movie theater playground

Have you ever sat in a theater and glanced left, and then right, and then cradled your chin in thoughtful contemplation and wondered if the moviegoing experience would be improved by playground equipment? Well, wonder no longer! Thanks to one theater chain, full-blown play areas for children are now a thing in a handful of auditoriums around the world, including a few in Southern California. Come for the majesty of the communal experience of watching stories projected in dark room, stay for the sounds of the child sliding down the plastic tube built next next to your head!

At the risk of being labeled a snob for wanting to enjoy the theatrical experience and thinking that people unable or unwilling to respect others in a public space should just stay at home, this undertaking by the Mexico-based Cinepolis theater chain may be the worst thing to happen to movie theaters since the cell phone. Just look at this monstrosity in the picture below. Imagine watching a movie in the same room as this thing. Imagine teaching your kids that movies are something to be half-watched while you climb a jungle gym instead of something that can inspire passion and conversation. Imagine making the entire concept of cinema so…frivolous.

Gaze upon this nightmare as I clean my monocle and adjust my ascot and judge anyone who thinks this looks like a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Let me take off my snob hat off for a paragraph. It’s easy to see why a bunch of businesspeople staring at spreadsheets thought this was a good idea. As the LA Times explains, these theaters are intended to only show children’s movies (so no playtime during Logan) and are intended for families, especially those with kids who get restless or bored during movies. They charge $3 more per ticket and the kiddos can work off their energy on the playground rather than squirm and kick their neighbor’s seat. And as the article points out, family movies make up a substantial percentage of box office grosses – anything that gets families to come the theater could be a financial boon.

But that paragraph is over, so let’s get real. One paragraph from the article linked above is especially galling – Playtime intermissions! Keeping the lights on so kids don’t have to play in the dark! You know, concepts that contort the theatrical experience rather than enhance it:

Sala Junior cinemas in Mexico and other international locations feature a 15-minute intermission during the movies to let kids explore and use the restroom. The company has not decided whether do the same in the U.S. Cinepolis also is considering leaving the house lights on during the movie so that restless children can easily get up to play.

I’m fortunate to live in a city where the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain is king, where talkers are kicked out and cell phone use is prohibited. But I also admire how the Drafthouse schedules special screenings of their family movies where the volume is turned down, the lights turned up, and restless children and those with special needs are encouraged to attend. Those screenings are labeled clearly, building a moviegoing atmosphere for those who could potentially disrupt a regular screening.

But transforming a theater into a pseudo playground? De-prioritizing the movie in favor of playtime? This feels, quite frankly, insulting. Maybe we should be teaching kids how to engage with the stories they’re consuming rather than tell them art is nothing more than background noise? But hey, what do I know? I don’t run a movie theater chain. I just, you know, go to the movies several time a week.

This concept, which already exists in a few of Cinepolis’ international locations, comes to two California locations next week.

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