2014 columns, Film

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

by Rochelle Siemienowicz , April 17, 2014Leave a comment

The Lego Movie


Ribbons of noisy children stretch up the stairs, trailing dropped popcorn and melting shards of choc-top. They’re following frazzled Pied Piper parents into multiplex cinemas and they’re here to watch one of a trio of current school holiday offerings: the colourful, inventive and action-packed CGI animated The Lego Movie; the cheesy but heart-warming live action puppet-based musical comedy, Muppets Most Wanted; and Mr Peabody and Sherman, Dreamworks’ latest blockbuster hit, an animation about a super-intelligent time-travelling dog and the boy he adopts.

Luckily for the poor parents and guardians, Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’ – including those with beards, mortgages and greying hair. It’s commonplace wisdom that the most financially successful  ‘family’ films (those rated ‘G’ or ‘PG’), like the Toy Story series, Finding Nemo and most recently Frozen, are able to entertain on numerous levels, with knowing jokes and smart cultural references for the adults, combined with lovable characters, catchy tunes and happy endings for youngsters (not to mention profitable toy tie-ins).

This month’s three highly successful family-friendly offerings – Mr Peabody and Sherman, Muppets Most Wanted and The Lego Movie – also suggest that when it comes to attracting adult ticket-buyers, nostalgia is a golden drawcard. Nostalgia, that longing for the past, or for (imagined) happier, simpler times, is a key emotion in this postmodern age (remember Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism?) As adults, we long for a past version of ‘home’ and today’s kids’ movies promise to take us there, or to some candy coloured approximation of it.

In the case of Mr Peabody and Sherman, the film is based around a couple of characters first seen in the 1960s television series Rocky and Bullwinkle, reruns of which were a staple in many a Gen-Xer’s television diet. Surprisingly though, this is pretty straight kids’ fare, with a few adult jokes thrown in and a modest 90-minute running time allowing quick pump-through of little patrons.

At the other end of the spectrum, Muppets Most Wanted is an almost pure exercise in adult nostalgia, best appreciated by those who fondly remember the felt-and-button glorified glove-puppets from childhoods in the 60s, 70s and 80s. A heist movie spoof, with variety show elements, along with featured song and dance performances and cameos from award show hosts and comedians (Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Jemaine Clement, to name a few), there’s a lot that will go right over the kids’ heads – as it always has done with the showbiz-referencing troupe. But today’s adults will be left fondly remembering the pleasures of their own childhoods spent in front of a boxy TV, contemplating the perplexing nature of Kermit the Frog’s legs and the impossibility of sex with Miss Piggy.

The Lego Movie is a far more successful blending of contemporary kids’ entertainment and nostalgic adult enjoyment. The joy of recognition forms a solid base for much of the humour, which will be equally funny for kids and adults. Who among us did not spend hours creatively building with the now ubiquitous Danish toy, whose popularity only grows with every new franchise it accommodates, from Star Wars, to Batman, to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter?

The Lego Movie’s CGI animation (done in Sydney by Australia’s Animal Logic) has the handmade blocky look of authentic Lego stop-motion, and while it’s bound to sell billions of dollars’ worth of moulded plastic bricks and smiling minifigs, the film is so much fun, and is made with such wit and apparent heart, that it transcends being a pure marketing exercise. It’s enough to make you sit back in awe as you realise the film is the apotheosis of late capitalism: the perfect product, appealing to all ages, synthesising ideas about creativity, individuality and conformity. Built on a nostalgia that will just keep on rejuvenating itself, this is one hell of an achievement. I want to see it again.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a Melbourne-based film journalist, reviewer and editor. 

ACO logo


Nathan Smith

Letting the Essays Do The Talking: Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth

In the introduction to her essay collection My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum writes that as frank as her essays are, they ‘are not confessions’. The personal essay may have long defined Daum, but she is far from a ‘confessional writer’, a title she has long resisted. Read more »


Ilona Wallace

Between You & Me: The New Yorker’s Mary Norris on publishing, editing and insecurity

Mary Norris begins her chatty grammar guide and memoir, Between You & Me, by chronicling the odd jobs she held before she began working at the New Yorker in 1978. She delivered milk – awkwardly calling ‘Milkwoman!’ when she left bottles at each stop – and crashed the dairy truck. Read more »


Chad Parkhill

On judging the Most Underrated Book Award

The chair of the judging panel for the Most Underrated Book Award shares his observations on the award, what it means to be ‘underrated’, and the current landscape of Australian literary prizes. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Rebecca Varcoe

In defence of professional cheerleading

My name is Rebecca and I’m a 26-year-old woman with a shameful secret, for which I refuse to be ashamed any longer. Today I want to confess my obsession and one true love, the subject of many rants and late-night tweeting frenzies: Cheerleading. American, All-Star Cheerleading. Read more »


James Tierney

Bodily Limits: An interview with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria suffered from a critical eclipse and a variety of censored prints, and was largely cherished in its original form by aficionados of the field. A reassessment has been building, something sure to be aided by the forthcoming publication of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ perceptive and elegantly written monograph. Read more »

je tu il elle 2

Eloise Ross

Existence as Minimalism: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Images of a young woman, emptying her small flat of furniture, blocking the window and sitting in the dark, still. Sitting on a mattress in a bare room, furiously writing letters with a pencil and watching the snow through the window. Meeting with a past lover and reuniting on-screen. I think about Chantal Akerman’s films more often than I can say. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »


Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »