Reviews 2015

Children’s Film in the Digital Age: Essays on Audience, Adaptation and Consumer Culture

Children’s Film in the Digital Age: Essays on Audience, Adaptation and Consumer Culture. Eds. Karin Beeler and Stan Beeler. Jefferson: McFarland, 2015. 202 pages. $40.00 (paperback).

As publications on children’s films are not as abundant as it would be desirable, Children’s Film in the Digital Age: Essays on Audience, Adaptation and Consumer Culture is a most welcome contribution to the field all the more so that it also focuses on transmediality, an inherent element of children’s culture. The book is divided into three sections. The first one, "Childhood, Adults and Films for Dual Audiences," explores the concept of the dual audiences in children’s films. Julian Cornell deals with pedagogical issues in children’s films as texts created by adults. Following Jacqueline Rose, he uses the metaphor of coming back home to develop the idea that children’s products (literature or films) are subject to adult colonialism. Stan Beeler discusses the role of soundtracks in children’s films as a way to attract adult audiences to theatres. He concludes that selection of music appealing to different generations is the most productive strategy and guarantees a film’s success. Heather Rolufs discusses the ambivalent status of Tim Burton’s film Alice in Wonderland (2010) as a film for adults and children, whereas Noel Browns analyses the Asterix & Obelix saga (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012) as a European attempt to compete with Hollywood.

In section two, the authors deal with film adaptation and transmedia forms, which is the most original part of the collection. Naomi Hamer writes about the mixing of franchise texts and digital fan cultures related to The Chronicles of Narnia (2005, 2008, 2010). She also analyses the increasing production of fans of Narnia on the Internet, such as videos or tales based on Lewis’s books. Lincoln Geraghty discusses quests and the culture of challenge as a way to form the viewer’s character on the example of two Pokémon films. He also focuses on the importance of transmediality in this franchise. Karin Beeler explores the transmediality resulting from the transformation of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007) into a film. She also analyses the film’s making-of book. Dan North looks into Martin Scorsese’s relationship with childhood and cinephilia as reflected in his film Hugo, an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel/picture book The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007).

The last section, "Cultural and Consumer Contexts for Children," consists of five essays about the complex social contexts of films designated for children with the American and international framework. Michel Bouchard and Tatiana Podyakova present a historical study of nationalism in Russian animated films, emphasising the importance of animated films as vehicles of ideological messages. Stephanie Hemerlryck Donald questions the traditional conception of children as a passive audience in her analysis of children’s responses to migration, especially child migration, in some international films such as Le Havre (Kauriskami 2011), Welcome (Lioret 2009) or Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce 2002). Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai writes about Dubashi (The translator, 1999), an Indian film about a family of translators that was screened in schools as a part of a didactic program. Pillai focuses on this film as an expression of the kaleidoscopic configuration of India through a threefold message: the vision of 21st century’s India, the history of Indian Cinema (including the importance of Indian mythology in its early years), and the figure of translators as multicultural characters. Lydia E. Ferguson provides an overview of the negative representations of race in Disney films for children from more ancient (and deplorable) films like Song of the South (1946) to the more contemporary The Princess and the Frog (2009). As Ferguson argues, Disney has not introduced significant changes in the way he depicts black people since the stereotypical image is still prominent. Finally, Debbie Olson analyses the African American depiction in TV series. In her opinion, these shows place African American children in a white media industry consumer position since they fully participate in this capitalist culture. Her case study is two well-known TV series: Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and The Proud Family.

As is typical in such collections, the final result is somehow uneven. Nevertheless the main goal—to provide a set of different insights into children’s films—has undeniably been achieved. The focus on transmediality is a wise choice although is not central in all the essays. The international section is another interesting contribution as it enables the reader to learn about most probably lesser known examples of children’s films. However, I find it surprising that most of the essays do not refer to children’s literature criticism as that could be very useful especially in relation to dual audiences. Zohar Shavit (Poetics of Children’s Literature, 1986), Barbara Walls (The Narrator’s Voice, 1991) or Hans Heino Ewers (Fundamental Concepts of Children’s Literature Research, 2009) would be a must. Also, when dealing with Rose’s constructed child, the authors should refer to Rudd’s (2005) and Bottigheimer’s (1998) works. Despite these deficiencies, this book is of substantial importance for researchers working on children’s films as it provides some very useful analytical tools enabling a multifaceted thematic and methodological analysis of children’s films.

Xavier Mínguez-López
University of València, Spain

Works Cited

Bottigheimer, Ruth B. "An Important System of Its Own: Defining Children's Literature." The Princeton University Library Chronicle 59 (1998): 190-210.

Ewers, Hans-Heino. Fundamental Concepts of Children’s Literature Research: Literary and Sociological Approaches. New York and London: Routledge, 2009.

Rudd, David. "How does children’s literature exist?" Understanding Children’s Literature. Ed. Peter Hunt. 2nd edition. New York and London: Routledge, 2005. 15-29.

Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2007.

Shavit, Zohar. Poetics of Children’s Literature. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009.

Wall, Barbara. The Narrator's Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991.