In praise of cinema kids’ club screenings

Taking kids to the cinema can be a fraught experience, but kids' clubs make things easier. Simon's a fan...

The modern multiplex, sometimes with very good reason, comes in for a rough time. In recent months on this site along, we’ve discussed the problems of sound leakage from one screen to another, of unpoliced mobile phone use, and more recently, the surcharge that Odeon Cinemas is adding to big blockbuster release tickets (to pay for the extra staffing, apparently).

In short, there are plenty of brickbats to throw at multiplex cinemas.

However, this article isn’t designed to do that. Instead, I want to focus on something all of the major chains do, that I think deserves more attention and praise: kids’ club screenings.

These are the screenings of slightly older movies that cinemas put on early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, with a greatly reduced entrance fee. The idea is that it attracts younger kids, who may not otherwise get many opportunities to visit the cinema. For my children at least, it’s how we introduced them to cinema in the first place.

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Specifically, my eldest was once a huge fan of Pixar’s Cars (not any more: the sequel seemed to put him off). He had the DVD, but it popped up one morning at such a kids’ club screening, and so we took him. He sat through half of the film before getting fidgety, and we left early in the end (to this day, it’s the only time I’ve left a cinema without seeing the end of the movie in question – in my defence, I’d already seen Cars on loop by that point). But it got him interested in the cinema, and didn’t bankrupt us. And at a point where waiting for the DVD or Blu-ray is cheaper than a family cinema ticket, we spent just £3 for three tickets to Cars that day.

In the months that followed, we tried more and more films this way. Furthermore, we caught films that we hadn’t had a chance, or inclination even, to watch, and found some real treats. Meet The Robinsons, for instance, had flown under our radar back then, and yet it proved to be a real delight. My eldest is now a firm lover of the cinema, and his siblings are following in his footsteps. And whilst kids’ club screenings aren’t £1 in our area any more, they’re still remarkably cheap, with tickets topping out at £3 maximum.

It’s not just the chance to get a family into a film at the cinema and have change from a tenner, though. There’s another advantage to these screenings, that the majority of parents are likely to appreciate. And that’s that they’re a bit more relaxed. That people expect very young children to not settle as easily.

I’m always conscious, when I take them to the cinema, of any noise that my children make. My natural instinct is to urge them to be quiet, and to concentrate on the screen, although the younger the child, the more idealistic that is. But it does mean I rarely fully relax when watching some films.

After all, if you pay to see a brand new release on an opening weekend (paying full whack for the privilege), and there’s a child talking to their parents throughout, it tends to get the tolerance temperature rising. But part of the beauty of kids’ club screenings is that they allow younger children to get used to how the cinema works. They’re not expected to suddenly snap into the idea of watching a film in utter silence (an impossible job for most under 5s). And whilst kids running riot tend to get the usual well-deserved chorus of tuts, there’s a general appreciation that this is an entry point for many children to the difference between watching something on a huge screen, and rewatching the DVD of Frozen at home again.

And then there’s the programming. For kids’ club screenings occasionally throw up an unexpected gem in their schedules. My local, the Empire Cinema in Rubery, put on Studio Ghibli’s From Up On Poppy Hill at 10am one Sunday morning last year. I did a double take when I saw its name, amidst the usual mix of Disney/DreamWorks material. Thus, I took my daughter, and whilst there weren’t many of us there, such a visually striking film led to a very, very quiet collection of patrons. My daughter, still only six, has warmed to Ghibli movies since, and seeing one at the cinema surely helped.

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That said, From Up On Poppy Hill was a rare exception to the norm. The majority of kids’ club programmes are made up of children-targeting movies three or four months off general release, if not a little longer. I live in the Midlands, and in the coming weeks, films on offer include How To Train Your Dragon 2, the wonderful Arthur Christmas, The LEGO Movie, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Planes 2 and Postman Pat. There’s a good mix, and what’s more, prices range from £1.25 to £3 apiece.

There’s a trade off to getting a low price, in that kids’ club screenings aren’t always the quietest. Furthermore, there’s a higher proportion of parents checking their mobile phone in the middle of the film, which is arguably the key irritant about them. That sometimes, the films are seen as surrogate babysitters, rather than an opportunity to share something together. And, of course, a cheap ticket price doesn’t make the cost of the concessions stand any easier. For all the benefits of kids’ club screenings – under whatever guise each chain chooses to name them – there’s clear, calculated method to Britain’s multiplexes in putting them on.

And yet I maintain they’re a lovely way to introduce children to big screen movies, and the idea that watching a film can be an outing, and something really quite special. Given that most cinemas will now sell you a half decent cup of coffee too, they’re a fine way to enjoy a Saturday or Sunday morning. I’d still recommend giving Postman Pat a miss, though.

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