Monday, July 2, 2012

Monsters University And The Problem With Crossover Appeal

So. There's this movie from Pixar I really like. Well, there's a lot of movies from Pixar I really like--and love--but this post is about one in particular. It's called Monsters, Inc. Maybe you've seen it. Maybe you haven't. Either way, there's a sequel (which is really a prequel) coming next year. That one's called Monsters University

Here's the trailer:

You have your usual suspects (Wazowski and Sully) dealing with their usual stuff (mastering the fine art of creeping kids out). So far, so good. 

But now they're in college.

Studying like crazy for exams. Throwing parties in their dorms. With disco lights. 

And this is a movie for children. 

Or is it a movie for children?

That's the thing--Monsters, Inc. (along with plenty of other animated films) has huge crossover appeal. But at its core, that first film in the franchise stayed true to what it was about: kids getting scared, and the kindhearted monsters who do the scaring. Adults and young adults loved the movie because it was funny, heartwarming, and unlike anything they'd ever seen in animated films (that's what I'm assuming, anyway).

But how do kids--the real audience for these films--relate to college students? Sure, they're still dealing with monster-ly things like mastering the fine art of creeping kids out, BUT this movie isn't about the kids anymore. It's about the monsters and their shenanigans while obtaining a higher education. 

I am not saying Monsters University is going to suck. I'm actually looking forward to seeing it. What I'm saying is this: crossover appeal is a consequence, not a goal. If you try to please too many audiences, you'll end up losing sight of what your story is truly about. Of course, some authors set out to write something that catches everyone's attention and knocks their socks off, but most of the time? Total accident. They wrote a story for someone, and they wrote it well (or super passionately). 

My advice? Know who you're writing for, and write the best book you can for that someone. They deserve your best. You deserve your best.   

Now tell me: which books/movies have you read/seen that have crossover appeal, but don't seem to try hard in achieving it? 


  1. I saw the trailer for it this weekend. It didn't strike me as a kids movie, either. What kid can relate to going to college?

  2. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK immediately pops into my mind.

    Too bad about MONSTER UNIVERSITY - kind of sounds like a SHREK.

  3. Not only did it not look like a kids movie in the trailer, but it looked like it'd been done a million times before. So many sophmoric college comedy movies!

    One movie I thought of with successful crossover appeal is Whale Rider. Something in there to connect with every age.

  4. SPIRITED AWAY is an incredibly rich movie - intended for kids but well-loved by all generations in my family.

    My son read the LIGHTNING THIEF and sequels to me while commuting and I laughed just as much as he did.

  5. I actually have trouble with this concept as a writer, and this post helped clarify why. TV shows and books for kids being absolutely required to feature young protagonists is a new phenomenon over the last decade. When I was a kid, I regularly watched cartoons with teen or adult characters dealing with teen or adult problems: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Darkwing Duck, Captain America. (I grew up with brothers.) It was understood by the creators of these shows that kids liked to see themselves as more grown up, and wanted to understand the adult world, if only through a cartoon prism. So I watched Darkwing Duck adopt a spunky daughter and have a romance with Morgana - not exactly kid themes, and all from the perspective of a dark-adventure-obsessed bachelor.

    That being said, I'm so used to the 'kid-sized protagonists for kids' standard now that watching this trailer with my husband last night prompted me to say, "I hope they won't be drinking." I think the final product will be kid-friendly, though.

    Now if only I could convince agents and publishers that MG protags don't all have to be 13 years old, not when there are super heroes involved. :)

  6. You know, the thing is, I'm not 100% sure this IS being marketed to kids. I feel pretty confident that this is being marketed to, The generation that saw the first movie when we were young and are now older. This is the exact same situation as Toy Story 3 -- that sequel was clearly made for the adults who had grown up watching the earlier films.

    Not to say that kids don't watch these movies (they do), but their parents are buying the tickets. And you'd be surprised to see how many college students watch animated films.

    I also concur with Katrina -- when I was a kid, I watched plenty of programs (all of the same ones >.> I also had brothers) about protagonists who were older than me.

  7. I like Katrina and T.L.'s points; while I agree that Monsters University might not be the best idea Pixar ever came up with (but still better than Cars 2 (really guys?)), I think the idea that kids can only have material presented to them about other kids is a newer concept, and not always preferable. I think you can make a film ABOUT at topic unrelated to kids, but it's all in the voice and how it's presented. Same goes with YA; lots of heavy themes end up in YA books, but what makes them unique is how it's told through the eyes of a younger person.

    Anime is a great example of crossing age barriers; sure the really young kids are into the kid friendly stuff on saturday mornings, but lots of tweens and teens like anime that feature assorted aged casts; lots of anime by default feature children (and pets LOL) but also include older kids, parents, evil warlord robots...

    I think we should keep an open mind here.


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