Hollywood's in a family way with child-friendly films

Sunday, July 7, 2002

— The family that pays together has really caught Hollywood's eye.

It's prime time for the family film, with studios putting more resources into wholesome fare, recognizing the value of movies that can take in four or five admissions at once when parents turn out with the entire brood.

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AP Photo

Animated characters Lilo, right, and Stitch talk about Elvis Presley in a scene from Walt Disney Pictures new animated comedy, "Lilo & Stitch." Movie studios are putting more resources into such wholesome fare, recognizing the value of movies that the whole family can enjoy together.

Starting with "Scooby-Doo" in mid-June, Hollywood will have delivered at least one G- or PG-rated film for nine straight weekends through early August, an unusually long streak even in the family-minded summer season.

"I notice there's some really fun stuff coming out, and these family films seem to be doing well," said Geena Davis, who returns as the perky matriarch in "Stuart Little 2," with Michael J. Fox again providing the voice of the spunky rodent. "I think studios are getting it now. It seems they're developing more family films because they've realized families are always looking for movies they can go see together."

Joining "Stuart Little 2" and recent animated releases "Lilo & Stitch" and "Hey Arnold! The Movie" are "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams," with the pint-size agents facing rival kid spies; "Like Mike," featuring teen-age hip-hop star Bow Wow as an orphan who becomes a pro basketball sensation after he's given sneakers he believes are Michael Jordan's hand-me-downs; and "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," a fictionalized big-screen adaptation of the Aussie wildlife TV show.

Also, "The Country Bears," with Christopher Walken and the voice of Haley Joel Osment in the reunion story of an "all-bear" rock band; Dana Carvey's "The Master of Disguise," about a sweet-natured waiter who uses his mimicry skills to rescue his kidnapped dad; and "The Powerpuff Girls Movie," adapted from the TV cartoon about three kindergarten superheroes.

For the whole family

The crowded market means more family films competing for the same audience, but one of Hollywood's guiding principles is that moviegoing begets more moviegoing.

"I don't think there's any competition whatsoever," said Steve Irwin, who essentially plays himself in the movie version of "Crocodile Hunter," with a make-believe spy caper built around him and a rogue reptile. "These movies are all very different, and I think the more choices people have, the more they will go to the movies."

"It might help everybody if the choices are there and people get in the habit of going to movies every Friday night with the whole family. Successful movies are never a bad thing, unless you have to open up against them," said "Like Mike" director John Schultz, whose movie squares off against the debut of "Men in Black II" this weekend.

"The nice thing is a lot of people are going to go for 'Men in Black,' and if theaters are sold out, they'll hopefully go see our movie."

More to come



Hollywood tends toward movies with R and PG-13 ratings. Annual surveys by box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations found that R or PG-13 movies accounted for about 85 percent of rated movies released in the last four years.In 2001, 29 G- or PG-rated films were released, combining to gross $1.65 billion, according to Exhibitor Relations. This year, there will have been about 30 films rated G or PG released just by end of summer.With only half the year gone, G- and PG-rated films already have rung up $1.1 billion in ticket sales.

The summer lineup follows a healthy roster of family fare over the last year, among them "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Shrek," "Monsters, Inc.," "Ice Age," "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," "Dr. Dolittle 2," "The Princess Diaries," "The Rookie" and "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron."

Even this year's biggest moneymakers, "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Episode II � Attack of the Clones," have strong family appeal.

The fall and holiday season brings "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," the first sequel to 2001's biggest hit, along with the animated "The Wild Thornberrys Movie," adapted from the TV cartoon.

Disney and its Miramax subsidiary have a wealth of family offerings late this year: Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause 2"; the animated sci-fi adventure "Treasure Planet"; a live-action "Pinocchio" with Roberto Benigni; "Tuck Everlasting," with Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley and William Hurt in the tale of a girl who stumbles on a fountain of youth; "Pokemon 4Ever," the latest in the cartoon series; and the return of "The Lion King," coming to IMAX and other large-format theaters.