In a city such as Manchester, where the annual rainfall is measured by hands (as in horses) and feet (as in inches), it is essential that you have an excellent repertoire of repeatable indoor entertainment for children. As those wise readers that are parents will readily agree, there is certainly time on a Saturday morning to fill the offspring with sugary breakfast cereal and dump then in front of the nearest television, whilst you grapple with the reality of not still being in bed.
As my own children get older and become less enamoured with the prospect of trying not to cut their heads open, or covered in the slobber and spittle of that scabby family’s offspring at a soft play warehouse – a barn with scaffolding covered in multi-coloured plastic, and mothers that obviously missed the Jeremy Kyle auditions for being too vile – a replacement one has emerged to replace it: the Kids Club cinema.
On either a Saturday or Sunday morning across the land, you will see a parent – normally one, as for both to go would be a waste of a blissful, peace-filled, bed-dwelling, coffee-drinking, newspaper-reading, arse-scratching, grass-cutting, car-cleaning, shirt-ironing, radio-listening time – grapple with coats, bottles of water, snacks, toys and accessories. Due to working out of the house all week, relieving Mrs Pause of the noise-pollution of two boys has meant that this morning ritual has become a staple for us lads. For a few years, Pause Jnr (Snr) didn’t like going to the cinema. There was no real reason for it, but he just didn’t like it. So we didn’t go, even when there were ‘kids’ films that would clearly appeal to adults, and I tried to coerce him into going with me, even resorting to bribery (standard adult procedure, do not judge). And no matter how much you might think differently, a man approaching his forties in a pair of jeans and boxfresh white trainers walking in to see Toy Story 2 on his own is simply NOT RIGHT.
Fortunately, Pause Jnr (Jnr) has no such qualms, and as long as a bag of pick’n’mix with white chocolate mice is in his grips, he’ll watch any old shit that is put in front of him. Which is lucky, as the last excursion we had almost put me off this lovely little ritual for life: a film called ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’. And before you tell me, yes it came out ages ago, but Kids Club is £5.00 for us all to get in, even though the films are a few months older.
What do you think it was about? Well, it was set in Stratford-upon-Avon (clever) and was the Shakespearean story told in garden-gnome form. Sorry for spoiling it, but our hero and heroine do not die at the end. No, that would have the kids in tears. The same kids that have been crying for 10 minutes because they dropped their snuggly-rag on the floor, and cruel daddy accidentally trod on it when trying to look for it, whilst placing his bets on that afternoon’s football on his iPhone. Silly Daddy.
This film was terrible. It was excrutiatingly cringeworthy at times. Kids films should be for kids. If adults are amused, then it should be seen as a bonus but not as a pre-requisite to keep us, the paying parent, entertained. Shrek is a possible exception, as there are many references aimed squarely at adults, which work, but were original in their placement. By putting a glowing banana on the laptop – it’s like Apple. Geddit? DO YOU GET IT? – you are forcing the issue so hard that the attempted humour slowly rises through to bilious anger.
Equally annoying is the “all-star cast” that put their names to this cinematic bastardisation. Our hero is played James McEvoy. Not that you’d know, because he’s actually Scottish, yet is playing an English gnome. You can’t see him, because it’s animated. And kids don’t know who he is. Or care. He does a good job, as it doesn’t sound like McEvoy, so what, exactly, is the point? Fair maiden Juliet is played by ‘English Rose – not rhyming slang’ Emily Blunt. I can only imagine that recording of the voice-overs was done in a studio, with an un-made up Emily sat in a pair of Lonsdale jog pants, taking alternate chews on mouthfuls of porridge and Marlboro lights. In between drags and gags, she’s pontificating about Hollywood super-foods, crop dusting super-farts before an hour later dropping a super-dump the very size and dimension of a garden gnome. Which, coincidentally, would have stunk the place out less than the script.
Oh look! There is a lanky, geeky gnome with glasses on. Oh, what a surprise, Stephen Merchant does the voice. Badly. But wait. We need an elder English statesman to play the role of Lord Redbrick, Juliet’s protective father. Er, will Michael Caine do? Or Lady Blueberry, the mother of our ceramic hero. Well, if we’re going to get Caine, I’ll match that with Dame Maggie Smith. Or the statue of Shakespeare – to remind us all that this was once a classic tale and that in future life you kids had better be aware of it – there can only be one man: Sir Ian Mckellan! Fortunately he must have been busy, or had too much pride not to be involved with such a shower of animated, technicolour vomit that they plumped for his Waiting For Godot theatrical partner Patrick Stewart. Throw in Jason Statham (action hero), Julie Walters (can’t remember), Richard Wilson (grumpy neighbour), and even Hulk ‘fucking’ Hogan and you can see how this became not only utterly pedestrian but actually hateful. It was so lazy that the actors could have phoned their parts in from their beds.
And to top it all off, it was soundtracked inappropriately by Elton John tracks. Why? You tell me. Honestly, please tell me. Other than the fact that he himself is King of the Gnomes, and next time he steps on stage in Vegas, someone ought to stick a million-dollar fishing rod in his Beadle-like hands.
When done well, animated films aimed at children transcend age and gender. The Toy Story trilogy are wonderful fun – beautifully directed, scripted, perfectly paced and voiced (by some strangers and well-known actors alike) – and the first 45 minutes of Wall-E is a silent movie that earned it an Oscar nomination for Best Film. All will be regarded as timeless classics in the traditional Disney mould. But studios need to realise that having a ‘clever’ title for a film with nothing of any worth behind it – see ‘Bee Movie’, also filed under ‘Came Up With Title, Shit and Forgetful Film With Famous Voices’ – will not keep us coming to the popcorn panacea of the Kids Club, but drive us into the germ-fests of the Warehouses of doom. Not clever at all.