One of the weird movies that my sisters and i watched together (and my parents, my mom especially, were a little uncomfortable about ) was Toys. It’s a classic. What more can you say about a movie that takes a fantastical playground of a toy development company and uses it to say something about the relationship of children to war and the relationship of dreams and fantasy to marketability? But it got me thinking about toys generally – the lack of quality ones on the market that really let children imagine and the omnipresent need to sell more stuff.
This can most clearly be seen in the children’s book/movie/TV/merchandise-industrial complex. On the top ten list of highest grossing movies of all time (according to Wikipedia), three were what I would call children’s movies: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Shrek 2. Half were based on books – the two Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings 2 and 3, and Jurassic Park. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation and include only box office sales.
I couldn’t find accurate numbers on related merchandise sales, but maybe we’re not jeopardizing our children’s development by flooding them with movies and related goods. Maybe parents are still reading to their children instead of plonking them down in front of Finding Nemo again. Maybe they don’t have 20 different lunch boxes, each for a different six months of the newest kiddie movie craze. Or maybe we’re simply taking them to more adult films, like the Pirates of the Carribbean.
In order to get a better sense of the scope of the commercialization of children’s literature, I took a short survey of all the kiddo books Corina and I could think of with associated collections of merchandise. These are collections, mind you, not just one or two items but rather an entire marketing campaign. We also used only those examples that started as books. The list follows:
Winnie the Pooh, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit, If You Give Mouse A Cookie, Chronicles of Narnia, Golden Compass, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, Cordoury, Nancy Drew, Curious George, Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, Berenstein Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, American Girls Collection, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. There are probably more, but we were trying to be at least somewhat rigorous.
Now I love books, and I especially love children’s books. And yes, it’s nice to occasionally bring a little bit more of that imaginary world into your own life. I mean, I was ecstatic when JellyBelly did Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans – how else would I get to experience a true-to-life taste of earwax without the unhygienic method of a finger in my ear? But still, do we really have to tear apart stories that are formative for many of use just to turn a profit? Should we reduce the quality of our literary efforts for the young just to church out another hardback to sell? I just remain grateful that the Marsh wiggles and other characters of The Silver Chair will remain forever unmarketable.