Okay, so Fred Claus made a decent chunk of change this past weekend but it wasn't anything overwhelming. In fact, all things considered, I thought it was pretty underwhelming. Based on the film's premise and the stars involved, Fred Claus looked like a definite box office juggernaut, am I right? Now, its $19 million dollar opening isn't exactly small potatoes. I just expected a little more I guess. One of the reasons I think the movie underperformed is people have a hard time seeing Vaughn as a family film star. Below are a few characteristics necessary to succeed in the kid-friendly environment.
1.) Be clean and PC
Will Ferrell made the Elf transition with relative ease because he's got that bizarre child-like innocence in a lot of his comedy and it can be infectious. Usually, Vaughn's infectious fun is sleazier. As a result, I think mothers are actually a little afraid of Vaughn. They won't take their kids to see him. His onscreen persona is usually that of a sexual predator and mothers are, to quote Swingers, like "little bunnies." The mother bunnies want to protect their children from predators like Vaughn.
2.) Be completely shameless
Ah-nuld, Tim Allen and Dwayne the Rock know 90% of being a successful family film star is widening your eyes at any wacky moment's notice and milking said moment for all it's worth. Now I'm not knocking the actors who can pull this off. Don't misunderstand me. Mugging in a family film is a sort of art form in and of itself. Basically, you have to just pretend everyone watching you is either a toddler or an idiot. Easier said than done. I think Vince Vaughn has a real problem doing this. Maybe he has a moral crisis he needs to deal with or something. When he bugs his eyes, its usually quicker, with very little milking going on. He doesn't hold the mug he puts on, you know? Because usually he's spitting out some rapid-fire adlib or something. His version of the bug-eye is more of a "Are you kidding me?" face. Kids aren't jaded or cynical enough to get with this (yet).
In a way, Vaughn is kind of like the uncle that will treat your kids like they're 37 from the day they're born. The kind of guy that looks at you funny when you reprimand him for offering your ten-year-old a shot of whiskey. Sure, he parties hardy with a couple of drunken elves in Fred Claus but really... who wouldn't?
3.) Lower your standards
Vaughn actually did a pretty good job this time around in this area, so at least it's a start in the right direction. See, there's a 75% chance the script you get for a family film is garbage. Remember the Bog of Eternal Stench, the stinky swamp in Labyrinth? That's where the people who write crap like Fred Claus live. These people know kids could care less if they've seen the same exact plot, scenario or scene before. It wouldn't surprise me if the studios already have a program that spits out a screenplay once you enter in a few essentials. I think they think if you try too hard to write a good family film, you end up with an adult-oriented movie like Finding Neverland. Fart, poop, bug-eyes. Boo-yah!
The truth is Fred Claus will pick up major bank after Thanksgiving weekend and the studios shouldn't be panicking any time soon. The Christmas movies always work out this way. Fred Clause 2 is not far away.
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Dre writes three times a week for Film.com. He's every kid's favorite uncle. Email him!