Why Netflix's 'Okja' Is the Best (and Worst) Kids Movie Ever
E.T., Elliot the Dragon, and the whole gang from the Hundred Acre Wood, you have a new sibling. Okja, the genetically mutated Superpig (who kinda looks more like a hippo to me) is a miracle of modern filmmaking.
This happy, cuddly, enormous smiling beast -- who'll giddily jump in a lagoon when her owner wants to collect fish – is going to drive the 10-and-under set insane with instant love. And that's before they learn that she farts on command and shoots poops at baddies.
Which is why Netflix has a problem. Well, maybe Netflix doesn't have a problem, but parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts do. Okja, directed by South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) and co-written by Jon Ronson (the guy who wants you to think twice before shaming someone on Twitter), is an extraordinary and emotional adventure with thrills and laughs and next-level special effects. It's about a little girl who will stop at nothing to rescue her pet from evil, greedy people. (Tilda Swinton is Okja's PR-spinning take on Cruella De Vil.) There are sequences that are right from the Spielberg playbook.
But despite those elements, this movie isn't for kids. For starters, there are F-bombs, which probably isn't a dealbreaker for some parents. (It wasn't for mine, but it came with a stern warning that if I was caught repeating I'd never see another movie again, and that actually worked.) But that's a surface issue.
The next problem is Bong's decision to cut away from the adventure in favor of lengthy scenes of corporate intrigue. While some may get a kick out of seeing Tilda Swinton in braces and a platinum blonde wig, the satire in these sequences will first fly over youngsters' heads and then bore them to distraction. Keep in mind this is a Netflix release, where the thin veneer of civilization that a theater provides won't be a factor. (Some adults might suffer the same fate. Corporations are malevolent. We know this. Let's advance the story now.)
Then there are the scenes of Superpigs in mortal danger. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, the final reels take us inside a slaughterhouse, and there's no Temple Grandin to help make this an easy experience. It isn't overly gory, but the scenes are intense. Does this make Okja a good movie for the rest of us? By and large, yes. The movie zips around like a dropped firehose a bit when it comes to tone -- lovable, scary, silly, morbidly depressing, back to silly -- but good art can and maybe should do that.
While these elements might not make it a typical feel-good children's film, it's probably a movie that kids should see, especially if parents want to clue them in early to the depravities of capitalism. But make time for some conversation after, and maybe even during, the picture. And if you are planning on serving pork chops after you stream, you may want to reconsider the menu.
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