The latest trend in Hollywood is toward anti-heroes, which can make a fun change up in the usual story structure for adults, but can leave kids confused. Our culture is familiar with a hero who battles numerous obstacles, learns a lesson and overcomes his weakness. Today, Maleficent, the latest anti-hero, is trying to capture the attention of kids who are in the beginning stages of learning how to discern between right and wrong.
Anti-heroes are bad people or outcasts who can be good at times. They are typically out for themselves both in decision-making and outlook on life. For a society to accept an anti-hero, it must first choose to stop distinguishing between right and wrong. The society must get to the place where it’s tolerant of all behavior, regardless of how improper or dysfunctional it might be.
The storyline in Maleficent puts the audience in a place where they must allow wrong doings through a form of emotional justification. More simply put, they must choose to be tolerant of wrongdoing. Once done, the audience can easily relate to the anti-hero and even embrace her worldview on life.
Children who have not yet reached the age of reason are not capable of understanding the lessons that can be prompted by an anti-hero story. Instead, they accept it as facts and many times find a way to emulate the anti-hero. While this outcome is not a given, many kids can use what they’ve learned from the actions of an anti-hero to justify their dark side.
Just as a hero can lead a person into hope and to some form of action, the anti-hero can also lead the indiscriminating viewer into a worldview that is highly self centered and sometimes mentally dangerous. This issue becomes even more complex in the eyes of a child who hasn’t reached the developmental stage that allows for reason.
The key question for parents to consider is whether or not they want their kids following or emulating an anti-hero.
Years ago I watched a film that showed Judas as an anti-hero. He had a great following in the Pharisees who wanted to see Jesus taken out. While the Jewish people of the day may have held a similar perspective, modern culture suggests that Judas was an antagonist or a bad guy, not an anti-hero.
That’s not to say all anti-heroes are bad. Most are just people who don’t have an heroic aptitude, but was in the right place at the right time and happened to save others from some form of distress.
I recently watched a segment on 60 Minutes that featured a coach who was anything but a hero. However, his actions, not heroic tendencies, still made him a hero to many. There were several great lessons learned by watching the anti-hero coach, which is why the story structure can be a great change up for the discerning viewer. But, anti-heroes are very confusing to kids who haven’t hit the age of reason.
My recommendation for those parents interested in watching Maleficent is that they do so without young children. And, for those with older kids, I recommend conversation after the film that dives into perceptions and whether or not right and wrong still exist today.