Market for children's films has matured


Hollywood is after your kids.

Why? Because demographics and "family values" mean big ticket sales, as "Aladdin" and "Home Alone 2" have proved so far this Christmas season.

In just five weeks, the two films have pulled in a combined $151 million at the box office. And that's before any holiday school vacations, which are sure to produce a flood of kids at the movies between Christmas and New Year's.

Its opening weekend, "The Muppet Christmas Carol" finished sixth among the top 10 movies, pulling in $5 million.

The kiddie trend is not completely new; Disney has been focusing on children with its animated features ("Beauty and the Beast") and pictures like "The Mighty Ducks," which has earned $50 million so far this year.

Charles Fleming, a Hollywood reporter for Variety, calls them "multiple-threat kind of movies" -- pulling in, like "Beauty" and "Aladdin," broad audiences of children and adults, or, like "Ducks," repeat viewings at the theater or on video cassette.

At Columbia, Arnold Schwarzenegger's new project, "The Last Action Hero," was written to ensure it would get no higher than a PG-13 rating, said studio spokesman Mark Gill. The film, due in June, is about a teen-age boy who enters the fantasy world of his favorite superhero, played by Mr. Schwarzenegger.

"That would never have happened two years ago," said Mr. Gill. "If you have a movie that works for the under-12 set and their parents, you've done something really smart."

Among kid-targeted projects at Columbia, for example, are "I'll Do Anything," starring Nick Nolte and 5-year-old Whittni Wright, and "Calendar Girl," starring Jason Priestley. Warner Bros. has plans for at least seven pictures with child or pre-teen appeal. TriStar has signed children's illustrator and author Maurice Sendak for future projects, and several other studios are eyeing the children's market with new interest.

The change, in part, is due to a shifting population. As baby boomers age, they find they want to go to movies suitable for the kids. And some of those boomers run movie studios.

"There are a lot of executives in Hollywood in their late 30s and early 40s with kids, going to the movies," says Mr. Fleming. "I think a lot of these executives are reassessing the quality of the work they have been doing, and reassessing it with more of a parent's eye."

The Motion Picture Association of America's ratings system is beginning to show signs of the shift. Between 1989 and 1991, the number of R-rated movies fell from 67 percent to 61 percent of the total. The number of PG films fell slightly, but PG-13 films rose from 16.4 percent to 19.2 percent.

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