Is it possible that some kids movies aren’t being merchandised enough?
I’m likely not the only parent who’s been disappointed at the recent crop of Pixar movies, which have devolved from being witty, insightful and original films that even grown-ups could enjoy, to (for the most part) being hollow, uninspiring merchandising vehicles for Disney – ones where you know half of the characters are there only so that they can later be sold as toys to helpless parents (I’m talking about YOU Cars 2).
But there are a few recent movies that have fallen a bit below the radar, ones which I actually wish there were MORE merchandise for. Ones that, if available, I would have bought everything they had to sell. Case in point – the 2013 animated film, Epic.
The film is based on a William Joyce short story called The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs (which I think would have made for a more original and catchy movie title than the absurdly anonymous “Epic”), and catalogs the adventures of a teenage girl who is pulled into the world of the Leaf Men – a society of little two-inch tall heroes who work hand-in-hand with the other creatures of the forest to keep it safe from the evil forces of decay and destruction. Their enemies are the “Boggans” – little evil bugs that have as their goal to rot and destroy the forest.
My kids spend a LOT of time in the woods, and as such, the movie resonated with them deeply.
The idea that there was an unseen battle raging in the forest between good & evil, growth and decay – this turned a place they already loved into a place that was filled with hidden magic at every turn. Every animal could now either potentially be helping the Leaf Men or the Boggans, depending on whether it was there to assist the forest or there to take it apart. Whenever we’d see a deer, cardinal, fox, crow, etc – my daughter would immediately want to know if that animal was working for the Leaf Men or the Boggans, and what exactly it does in the forest to help the Leaf Men.
In fact, now when I tell the kids stories at night, I have to make up stories about the Leaf Men that live in our own forest. They have names (my daughter and her steel-trap memory remembers all of them), and their trusty steeds are cardinals, hummingbirds, herons, foxes, hawks, etc – all of whom we also see sneaking around our yard.
The point on this is: For once, a child’s movie has acted as a force for good to encourage my children to explore, understand and care for their world.
Instead of demanding toys, action figures, video games, etc, the movie has had the effect of making walks and hikes magical. Around every corner, we might “see the Leaf Men” or we might behold the fell work of some dastardly Boggan attempting to destroy our forest. A nice touch by the Epic movie’s animators was, that when a Boggan shot an arrow at a tree, it would cause a burl in the tree’s bark – which is, actually, a decent way to explain to kids why trees have burls — seeing as burls are caused by some sort of stress or trauma the tree incurred owing to an insect infestation, injury, mold or fungus.
So, while a movie like Frozen might only be getting more kids to dress up like princesses and to belt out Disney songs at the top of their lungs, Epic was a movie that I would have had no problem at all buying all manner of merchandise for.
So, if an agent for Blue Sky Studios or 20th Century Fox happens to be out doing market research for some possible line of Epic-branded toys, please know that I would have gladly opened my wallet for all manner of Epic-branded paraphernalia.
There is a line of kids gear sold at Toys R’Us called “Back Yard Safari” which includes all manner of things kids could use to explore their own back yard. Things like binoculars, bug jars, butterfly nets, tool-encrusted cargo vests, even a laser-sighted bug vacuum. My kids have no clue what a ‘safari’ is, but they do know Epic – and in the film, the protagonist’s father is a scientist obsessed with finding the Leaf Men. As such has devised all manner of tools to help him locate and (hopefully) collect Leaf Man specimens – including his own self-invented, gas-powered bug vacuum.
So, here are my shameless merchandising ideas:
Epic Leafman Binocular / helmet-mounted magnifying glass: Make a cloth hat with some plastic magnifying glasses attached, which a kid could use to get down & personal with some bugs that they found in the woods, or that are in a bug jar.
Upgraded Helmet with Google-Glass-Style camera! If you look at the Professor’s headgear, he’s rigged an old webcam on it to act as a motion-dampened video recorder of what he’s looking at. It would be trivial to put a low-cost video recorder (such recorders already are sold for kids & retail for less than $40) on a helmet, and then let the kid run around with it. They could then go find things in the woods, come back, and play it back on the computer and show dad what they were exploring.
Epic Night-vision Forest Cameras: MK’s dad had his whole woods hooked up with motion-activated, gimballed & motion-tracking cameras that could attempt to track the movements of Leafmen in the woods. How about a cheap, Epic-branded, motion-sensing camera that a kid could put in his back yard and see if he could catch some animals on video?
Epic Boggan Vacuuum Please just re-design & re-brand the Backyard Safari bug vacuum as an Epic BogganVac and let kids go vac up bugs that they want to see in a bug jar.
Leafman / Boggan Bows & Arrows: Princess Merida started it, but now Ronin and the Leafmen finished it, in terms of getting my kids obsessed about bows & arrows. There are plenty of kid-safe bow & arrow sets that could be Epic branded and I’d absolutely have a set.
Yes, the usual plush / action figure toys: I have no idea why I can’t get a Ronin / Nod / Mandrake plush toy, along with Leafman hummingbirds and such. My daughter actually made me go all the way back to a Nature Center we have in Knoxville, TN just so she could save up her money and get a plush ruby-throated hummingbird that she found there once – one that matched the one that Ronin flew in the movie. I would have bought the entire toy line by now, had it been available.
Any of these things would have strengthened a media property which I found was a positive influence on both of my kids – one which constantly is helping me get them outside and exploring & understanding the outside world. My thought, as a Scientologist, has always been that you can’t expect kids to take responsibility for a world that they know nothing about, and as such – getting them out and understanding their world is the only way to insure that they do.