have mostly dried up in theaters as kids’ movies skew progressively older in terms of content.

Even “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” received a PG for brief mild language.

During the entire summer movie season, the only G-rated film that was released — a misguided attempt at an interactive experience for toddlers titled “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure” — has gone down as one of the biggest box office failures in history, earning just more than $1 million after costing somewhere in the vicinity of $55 million to produce and market.

That isn’t to say that 2012 has been completely without worthwhile films aimed at all ages. February saw the release of a new movie from Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animators behind films like “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” titled “The Secret World of Arrietty.”

In spite of extremely positive reaction from critics, though, it made a paltry $19 million in the U.S. (compared with its $126 million overseas).

Young adult novels

In many ways, perhaps the year’s big success was the Lionsgate adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young adult series “The Hunger Games.” Praised by critics for its depiction of a strong female protagonist — Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen — “The Hunger Games” pulled in an impressive $408 million domestically ($686.5 million worldwide), making it the third highest-grossing U.S. release of 2012 behind “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

It also successfully positioned itself to become a major franchise down the line — something more than a few films, including “John Carter” and “Battleship,” tried but failed to do at other points in the year.

Of course, now that the “Twilight” series has come to an end with the November release of “Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” which has already earned nearly $800 million worldwide, adaptations of other young adult novels are queuing up to take the place of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance series next year. Given the critical and commercial success of the first installment in "The Hunger Games" movies, though, Katniss should have no problem defending her box-office position against newcomers.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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