Movies for Kids, the Meanwhile Cut and Storytelling

Adults often miss the point. Especially when it comes to judging out kids’ movies.When watching movies, there are many story telling techniques that we take for granted. We, as adults, have seen them used so much they seem like second nature. We probably do not even consider what is happening.

A lot of people credit D. W. Griffith with inventing the close up. He did not. The closeup is none-the-less an important technique in story telling. If you need to show something in more detail, you show it closer. Today that does not seem exactly groundbreaking. But there was a time when it was.

Then there is editing. And to edit, you cut from one shot to another shot. There are many different kinds of cuts. Most often we see the then cut.

This is how the Then Cut works:

The Blues Brothers are in the Bluesmobile and are being chased through a parking lot by a squad of police cars. Cut to their faces. They discuss options. Cut to the parking lot. You see the car whiz through lanes, followed by squad cars.  Cut to the interior of a building where a customer is discussing a Miss Piggy doll. The Bluesmobile crashes through the wall.

This is the then cut. The editor is saying: The Blues Brothers are being chased through a parking lot. Then they discuss options. Then there are customers in a nearby building. Then the Blues Brothers drive into the building.

Another, perhaps more difficult to explain method of editing is the meanwhile cut.

This is how the Meanwhile Cut works:

The Blues Brothers enter an elevator. Cut to a SWAT team surrounding the building. Cut the army showing up. Cut to the Blues Brothers in the elevator. Cut to the SWAT team repelling down the building. Cut to tanks arriving. Cut to the Blues Brothers in an elevator.

The editor of the movie was not saying “The Blues Brothers were in an elevator, and then the SWAT team arrived. And then the Army arrived and then the Blues Brothers were in the elevator.” Rather, the editor was saying: All of these things are happening at the same time. Meanwhile.

What does this have to do with kids’ movies?

Kids are smart. They pick up on so much more than you’d think. But human brains do not develop the way many would assume. We’ve long forgotten what the world seemed like to us as four-year-olds. Senses of humor develop. Emotions become more sophisticated. Imaginary fears forms. They begin to understand sequences of events (morning comes before afternoon.)

But this is where it gets tricky. I’m not a child psychologist but my observation is that although young children understand sequences of events (around three or four), they do not always recognize how time really works. That’s all I will say about brain development. If you want something more scientific, you’d do better to read a book on childhood development than to read my blog.

The point is this: Young kids can understand conflict. They can understand chase. They can understand sadness. They love a good mystery. But many kids movies these days have stories that fragment. Different story lines are happening at the same time.

Take for instance The Incredibles. Midway through the movie, the story breaks up. The filmmakers follow two story lines. One in which Mr. Incredible is trapped in the villain’s lair. Meanwhile Elastigirl is with the kids on an airplane. Both of these story lines happen at the same time. This is disorienting to a young mind.

Not to pick on a specific movie, this is only a single example. It could also be argued that The Incredibles is meant for an older child altogether. 

I merely mean to point out that we often judge children’s movies based on the amount of violence, or how seductively a character dances or how good the trees look in the animation (I’m guilty here). Worse, we judge movies based upon what kind of ‘message’ or ‘moral’ they send. 

During all of this we discussing, we adults miss the point (as we often do). We forget to judge how well the story is told. And if it is told the right way for a young mind.