Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A review of cartoon features

I will admit that I am a fan of Disney's classic children's movies.  I don't mean the ridiculous straight-to-DVD sequels like Aladdin III or any of the Disney princess series, but the big theatrical productions have usually met my quality standards.  I'm also a fan of Pixar's children's movies and the old Don Bluth films, as well as most of Miyazaki's animated features (of which some are, admittedly, not meant for children.)  My son has just started actually paying attention and watching some movies from beginning to end, rather than catching snippets between snack, playing with stuffed animals, and getting a new diaper.  The fact that he's actually been reciting lines from movies and is clearly getting something out of watching these films has prompted me to review and reexamine some of the children's movies in my collection.

My favorite is (of course) The Lion King.  The circle of life theme really jives with my understanding of the universe, my belief in reincarnation and my deep convictions that all forms of life in the ecosystem must be respected. I'm not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but I think it's important for children to be raised understanding that their hamburger was once a cow, and that cows deserve respect because we are dependent on animals like them for survival.  Anyway, in exposing my nearly two and a half year old son to my favorite cartoon classics, I'm seeing them with new eyes.  I'm looking for the underlying lessons, making sure that the overall dialogue is not pedantic or in any way talking down to him, and definitely watching for parts that might give him nightmares.  It's kind of surprising, actually.  The Lion King satisfies all my scrutinies, although my husband does not like that the movie essentially endorses monarchies and the idea of "birthright."  Nevertheless, even the scary and sad parts don't bother my son, and he's never had a Lion King themed nightmare or clung to me when the hyenas were chasing Simba.  I really like the character Nala, and how she bitches Simba when he thinks he's so great as a cub, and again when he's being an irresponsible adult.  I love a strong female character who calls out the male lead when he's being an idiot.  Plus, it's my personal favorite, so I don't mind that this is the movie my son wants to watch twice a day.

Aladdin is my husband's favorite Disney movie, and it really bothered him that we didn't have it in our collection.  In fact, there seems to be a huge gender discrepancy between this movie and The Lion King.  Given the choice between the two, the men all prefer Aladdin and the women all prefer The Lion King.  I have no idea why.  So I purchased it last week and it finally arrived last night.  He was so happy and ready to show it to our son that I just had to smile.  But when I came back from the gym, my man gave me a sad shake of the head.  He said that Jafar's snake staff and the voice from the cave of wonders had both terrified our son.  Strange, since I never would have thought of Aladdin as a particularly scary kid's movie.  Anyway, he couldn't even finish the movie, so I can't report on how he handled the end with Jafar's fast-paced attacks on nearly every character in the cast, but I'll assume that when he can handle the rest of the movie it'll be okay to give the end a shot.  It's too bad too, because I approve of the overall message that women are not objects and deserve to make their own decisions.  As a pagan, the magical theme of the movie is appealing, too.

Mulan is another one I really like.  I understand that I will need to present this movie to my son as more of a history lesson in how women were treated, but I like its girl power theme, and how in the end a smart man knows to embrace strong women, rather than be threatened by them.  This movie is also the last movie in enjoyed Eddie Murphy in.  Sigh.  Once again, I was surprised by my son's lack of response to the "scary" parts of the movie.  He wasn't bothered by the Huns or the mystical themes.

Finding Nemo is another movie my son loves.  He loves the fish, isn't bothered by the sharks or the dentist (commendable, since that drill whir makes his mother cringe) and he seems to be really into it when Nemo is reunited with his father.  The theme of this movie is a little harder for me.  Making sure you don't shelter and control your children too much is more of a lesson for me than for my son.  Yikes.

Up is a movie we saw in the theater, and my son's first movie-going experience.  It weirded me out a little that some of the scarier parts of the movie didn't bother him in the theater, but once we owned the movie on DVD he was afraid.  The oddest bits scared him, too.  Kevin, the bird, freaked out my son when she came around the corner.  The dogs with their talking collars (except lovable Doug, of course) made him anxious, and the old man's angry statement that Doug was a bad dog really bothered him.  He was on the verge of crying, and had to be comforted, actually.  None of this was an issue in the theater, but then again, he was nursing or cuddling with me during the entire movie the first time, so that could be it.  Anyway, I like the lesson that sometimes your childhood heros turn out to be douches, and that your life's adventures don't end just because someone important in your life isn't there to have them with you anymore.  Hmm....maybe another lesson for mommy?

Ponyo is my son's second theater experience, and we are still waiting for it to come out on DVD.  It came out this past summer, but he loved it so much that he still talks about it.  We'll be getting it as soon as it comes out on DVD.  That movie was whimsical and interesting without anything in it that I would think of as scary.  Hopefully our home viewing experience will be just as good as our theater one.  I'm not really sure what to take from this movie, but I do like the idea of challenging authority and embracing new experiences.

Spirited Away is, like Ponyo, a Miyazaki film from Japan.  I figured that, if he liked Ponyo so much, we could give Spirited Away a chance.  Bad idea.  All the spirits sent him into a panic, and he watched most of the movie clinging to me while pointing to the screen and asking "What's that?" in a quavering voice. Fortunately, no nightmares resulted, and I was surprised the next day when my son was playing with a plastic alligator that he had named Haku, after the dragon and one of the main characters in the movie.  Maybe this one will be okay in a year or so.  Either way, I think that I would understand this movie and Ponyo both better if I were Japanese.  I am still amused that the main character gets herself in trouble and the only way out is to get herself a job.  This speaks volumes about the differences in the American and Japanese cultures, I think.

I can't even review The Nightmare Before Christmas or Monsters, Inc. because my son couldn't make it through even ten minutes of either movie.  Sadly, it looks like I'll be waiting a year or two before watching these my little man. Either that or I'll be spending a few extra nights sleeplessly comforting a child with nightmares.

The Incredibles is the last of the movies my son loves.  Thank the Goddess, because I love it, too.  I'm ecstatic that there is a movie emphasizing that people who are truly excellent at something should be honored for that, and that bringing them down so that everyone is equal makes no one special.  Another lesson of this movie that deserves a nod is that there are unforseen consequences for even the most well-intentioned actions.  My husband loves that there is a movie that reexamines the superhero, and shows them as mundane people doing laundry, going to work and preparing dinner.  None of the scary parts of this movie bothered my son, but I was upset when I saw my son standing with a squirt gun, legs spread in correct position for shooting, only to realize that he learned this in The Incredibles.

These are all the movies my son has been able to sit through to date.  I'm sure I'll post more as he starts to expand his tastes in movies.

Having a child has made me watch these kid's movies with a more critical eye.  I find myself thinking twice before showing my son movies that I loved and watched repeatedly as a child.  Do the Charlie Brown movies, with the constant bullying and putting down of the main character, make children think that this behavior is acceptable?  Does The Little Mermaid undermine feminism because, in the end, Ariel needs to be rescued by her fairytale prince?  Is The Land Before Time unacceptable because none of the correct names for the dinosaurs are ever used, and dinosaurs from different eras are incorrectly shown as living at the same time?  I wonder how many parents actually think about these things before showing their children these movies.  I am torn whether to show him, and any future children, these films, because I disapprove of censorship just as much as I disapprove of these messages.  Sigh.  This was not in my parenthood manual.

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