It makes me a very privileged person to be able to say this, but up until this weekend, I didn’t much think about the cost of taking my kids to the movies. It’s just something I do. I see a lot of movies, and if my kids are old enough to see them with me and are even a little interested, I’m going to take them. The movie theater is my church, and I want my kids to take in as many services — good or bad — as possible.
However, halfway through Ferdinand, the latest offering from Blue Sky Animation (The Ice Age movies, Rio), the absurdity of spending $75 to pay for tickets and concessions for my three kids to see a forgettable, generic movie finally started to settle in. I began to calculate how many hours I’d have to work or how many posts I’d have to write to pay for the experience of half-watching a mediocre film with meandering interest with my equally unimpressed children. It’s an absolutely insane thing to do! For $75, I could pay for two pizza nights! I could buy them two new pairs of shoes or a couple of pairs of new snow pants. Seventy-five dollars would pay for practically any toy they could want, and here I was blowing it on a middling movie experience that features a horse that I swear to God says at one point, “I’ve fallen and I can’t giddy-up.”
How many years have I been drinking this Kool-Aid? And I obviously wasn’t the only parent in the theater with multiple kids who decided to shell out $60 to $90 for a mild hour and a half diversion. For Coco, maybe it’s worth it (for Coco, it’s definitely worth it). But for Ferdinand? It’s amiable enough that my younger kids found it pleasant (my ten-year-old was just there for the concession-stand candy), but they would have found it no less entertaining if we’d waited three months and paid $4 to digitally rent it at home. I could’ve purchased the same popcorn and candy for $5 to $6 and had the same experience on my couch, at home, for $12, all in.
I used to think that the cost of a movie ticket was one of the best bargains around, and that’s true if you’re going by yourself, as I usually do ($8.50 for two hours of entertainment is a solid bargain, even if you do add another $8 in concessions). But having a family changes the entire dynamic. I paid $75 to see fucking Ferdinand, because my kids loved the book and they wanted to see a movie that — aside from a gentle, flower-sniffing bull — had almost nothing in common with Munro Leaf’s delightful The Story of Ferdinand. Did they love me any more afterwards? Absolutely not! They didn’t even wait until they were back in the car to argue about who got the most Starbursts. Hell, I don’t think they said one word about the film once we left the theater — it left zero impression. They were literally more excited to talk about the Coke commercial before the movie that they’ve seen a dozen times and they’ve never even tasted a Coke product before.
That’s not to say that Ferdinand is a terrible film. It’s fine. John Cena’s voice work is decent (and so is that of Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and even Peyton Manning), the animation is OK, and the story is sweet. It passes the time mostly pain-free (except when it attempts to take stabs at humor). It’s the perfect movie to throw on for your kids to watch during a Saturday morning in March when you’re trying to get a couple of hours of work done: It’ll mostly keep their attention, and it’s not so dumb that you’ll feel guilty for letting them watch it. But that’s literally all it is worth. Pay the $4 rental, and save the other $70 to buy their affection in far more rewarding ways.