To the surprise of no one but the Hollywood insiders, none of whom apparently have ever spoken to a teenage girl, “Twilight” set records at the box office this weekend, exceeding all predictions to bring in over $70 million, almost doubling the previous record for a movie directed by a woman. Blockbuster films have always been directed at teen boys. “Twilight” shows that teen girls are just as eager to buy tickets — often more than one — for movies that speak to their lives and interests.
“This is a game-changer. This is an industry-changing performance,” Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock said today. “…With the success of Sex and the City, and Mamma Mia!, we’ve awoken a sleeping giant at the box office.”
The Associated Press spoke to an expert who saw a trend:
“Teen girls rule the earth,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. “If you look back at the `Hannah Montana’ movie, how well that did, and now this movie, the teen girl audience will never be ignored again or underestimated. It was always teen boys who were the coveted ones, but someone finally caught on to the idea that girls love movies, too, and if you create something that they’re into, that they’re passionate about, they will come out in big numbers and drive the box office.”
One of my favorite reviews of the film was from my pals at the Kansas City Star, who run my parental advisory capsules each week and occasionally invite me to write reviews. My email pen pal, “resident fangirl Sharon Hoffman” added her comments to the negative review from the paper’s critic, responding to his complaints about the story and the actors by explaining what she liked about the movie. In every case, I was on her side.
Today is the birthday of Lucas Grabeel, an extraordinarily gifted performer I’ve seen in four different movies in the past few weeks. He’s still best known for playing Ryan, the twin brother of the scheming Sharpay, in the High School Musical series.
They highlighted his singing and dancing, especially the third one, where he gets a little more screen time. In Alice Upside Down he played the title character’s older brother, showing an appealing on-screen confidence and a deft touch with comedy. They had to add a line to explain his shaved head — he had just completed an appearance as a young Lex Luthor in an episode of “Smallville.” He took the lead in the cute comedy The Adventures of Foodboy as a high school senior who discovers he has the power to make food appear.
And he has a small role in the prestige film “Milk,” co-starring with Sean Penn in the story of the first openly gay man to win major elective office in the United States. Grabeel plays photographer Danny Nicoletta, and you can glimpse him with a camera in this trailer for the film. I am very impressed with the range, screen presence, and charisma of this talented young actor and I expect him to be a breakout star.
Parents often fear that their kids are wasting their time clicking around the web. But a new study on teen use of online media commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation found that “America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online – often in ways adults do not understand or value.”
The most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media was conducted over a three-year period by 28 researchers and collaborators at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley. They interviewed over 800 young people and their parents, both one-on-one and in focus groups; spent over 5000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and other networked communities; and conducted diary studies to document how, and to what end, young people engage with digital media.
“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”
The study found that there were two primary categories of online activity, “friendship-driven” and “interest-driven.” “While friendship-driven participation centered on ‘hanging out’ with existing friends, interest-driven participation involved accessing online information and communities that may not be present in the local peer group….Youth are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online.” But, the study concluded, they are not taking full advantage of opportunities to go beyond their known social connections to reach out to new contacts and educational opportunities.
I agree that these skills are important. But I worry that we are ignoring some other skills children and teens also need. No matter how wired we become, in-person social interaction (call it analog if you must), from polite conversation to thank-you notes, will always be indispensable skills, as will research that can only be conducted off-line and the ability to write complete and grammatical sentences. The online world is an important one, but so is RL.
Thanks to my dad (and BFF), Newton Minow, for sharing this study with me.
Disney provided this interview with writer-director Andrew Stanton (of “Finding Nemo“) about the ideas and experiences behind Wall?E:
QUESTION: What inspired you to make Wall?E?
ANDREW STANTON: It was a love letter to all the movies that really affected me in my formative movie going years…from 1968 to 1982…embracing sci fi movies but some of the love stories too. These ere films like 2001, Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Alien, Blade Runner and Silent Running. It is an amalgamation of the effect it had on me to go into the theatre and be transported
by any of those.
QUESTION: What are the origins of the idea to the realization of a film that may come to be regarded as a masterpiece.
ANDREW STANTON: Well I never thought that, at the end, but it did have a long journey. It was this one sentence out of a lunch in 1994, we were in the middle of making Toy Story and we said simply ‘what if mankind left Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off?’. The idea of something doing the same thing forever was, to me, the ultimate definition of futility. I just thought that was the saddest character I’d ever heard of, and we said it should speak in the manner that it was built, much like R2D2 did. And wouldn’t it be cool to see a whole movie with a character like that. For us as filmgoers, we thought that would be great, but we immediately said nobody would ever give us money to do something like that. We hadn’t even finished Toy Story, we hadn’t proved that we could make any movie so that where it sort of lived and died. It took for us to make, I think, five or six more movies for me to get more confident as a filmmaker and for the technology to improve. And so about seven years later I’m in the middle of Nemo and I find my brain drifting to this little lonely robot, wondering who he is, what the story should be, what it should be about. By then I knew a lot more and I realized it was the loneliness that appealed to me, and the opposite of loneliness is love, and so it should be a love story. And then the idea of a love story combined with the sci-fi genre, then I was just hooked. I found myself, even at my busiest schedules, hiding in my office, starting
to write this. That’s always a good sign; I was pretty much hooked after that. By then I had more confidence that the audience trusted Pixar that we could go a little more out on a limb, and people might follow us then.
QUESTION: Can you recall what was on the menu of the famous lunch when so many ideas were born for Pixar films?
ANDREW STANTON: Knowing me I probably had a cheeseburger and fries!
QUESTION: Apart from being great entertainment is WALL?E quite profound?
ANDREW STANTON: To be honest we try to do that to all the films. I was trying – through this little robot – to answer the question of what is the point of living. I did not have an environmental agenda or an obesity agenda…or any of those things. But I am not stupid; I saw that as the movie was finishing that in a very eerie, prophetic way it was matching the headline. But it was all more metaphorical. It was all about loving the idea of telling the point of living through two programmed machines and that got me thinking that humans can be more robotic than machines, depending on how they choose to live their life. So I ended up on a premise of irrational love defeats life’s programming. That it takes a random act of kindness and love – whether it is in a one on one relationship or on a global scale – to kick us out of our habits and routines that unconsciously keep us from connecting with one another. So everything else is just abstract or fictional devices used to support that premise.