This weekend sees the big screen debut of Aardman Animations’ kids TV favourite, Shaun the Sheep. Aardman have a long history of successful and distinct animation. Making their name with the Wallace and Gromit TV features, they have since moved on to cinematic success, most recently with original concepts Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!
For this latest film, though, they have chosen to adapt one of their small screen properties instead. So why have they chosen this approach? And why would audiences be willing to pay to see a character that they have, up until this point, been able to watch at home for free?
In recent years, though, this approach has shown some signs of decline. Pixar and Dreamworks can no longer be relied upon for guaranteed quality viewing, and the franchises that are ruling cinema are becoming increasingly 12a, leaving fewer options for families with younger children.
British cinema is starting to show signs of adapting to this. Last year saw a big screen outing for an enduring family favourite, Postman Pat. Whilst reviews weren’t great, Postman Pat: The Movie did make a healthy amount of money. The big splash, though, was towards the end of last year. Paddington Bear starred in his first film in Paul Kings delightful Paddington. Reviews for Paddington were almost unanimously great, and it went on to become one of the UK’s top five grossing movies of the year. It’s subsequent release in the US this year made it the second highest grossing US 2015 release so far.
Why are TV favourites looking to become a success on the big screen? One reason might be that they are a known quantity, and therefore a known quality, for audiences and, specifically, parents. When trailers come on TV for animate family movies based on original ideas, it is hard for parents to tell if these features will be suitable for their young children.
The ratings, be they U, PG or 12a, only tell half the story. As a society, we are becoming increasingly protective of our kids, particularly thanks to scandals over child safety in recent times. Pixar’s Cars 2 in 2011 was rated as U, yet, to some parent’s horror, involved a lot of guns and explosions, in a property that previously had focussed solely on car racing.
With small screen properties that are being adapted, though, parents have a lot of knowledge about the characters and their exploits. Parents spend a lot of time in the same room as children watching TV, and many even become wrapped up themselves in the programmes that their kids are watching.
This month sees the big screen debut of Peppa Pig, in an event where a new episode, Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots, is being shown alongside some classic episodes. Parents with young children are willing to pay to see episodes they have already seen because it is an event that they can share with their kids, as an introduction to big screen viewing for toddlers, and because they know exactly what is going to be shown. There is no anxiety over potentially harmful ideas being demonstrated to their precious children.
This also holds for Shaun the Sheep. The film may be an entirely new storyline, but there is no doubt it will be matching in tone to the TV show. Children watch episodes of their favourite TV show repeatedly, and don’t necessarily care that cinematic outings involve something new and original. Parents know that their children won’t be bored, as they’ll be enjoying a favourite character, and they also know they can count on the wholesome feel and attitude of the series.
This is not a uniquely British thing, either. SpongeBob SquarePants returns to cinema screens, over a decade since the first time, this weekend in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, and looks set to rule the box office this weekend. Again, SpongeBob is aimed at younger children, and represents an ideal first time trip to the movies for pre-school age children.
The success of Paddington, SpongeBob and their like will mean that more of these type of properties will find their way to cinema screens. Studios have discovered an under-fed market, and will rush to fill that gap, and rake in the untapped riches within. It is a good time to be a small screen star, and very soon, maybe your sons and daughters’ favourites will be coming to a theatre screen near you.