When it comes to forms of entertainment, I’m not a huge movie person, at least not in the sense of keeping up with new releases or following foreign or independent films. I pretty much never know what movies they’re talking about at the Oscars, give or take a title or two. Don’t get me wrong, if Legally Blonde or Sixteen Candles or some other mindless but beloved movie is on television, it won’t matter that I’ve seen it 21,927 times. I will get distracted by it and watch it again. And again. My husband is amused by this habit. But then I remind him about his equal commitment to Major League and he pipes down.
But I generally don’t seek out the new (or better) stuff. The fact that we just watched Moneyball and Iron Man 2 during the past quarter is groundbreaking. Netflix surely must buy another copy of whatever movie they’ve sent us in our queue just because they know it will be parked in our mail pile for months. Every time we actually go to a movie theater—which has generally been limited to the releases in the Lord of the Rings series—the ticket price is usually $4 more than the previous outing. I’m guessing I will need a mortgage for The Hobbit?
So we’re not movie people, generally speaking.
I also did not grow up with too many Disney movies in my own childhood, except I do remember seeing Jungle Book in the movie theater in Ohio when I was little. Of course access to movies was a lot different then in the pre-VCR/DVD/Blu-Ray/Netflix/Red Box/streaming days, but I certainly missed out on some of the classics nonetheless.
This is all, in part, probably why we didn’t expose M to movies until a few months before she turned 4 last summer. In fact, she saw her first DVD movie (Little Mermaid) and movie theater movie (Winnie the Pooh) last summer on vacation. Then she watched Cinderella in the fall, followed by A Bug’s Life last month. And yesterday we watched Jungle Book, four months after receiving it from me for Christmas. That’s it. She’s seen five movies.
Correction: Five and a half movies. She got through half of The Fox and the Hound before she realized that something might go awry in the fox-dog friend dynamic. Then she asked us to turn it off. So we did.
I am fairly certain this list of movies is FAR less than most other 4.5 year olds.
But it isn’t for lack of us allowing or offering them. Not that we’re pushing movies on her like a drug dealer—though I fully admit to suggesting it more often on long, rainy days when we’ve got cabin fever and I just need a mental break—but we certainly have offered more over the past year to have “movie nights” or watch any of the several borrowed Disney titles from M’s aunt. Almost without exception, she declines. Nope. She’d rather play.
And I’m not talking about rejecting mundane movies that fit into our social values or that no one would want to sit through. I’m talking about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Movies that I am not a huge personal fan of, but I know are among K-Prep pop culture. We offered to let her watch some of those just to see if it was the type of movie she was rejecting, rather than movies as entire genre.
Considering her interest and intrigue in the princess culture (not to mention how little we let her watch TV to begin with), I have to admit this rejection had me very confused. Here we were offering her full access to the very movies that the wands, dress up clothes, tiaras, toothbrushes and every other marketable item are predicated on (and which she is strongly attracted to), and yet she does not want to watch them. Hmmm….
It’s not that we think she needs to see movies in the sense that she will not be a complete person. I may not do as well at Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy because I’ve seen a microscopic fraction of the movies ever made, but I don’t feel like less of a person. I get my kicks in other ways, that’s all. But as M grows closer to five and beyond, I know there are just some movies that for nostalgic or pop culture reasons—not to mention vague social currency—she’s close to the right age to see some of them now and might actually enjoy them.
Admittedly, it also gives me a slight pang when I see the unintended results of her short movie resume, particularly when her friends want to reenact movies that they have seen but she has not. She wants to play with princesses or whatever with them, but takes her own view of what the characters might do. I love, love, love seeing her like this as an independent thinker. I love that she isn’t confined by the movie’s parameters, simply because she doesn’t know them. But then I see her peers not really engaging with her when she does that because she’s not clued in and following the “script”, much less aware of some of the tenor of dialogue presented in these movies. My sense is that they feel like she isn’t as worldly as they are and she is somewhat marginalized because of it. How much she is aware that it’s happening, I’m not sure. In my mind, what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies shouldn’t be the price of admission for play, but the sad reality is that it often is in today’s media obsessed culture. I know she’s young and that over time she’ll find friends more like her and none of this will really matter, but when you see your kid being considered “square” on some level by her friends at such a young age all because of what she’s not seen on TV or in the movies, you feel for her.
No doubt, it’s got me to wondering why she doesn’t seem interested in movies, even the “eye candy” type that are typical girl fare. And then yesterday while we were watching Jungle Book—I thought she might like it because it is nostalgic to me being the one movie I do remember seeing as a kid, at her current age no less—it became clear to me what the problem is.
She’s afraid something “bad” is going to happen. You can see it in her body language and the way she demands that we sit next to each other with no room between us. And she asks a hundred questions throughout the entire movie, the predominate one being “Is something bad going to happen?”
She’s worried about seeing or hearing someone get hurt, not just physically hurt but emotionally as well. I think I’ve said before that she has some highly sensitive traits. She teared up the first time she watched Cinderella when the two step-sisters were talking unkindly to Cinderella. She covered her ears when the music got loud in A Bug’s Life. Her focus on the first half of Jungle Book was what happened to Mowgli’s mother, as in did she drown or why did she give him up as a baby? She was truly concerned about this aspect of the story.
Yet, any story worth its salt has conflict. That’s what makes it a story. In kid films, most of these conflicts are subtle and resolved, usually without gore and violence. You often get to take away a lesson from the story, or, at the very least, the idea that notwithstanding whatever conflict is at hand, people can still survive and move forward. They can pick up the pieces and make it through the tough times. Good versus evil. All metaphors about life, amped up with colorful animation and an Alan Menken or Randy Newman soundtrack that gets stuck in your head for weeks.
Which makes answering her question hard on a few levels. Of course I know the plots of and endings to these stories. Yes, something “bad” is going to happen, but being a Disney or children’s movie in general, it usually will get resolved in due course. Does this mean I should I give them away just so she can watch the movie at ease? Is it fair to give a spoiler, because what, then, is the point of watching the movie in the first place? Do I set her up for disappointment or distrust if these stories, which do usually have a happy ending, do not mirror life now or later on? What if there is something bad that happens? Is that a reason not to watch a movie? Isn’t this the point of books and movies to some degree, to expose us to these kinds of conflicts in a secure environment where we can process it with consideration so that we can be a little better armed “out there”? When do we start to take our fingers out of the holes in the bubble that our young children start out in? Should we lead the way or follow their lead?
I am struggling a bit with the answers to these questions.
Needless to say, going forward we’ll just let her come to her own conclusions of what movies she would like to see and when, if at all. If borrowing Thomas the Train DVDs from the library is her cup of tea right now, so be it. Is “something bad going to happen” if she doesn’t watch the full contingent of G movies out there before she gets to Kindergarten? My guess is no, so long as she has the bare necessities from her dad and me.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.
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