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Living - July 25, 2008

The Y Files: Children's movies a hit with teens

by Maria Shen

Released on June 27, "Wall-e" has already swept through the country, earning an astounding 97 percent (Certified Fresh!) on Rotten Tomatoes, a Web site that collects reviews, and reaping more than $32.5 million at the box office.

This G-rated Pixar animation, directed by Andrew Stanton, is a futuristic love story/fairytale, if such stories began with, "Once upon a time, in a post-apocalyptic world brimming with trash and abandoned by the human race..."

The heavy implications embedded within the film make it a hit among teens. This isn't just another movie with true love's kiss and a multitude of friendly dwarves - it's something we can talk about, something complex and controversial.

The backdrop of the film is a grave and unmistakable warning to the consequences of human pollution and corporate misdeeds. Buy n' Large, the corporate monopoly in the movie, has taken over the nation, telling consumers to "eat" and "buy." Finally, when the excess of waste had become too much to handle, Buy n' Large starts to launch its customers into deep space while robots clean up the mess. Unfortunately, not all goes according to plan. The planet becomes too toxic to support human life - or any life, for that matter.

Simple plots in children's films like "Beauty and the Beast" or even more recent ones like "Ratatouille" (another film directed by Andrew Stanton) can't hold a candle to the overreaching lessons taught an hour and a half of "Wall-e." Whether or not critics agree on the truth of the messages, "Wall-e" has a lot to say to its audience.

That's what makes the film unique.

It's been called "leftist propaganda" by its critics, and accused of "Malthusian fear mongering" by Jonah Goldberg, a conservative author and commentator, who nevertheless conceded that it is a "fascinating and at-times brilliant movie."

Malthusian fear mongering? It just makes the rebellious part of me run to see this movie.

Interestingly, "Wall-e" does not stand alone. There seems to be a recent shift in the children's movies these days. Gone are the films with simple tales of morality. More and more animations are weaving complex themes into their plotlines - and receiving lots of teen fans in the process.

"The Incredibles," released in 2004, was a well-received Pixar animation whose plot centered around a family of superheroes forced to hide their extraordinary identities. Government-sponsored superheroes were then a thing of the past. Negative public opinion and numerous lawsuits by human citizens drove all the superheroes underground, forbidden by the government to use their powers and confined to false, human identities.

Cosmo Landesman, who writes for the Sunday Times, says, "The Incredibles" is "the story of how the egalitarian drive in modern America killed off the superhero."

The Free Liberal, an online journal providing political and economic commentary, described it as a direct reflection of Ayn Rand's ideas. Ayn Rand is a familiar author among high school students, having heard of her from English class, U.S. Government, and even Economics. Many teens who have read "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" are familiar with Ayn Rand's philosophy. These films are entertaining, but not empty-headed. In fact, they're very relatable.

"Happy Feet" is another film that comes to mind when one thinks of movies with big themes. This 2006 film was an unmistakable denunciation of overfishing and pollution.

Teenagers simply love the tap-dancing emperor penguins. The animations are adorable and appeal to our kid-side.

"I thought it was cute!" Kayla Little, 17, raved. "They had cute little songs in it, too."

But on a more serious side, these penguins must seek new food supplies as global climate changes and overfishing deplete their food resources. It brings to light the environmental problems in Antarctica. A lot of this, we are exposed to in class.

For example, my AP environmental class was dedicated to the global environment. Watching this film, I found myself saying, "Oh, yeah! I learned about that!"

These animations are anything but tepid about their topics. Movies like "Happy Feet" and "Wall-e" might be G-rated, but they display their big themes boldly and staunchly. They are now more than ideological proponents of "love," "harmony" and "happiness." And that's why we love them.

Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School who loves ice cream on sunny days, books on rainy ones, and music for all those in between. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at youngbohemians@gmail.com.

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