What’s The Difference Between Children’s & Family Films?


What exactly is a family film? How does it differ from a children’s film?

The current industry euphemism for “family” film is the four quadrant movie enjoyed by mom, dad, boy and girl. Such films need to be accessible to children, but smart enough to entertain their parents too.

Some experts refer to a three quadrant film; mom (or guardian), boy and girl. The children’s market refers to the 14-25 year olds and adults refer to the 25-59 age group. Who knows where the seniors with significant disposable income fit in?

The 60 plus demographic accounts for less than 10% of global box office. This means they either watch movies at home or only go to the theater for special films.

Disney and Pixar are key players in the family film market. It has a very specific mandate with regard to the market segment it services. Its target audience is 7-11 year old girls aspiring to be 15 or 16. This is often to referred to as wish fulfillment.

Recently, Disney seeks to attract boys in this age group with testosterone-depleted product falling within its standards and practices. Their films can have a limited degree of edginess, but are actively looking for aspirational material. Gunn Films, which has a first look with Disney, can produce slightly edgier fare than Disney.

Family movies don’t necessarily star children as their protagonists, although they do contain child characters. It’s important for writers to explore a child’s world and speak about them, not down to them.

Children are remarkably mature in terms of the film concepts they understand.

Other than that, family movies are dramatically similar to other movies. Learn to pitch a story idea in under 5 minutes highlighting the emotional beats. Include the tone, structure and key story beats. Ultimately it will be the concept that attracts a producer.

Convey your concept as verbal haiku. If you’re lucky enough to get read, many readers follow the 30-60-90 rule. These aren’t measurements, but rather the pages read where perceived plot points should occur. If you don’t grab the reader, they won’t read on. Some producers follow the “two rule”. If your first two scenes (not two pages) don’t interest them, they won’t read on.

The comic book trend is still vibrant, since Disney invested around $4 billion on Marvel Comics. The contemporary reimagining of fairy tales is also gaining traction.

In terms of pitching to a studio like Disney, create a big, universal world with real life stakes that keep escalating. They are still looking for tentpole features with emotionally-resonant characters with comedic moments. They are also attracted to properties like “Night At The Museum” which travels well internationally. Fox are still looking for superhero films. Sony and Fox studios are more likely to receive external pitches for animation films, while Pixar and Disney still tend to develop their projects in house.

MTV targets edgy girl material for the 7-11 age group. Nickelodeon is also foraying into theatrical releases with features.

Family is a well-sought after movie genre that studios produce ubiquitously. It is less subject to global fluctuations and such films are required for the holiday/ summer season.

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