A number of upcoming kids feature film releases have a female lead character, despite the studios’ continued reluctance to having their products stigmatized as ‘girls’ movies.’ It’s not surprising that the directors and producers of these movies have elaborate strategies to draw in the crucial boys audience. The methods vary, but all indications suggest that boys are just as likely to be attracted to films with female leads as adult males, so long as certain ‘male-friendly’ elements are in place.
-Mulan, Walt Disney Pictures
Slated for release next summer, this carefully guarded project is based on a Chinese legend wherein a young girl named Mulan disguises herself and g’es to war posing as her father in an attempt to save his life. The battleground setting of the movie provides a heavy action emphasis. Additionally, a feisty dragon character named Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, is brought to life by Mulan’s brave actions. Mushu leads the heroine into a series of misadventures that add comic relief to the story.
Although at press time the production was too early along for producers or director to comment, the project clearly incorporates the action-adventure that attracts boys, along with the emotional resonance of a life-or-death mission. The backdrop of war long the domain of male-oriented properties also bodes well for its cross-over potential.
-Anastasia, 20th Century Fox
The largest marketing campaign in Fox studio’s history will accompany the animated release in November and the central character behind all the commercial hullabaloo is a young girl. Anastasia, voiced by Meg Ryan, is the eight-year-old daughter of a Russian czar who is driven out of the palace. She reappears as Anya, an 18-year-old girl who’s lost her memory, inspiring 20-year-old Dimitri formerly a servant boy in the palace to help her reclaim her lost identity as a princess. The couple’s mission is thwarted by evil sorcerer Rasputin, and his reluctant accomplice, Bartok, an albino bat.
Secondary characters in the feature provide the balance necessary to make this a cross-gender movie, according to director Gary Goldman who, along with producer/director Don Bluth, is producer/director of Fox Animation Studios. ‘It’s a romantic action movie. The Dimitri character (John Cusack) is sexy. Rasputin, played by Christopher Lloyd, has a manic drive. And Bartok, played by Hank Azaria, has a dry humor.’
Rasputin’s evil powers also appeal to boys. ‘It adds a lot of action in which the villain has magic powers he can see everything others do, and where they’re going. This makes the couple’s quest almost impossible.’
And Anastasia is no sissy. ‘We never make it so that the boy rescues the girl. Anastasia and the young man fight together,’ Goldman notes.
-Fairy Tale: A True Story, Paramount Pictures
Two girls, Elsie and Frances, discover a world of fairies in Fairy Tale: A True Story, a live-action feature slated for fall release. Frustrated with grown-ups’ inability to believe in fairies, the youngsters decide to photograph them, and adventure ensues. A delightful premise, but how d’es the true-story-based film address boys?
‘The movie features two women, but also features Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,’ says Margaret French Isaac, associate producer. ‘Harry Houdini d’es a lot of his stunts throughout the movie, plus he’s traditionally somebody that boys revere.’
The character was basically created for the film, as it was never established that he was definitely involved in the incident upon which the movie is based, says French Isaac.
She adds that the studio never viewed the property as a girls film. ‘To us, it’s less about girls than about the universal appeal of characters who captivate someone’s imagination. Everyone can identify with that.’
Adding credibility to that argument is the project’s real-life genesis. Apparently, one of the producers’ sons frequently played with an imaginary fairy in the yard, jogging the memory of another producer who had heard of this true story. ‘They decided that it would make a good movie for all kids,’ says French Isaac.
-Pippi Longstocking, Nelvana
Bright red pigtails and a face full of freckles are the hallmarks of this classic character, the subject of a live-action film slated for August release from Nelvana.
‘Pippi is essentially a girls property, but she is very universal,’ says director Clive Smith, also an executive producer at Nelvana. ‘She’s as strong as any male character,’ he adds. ‘She literally lifts up a horse and takes it indoors.’
This and less obvious strengths like adventurousness (she spends life sailing the high seas), independent thinking (she lives alone, although she’s just nine years old, and freedom (she’s ‘as rich as a troll,’ thanks to dubloons from the high seas) make Pippi ‘a breakthrough’ in terms of cross-gender appeal, according to Smith.
‘Pippi gets into situations with adults that make adults very uncomfortable. But she d’esn’t do it purposely, and that’s what makes it funny. She’s very likable.’
Smith says it’s characters like Pippi that could turn the tides in terms of attracting boys to girl-centered properties. ‘Very soft characters will never do it,’ he notes.