Sunday, July 20, 2008
Is art for children art? I've always taken the view that there is no such thing as children's poetry, there is only poetry. Yet there are many children's things that qualify as art - stories by Wilde, Kipling, Carroll etc.. On the whole, however, I stick to my view that the best material for children is art's lobby, not its great room. But what about the movies? Children's films are now routinely sold as 'family' films to ensure all age groups are covered. The films in question are invariably made with enough adult material to justify the tag. As a result, it has become routine for the best of these kidult films to be celebrated as art or even great art by critics entranced by the ingenuity and, in the case of cartoons, by the ever increasing technological sophistication. This is usually harmless unless you take it as evidence of the infantilisation of our culture, which, periodically, I do. The case of Wall.E, in this context, is very interesting indeed. I went to see it because of certain rave views in America which said that this was great art. I was almost prepared to believe this as Pixar's Toy Story was, indeed, pretty impressive. But art it certainly isn't. The plot is a mess, there is little real drama, it's far too long and it's not funny. (Incidentally, it's also very fattist, but so am I so that's okay.) Wall.E spends so much time banging home its environmental message with a riot of colour and action that it completely forgets its own narrative dynamics. I assume it works for children, but I'm not sure. The brats around me seemed pretty subdued throughout. So why is it called art? Well, the message - that we are messy, destructive creatures - is true and topical enough and it is technologically breathtaking to the point where I suspect normal critical faculties have been bludgeoned into submission. But the real point is, I think, that people want this film to work at the highest level. There's a yearning for the childish to be true. There always was - look at Carroll - but it is intensified by marketing and technological ingenuity. The underlying irony in the case of Wall.E is that, beyond the environmentalism, there is another message - that it's okay to be a machine. Is that really the great new childhood truth?
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:28 am