Playgrounds in Movie Theaters? Worst. Moviegoing. Experience. Ever.
The moviegoing experience has taken so many forms over the years. Some of my early cinematic memories from childhood took place in a single-screen theater on the town square where I grew up. I can remember in later years when the small movie house in a shopping center in town expanded to two screens -- it's now a pizza restaurant.
I've seen films in megaplexes so crowded that I could hear the sound effects from the next room over. I had the pleasure of seeing my all-time favorite movie, Apollo 13, in IMAX for its tenth anniversary. I got to see Rogue One (for the third time) in an art-house theater, where my friend and I sat in a small room with a handful of others munching gourmet popcorn and drinking Coke out of a glass.
The high-end cinematic experience is in vogue these days. Theaters offer gourmet meals during the film, while bars in the lobby offer specialty cocktails and craft beers. Moviegoers can sit in seats these days that make the couch at home pale by comparison. But one cinema chain just might be taking the experience a little too far.
Cinépolis has announced plans to open theaters with children's playgrounds inside them. The first two "Cinépolis Junior" locations are set to open in Southern California later this month. As James Hibberd notes at Entertainment Weekly Online:
The move comes at a time when most cinema chains — led by pioneer Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — are becoming increasingly strict about limiting disruptions in theaters by banning talking, phone calls, and texting. But the Cinépolis Junior concept goes 180-degrees in the other direction, creating a moviegoing experience that shrugs off the notion anybody should have to pay focused attention to a story for two hours straight.
The company further describes the new concept as a “space where parents feel at ease and kids feel right in their element as they watch their new favorite film.” The theaters will also feature “elevated snack favorites such as enhanced popcorn flavors like Cheetos, Chili, Caramel, and Zebra, along with other kid-friendly menu items,” as well as “seating alternatives such as colorful bean bag-like seating and lounge chairs, and vibrant décor.”
The only explanation for this new concept is that Cinépolis seeks to drive moviegoers to watch everything at home. Then again, there could be a nostalgic factor at play here, as the playgrounds hearken back to the drive-in days. Or could it be that the folks who came up with Cinépolis Junior have surrendered to the ever shorter attention spans of today's kids?
Of course, like so many cinema perks these days -- like 3D, reserved seating, or a chair that would make the Queen of England jealous -- the theater playground will involve a surcharge. That's right, parents: you'll have to pay extra for your kids to not watch the movie. I'm completely baffled at the thought that moms and dads would even remotely think that this is a good idea.
So, how did the social media world embrace this revolutionary new concept? Judging from the disgusted (and often clever) responses on Twitter, not so much.
Cinépolis Junior may well be the Ford Edsel of entertainment. The whole concept sounds all wrong: noisy kids right next to rows of folks who want to pay attention to what they've paid to watch, as well as the worst nightmare of a safety-conscious parent or a germaphobe. Parents seem to have a hard enough time keeping their kids quiet and engaged during a movie these days -- imagine what giving them the option of running around on a playground at the theater will do.
If cinema playgrounds are the future of the theater-going experience, I'll just stick to watching movies in the comfort of my own home.