A true blockbuster kids property must have the broadest appeal possible. The tricky part is figuring out how to widen an idea’s demographic reach without diminishing the concept. Here are some pointers:
Attracting boys: Let’s say you have a story that is apt to appeal primarily to girls and you want to attract more boys. A good starting point is to incorporate some of the emotional drivers (and character types) that boys care about like power, speed, dominance, rebellion, grossness, winning and vanquishing evil. Boys will even accept a central girl character if she has abilities that boys admire, such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. But tread lightly, so as not to alienate girls.
Attracting girls: If you’ve got a concept that is apt to appeal primarily to boys and you want to broaden the reach by bringing girls into the picture, add emotional drivers (and character types) that girls care about, including beauty, fashion, and romance. Themes of girl power are important as well. And the inclusion of a cute guy or two, doesn’t hurt either.
Generating cross-demo appeal: Kid audiences can be broadly divided into several age groups, each with its own needs. Preschoolers will seek simple physical humor, silliness, fanciful stories, nurturing icons and characters and a variety of learning opportunities (i.e. social, values, educational, musical). Grade school kids begin to reject these and crave more extreme physical humor, more extreme action, and crazier antics. Older tweens will also gravitate toward greater girl-boy relationship scenarios, greater realism and more sophisticated humor, such as wit and sarcasm. Teens dial up the extreme, particularly in relationship scenarios and the intensity of the realism, action and danger. To reach an older age group than you currently have, sprinkle in the emotional drivers and nuances they care about. It’s unwise, however, to try and age down a project. Overtly targeting younger children can inadvertently skew the idea way too young. When in doubt, skew all action, humor and characters/casting etc. toward the higher end of your target demo. This goes for all kid-related entertainment, inclusive of screenplays, TV pilots, toys and advertising.
Balancing act: Achieving the right balance, so that each demo identifies with something in the story, is really the key to creating a blockbuster. On the film side, there’s arguably no better example than Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Girls were drawn to the romance and beauty, while the Beast met boys’ emotional needs for power and triumphing over evil. Younger children, meanwhile, were as enthralled with the action as were older kids, who also delighted in the great suspense and danger. Finally, the name of the film had just the right cues to attract a broad audience, and the film itself delivered.