Believe it or not, there was a time when I thought that theaters were a magical place of wonder. These were places with fun arcades, tons of great movies to watch, and a generally solid atmosphere. Nowadays, theaters have devolved into this rather cynical experience. All the drink dispensers have been turned into barely functional I-Phones, arcades are pretty much dead and few theaters have them, and most of the movies that are shown nowadays tend to be of dubious quality.
I’m not saying theaters are terrible, but things have definitely fallen far from what they used to be. With that in mind, let’s flashback to a simpler movie-going time: The 80s. The year was 1988 and “Cinemark Theaters” had only been running for about 4 years at that point. Cinemark made the genius move of creating something new for their “Policy Trailers”, which tended to go over the theater’s rules for the audience.
It’s not always easy to get people to follow the rules, so Cinemark came up with a genius idea for their policy trailers: Animated musical shorts! Cinemark’s advertising agency created “Front Row Joe”, an anthropomorphic cat in a world filled with other two-legged felines.
Joe was your average theater-goer, at least to an extent. Joe obeys all of the theater’s rules and regulations, but is rewarded far beyond what a regular follower of the rules would gain. Joe obtains a girlfriend, a best friend, the admiration of his peers and fellow patrons, and a fancy car. Why? It’s all because he wasn’t a dick at a theater!
In real-life, you’ll never receive much admiration for being a nice guy at the theater. These trailers make good behavior at the cinemas seem more rewarding than it actually is. Heck, nowadays few people obey the rules at a theater as is! To be fair, these trailers were probably more effective back than they they would be now.
So, what makes the trailers so good? Well, the animation and characters are pretty good. Sure, the animation was slightly above TV quality, but it had a lot of energy and passion put into it. It featured Joe heading to his local Cinemark theater, while being a nice guy to generally everyone he meets.
While this is happening, the local jerk “Clyde” and his sidekick “Wyatt” show up and generally break the rules. Well, Clyde breaks the rules and Wyatt just tries to enjoy the movie. In fact, Wyatt only ever broke one rule. This probably explains why he ends up becoming Joe’s friend in later shorts.
Throughout all of these shorts, Clyde continually did bad things at the theater and was cruelly punished for each individual violation. Good thing this was a cartoon, since I imagine this level of violence in live-action would scar the kiddos watching these films. Years went by and even more shorts were made, though the later ones varied in both quality and length.
The first 3 shorts were all 2 minutes in length, while each one after that was between 40-60 seconds long. On top of this, the animation quality took a nosedive in some of the 90s shorts. The 2D animation was done in digital cells during the late 90s, while early CGI animation became prevalent in the later shorts as well. As a result, the animation eventually became a mixed bag of mediocrity.
The songs in each short remained good throughout, due to covering a mix of different musical genres. From 50s pop to classic rock, there was a ton of good musical styles on display here. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. In 1997, a whopping 9 years after the original short came out, the series was discontinued.
This all changed in 2004, when Front Row Joe made a return in the most mind-numbing way. The shorts were brought back, but without the catchy musical numbers and heart that it originally had. The animation took a huge nosedive in quality, which resulted in it looking like poor quality art that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Microsoft Paint parody.
The FRJ shorts eventually went full-on 3D with CGI animation, before disappearing from theater screens in 2009. Joe and friends still make their way into some of the theater’s international advertising from time to time, but still remains mostly forgotten. It’s a shame too, because the FRJ shorts were truly entertaining for its time.
They went into detail on proper theater behavior and did it in a way that was both educational and entertaining. There’s nothing evolutionary about the shorts, but they were definitely fun little cartoons from a forgotten era. I’d love for Joe to make some kind of return to the silver screen, but it’s doubtful. Truly great policy trailers are a rarity nowadays, due to the lack of effort theaters tend to put into them. Regardless, I’ll never forget the classic FRJ shorts, even though I never actually went to the theaters that aired them.