Monthly Archives: April 2011

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The new Winnie the Pooh movie is out in the cinema. Did you know that? I totally recommend it for you and your children. Now, it’s not that Disney need me pushing their movies for them. And, really, should I? Disney who pushes princesses AT my girls, who is now trying to brand babies from birth? Well, sure, there is all that.

But I was talking with my good animation friend, Andy, about the movie and I’m the only other person he knows who as seen this new Pooh film. And he’s the only other person I know who has seen it.

And it deserves to be seen. It’s a really good movie.

Not only is it really good but, for me, it’s one of the most fun and child-friendly movies in years. It goes totally against the melodrama of so many children’s films, the need for ridiculously heightened ‘AGH WE’RE ALL DOOMED!’ sequences, the need for that naive, paranoia-inspiring yet seemingly ever-present scary ‘bad guy’, the Pixar ‘let’s hit ‘em with a tragedy at the start so they’re at an emotional disadvantage from then on’ trick, and even against the fart jokes.

It is more true to the lives of actual children. True to fun. Yes, there’s fear in places but in a totally child-like and child-friendly way.

Winnie the Pooh is about play.

It’s very faithful to the spirit of the Pooh classics and yet with nothing so dated that it doesn’t play to today’s children. It pulls Pooh back from being that weird grumpy old man he seems to have turned into in recent years to a naive and innocent child’s toy. The humour is safe and yet far from bland (safe does not equal bland). And, somehow, it actually makes Rabbit kind of fun. The animation isn’t always top notch but it’s mostly good and, at times, lovely. Owl in particular is really well animated.

Most of all, the movie has a soul.

It doesn’t feel overworked. You know when you watch a movie and you know a sequence has been rewritten a hundred times and it works great but you just know there was an energy there once that is now gone? Yeah, this movie doesn’t do that. It’s whimsical and just goes with its ideas.

A lovely 2D classic and a great first cinema experience for my sensitive daughter Daisy, who loved it.

But when it comes to the numbers, I fear Disney will see that just me, my girl, Andy and his girlfriend are the only people who watched it. And I can’t help feeling that execs will be saying, well, I told you 2D is dead. I told you we need an evil bad guy. I told you we need to murder someone in the opening sequence.

Well, films don’t need that. Children’s films definitely don’t need that. They just need play. And that’s what Winnie the Pooh has plenty of.

And if nobody goes to see this beyond the four of us, it will actually be because Disney, with all its marketing power, barely told anyone it was out.

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So, I’m recommending you go and see Winnie the Pooh. Not because Disney need me pushing their movies. Not even because I’d like it to do well to show that we’d love to see more of this type of movie. But, really, just because it’s a film you and your children are bound to enjoy.

Just wanted to mention (you know, if you’re stuck for something to read) that there’s a nice little interview with me over at the oddly-titled 2 Thumbs 8 Fingers blog. Not children’s TV related but covers passions, films, influences and so on. Read it here!

I was happy to be invited to speak at Pegbar‘s event last Friday evening and what a great event it turned out to be. A big meeting of so many people in the Irish animation world and a chance to meet Norton Virgien, director of Rugrats, Duckman and now some great new shows over at Dublin’s Brown Bag Films.

As for my talk, well, I came to realise that there have been just a few key leaps in my career – going from an animator out of college to being creative director of the excellent Monster Animation and now a creator/writer/director of children’s shows. Each leap have happened when I found myself taking risks. Sometimes going against what actually would be perceived as the ‘correct’ way and always going against what would be seen as safe. Even though each career leap was different, they all shared this common factor.

For lack of a better term, I’m going to call this ‘creative disobedience’.

The most important factor in each leap (I’ll leave the stories a Pegbar exclusive for now!) and this creative disobedience, was that I cared. I believed we could do better and I wanted to do all I could to make that happen. In any creative business (is there any other kind?), having something to care about beyond yourself and the furthering of your own career is essential. Because, without that, you’re guided by ego.

And, when you’re disobedient due to ego, you push people away.

Creative disobedience, on the other hand, doing something because you have a purpose and a strong belief in doing better for the right reasons, well, that doesn’t push people away. It does the opposite. It brings people in. Sure, it can surprise them. Sure, it can challenge people and certainly challenge their accepted way of doing things. But, actually, it fosters trust. If you have a mission, you’ll be amazed at how many people will want to join you on that mission and will help you out every step of the way.

Right now, my mission is making better content for children.

Making a better world for children.

A lofty goal? Sure. But why shouldn’t I try? You know what happens if we work towards making a better world for children? We make a better world.

For anyone who was at my talk, there is one thing I didn’t get around to saying and it’s worth saying here ‘ for every leap in my career, for every risk I took that paid off, there were a hundred others that didn’t. If I were to draw my career, it would be like a tree, with a huge amount of dead-end branches. Life doesn’t always go how we want it. Norton Virgien made a great point in his talk ‘ sometimes the Universe has a way of guiding you and there are times you just have to go with the flow and let that happen.

But, like with Norton, those things that didn’t work out for me all led me to the things that did work out.

Thanks to Pegbar for inviting me to speak and to everyone who came to the talk!

MediaLiteracy

I have been thinking about the push on media literacy, which I believe to be important. Several studies on children and advertising have recommended that scepticism (which children only seem to pick up as they get older) isn’t enough. Children need to be educated on the nature of advertising, its intent and then given counter-arguments. Some have suggested warnings and announcements to alert children before ads are aired.

Not bad defence tactics.

But… if we were shooting at our children, would we be recommending they wear flak jackets? Or would we, like, just, you know… stop shooting them?

According to studies, the skill to distinguish commercials from television show content is acquired at around five years of age. The actual understanding of what ads are only comes at around seven or eight years-old.

Children are the target of advertising on some channels long before they have the ability to understand what they are seeing.

Doesn’t quite seem fair to me.

But I bring some good news ‘ while that skill to distinguish between ads and regular content may be acquired around age five, it can be taught much earlier. Somewhere between 24 and 30 months old, my first daughter’s cries of, “Daddy! I’m watching ads!” began.

And they haven’t stopped since.

Daisy will not tolerate ads. She is now four and that hasn’t changed (though I imagine it may well at some point). Alice is just two and she too calls out when ads are on. She even asked to “watch something else” when she spotted ads playing on a huge screen at a shopping centre yesterday.

So, if you are at all concerned about the effects of advertising on your children or their own ability to identify what they are seeing, I found what it takes is just to point it out every time an ad comes on. For me it was dismissive, “Oh, that’s just an ad. We don’t watch those,” followed by a channel change or a DVD. You may not have to do that ‘ you might well be happy just arming your child with the knowledge of what they are. Or you may want to be much stronger about it.

But you don’t have to wait until they pick that skill up themselves. It can be taught.