Hat tip to reader Rachel for her combox suggestion that I follow up my “best family films” post with a post on “worst family films.”
Note, though, that this post is called “Bad Family Films,” not “Worst Family Films.” “Best of” lists are tough and subjective, but “worst of” lists are usually close to meaningless. Picking best films is like trying to map out the heights of a mountain; picking worst films is like trying to map out the mountain’s roots. There’s a lot more ground to survey down there, and where do you stop? Is any film fair game, however obscure or low-budget? Or is it better to stick to high-profile flops? Which is “worse”: a film that is utterly inept, inspiring complete indifference, or a film made with some skill and ambition that is so wrong-headed that you feel actual dislike for it? Who has seen even a representative sample of “worst film” contenders? Films that attract praise are sought out; films that don’t are avoided.
So, having said all that, I’m basically declaring open season! I’ll throw out some titles, but if my choices my last post were meant as representative rather than completist, my choices here are merely haphazardly illustrative.
To start with, though, an archetypal example of my idea of an awful family film: I give you a movie with no few defenders: Babe: Pig in the City.
How do I hate this film? Let me count the ways. (No, there is too much; let me sum up.) It’s a sequel to one of the best family films ever, but it befouls and demeans the spirit of its predecessor about as thoroughly as humanly possible. The original Babe is pastoral and picturesque — not without grimness and rough edges to be sure, but fundamentally gentle, decent and sweet. Pig in the City is overwhelmingly grotesque, menacing, freakish, and perverse. In Babe, plot and theme intertwine and bring the story to its necessary and perfect triumph. Pig in the City is just one damn thing after another until it stops.
Pig in the City has Magda Szubanski’s Mrs. Hoggett (a) strip-searched, (b) mugged, (c) menaced by outlaw bikers, (d) imprisoned, (e) tricked out in hoop-waisted clown pants, and (f) suspended from a chandelier in a ballroom while startled guests in fashionable eveningwear watch her clown pants inflate like a balloon—and remember, I’m just summarizing.
After reading that sentence, need any Babe fan in the world listen to anything that could possibly be said by way of misguided defense of this execrable film? Admittedly, some of my smartest movie-loving friends like this film. Roger Ebert likes this film. Sometimes even smart people are crashingly wrong. Including me, of course. But this time I am right, by gum.
I’m not sure if I can think of any other family films I hate quite that much, but here’s a sampling of some I’m panned. Sorry if any of your favorites are gored here! Feel free to set me straight in the combox, and also list some of your own least favorite family films. (Note that Mary Poppins is not listed here! I’m not a fan, but I don’t really dislike it, like I do the films below.)
- The live-action Seuss-astrophes How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, which I found such an affront to their source material that I felt compelled to slam them in Seuss’ own voice, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. (Dishonorable mention: Scooby Doo.)
- The Walden Media mess How to Eat Fried Worms, which turns an enjoyably disgusting bit of Rockwell Americana into a genuinely queasy Stockholm-syndrome concordat with bullying.
- DreamWorks’ oppressive Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmmaron, a tendentiously PC tale of evil white imperialists and the noble horse who heroically survives imprisonment and torture to defend his land. Cuz, you know, kids just eat up stories about horses that only want to run wild and free.
- The coyly gay-themed Happy Feet and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa. (Dishonorable mention: Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, for following in DreamWorks’ footsteps, crudeness-wise. Added: Thanks to reader Edward Curtis for catching my erroneous attribution of Happy Feet to DreamWorks.)
- Other disappointing sequels to excellent originals: The Legend of Zorro, a lame sequel to the excellent The Mask of Zorro, and the two Spy Kids sequels.
- Kangaroo Jack: It’s like Snatch for kids!
- Fantasies peppered with feminist resentment: Monsters vs. Aliens and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (rebuttal discussion!).
- Also for the birds: G-Force and Fantastic Four.
P.S. Hat tip to the first reader who correctly identifies the candidate for best family film that’s the source of a movie quotation somewhere in this column! And let’s have your picks for bad family films!