How To Build A Better Animated Family Movie – Part 7: It’s Never TOO Scary

Despicable Me - Agnes, Edith and Kyle

(c) Universal Studios


Though kids can enjoy a good scare, one rule in our household is that if one sibling is frightened by a movie, that sibling can veto repeat viewing of it. Scary moments may be cathartic, but they are not always the ones kids want to repeat.  They do have a place in more dramatic animated fare, and can be a safe way for kids to experience vulnerability.  They can make for great art. But they aren’t necessarily moments kids want to revisit. For example, my kids have never wanted to see TOY STORY 3 again after the initial viewing in the theater: the scene in which the characters are on a conveyor belt and nearly incinerated may have been too intense for my kids. DESPICABLE ME, on the other hand, never crosses the line into being too scary, so they want to see it over and over.

Even at the orphanage, a place that could be very frightening to children, the none-too-bright Ms. Hattie is more comedic than scary. She is a villain made ridiculous. The worst thing that happens to kids in her orphanage is they are put in a box they can see out of, inside Ms. Hattie’s office. It’s not fun for the kid who’s stuck in there, but it’s clear girls have endured it and they’re okay. The predicament is handled humorously.

The film’s primary bad guy, Vector, is a villain kids can imagine themselves overcoming because he’s so inept. He’s constantly made to look silly: when he uses the shrink ray to shrink his toilet, it squirts water in his face. His own weapons attack him. He’s mean-spirited and small-minded … but he’s never frightening.


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