For years, already, I’ve seen friends’ cute Movie Night pics posted on Facebook–kids lined up in their sleeping bags with bowls of popcorn, eager for Mom to hit “play”. Captions noted the movie du jour; at each, I imagined my kids’ response and winced.
You see, I am somewhat of…well, ‘Love would call me a movie wimp. Let’s put it this way: when I went to see one of the Harry Potter movies in college with my roommate, she had to pry me off her arm in the middle of the movie because she had lost all feeling in that limb.
I’ve always been this way. As a kid, my Grandpa had to take me out of the theater during Bambi because I just couldn’t take it. I never did find out what happened in The Wizard of Oz because I couldn’t get past that terrifying tornado.
It didn’t have to be a movie, even. I remember hiding under the cedar chest when my mom was reading Little House on the Prairie aloud to me and the Indians came when Pa wasn’t home. Even when I read books on my own, I’d often stuff a bookmark in and flee the room during an intense part, returning a few minutes later to read another paragraph or two before dashing away from my book for another break.
So we’ve established that I’m a little odd. Well, apparently my kids have inherited this craziness–the older two, in particular–but each in their own way.
My oldest, Peatie, has always been easily upset by any bad behavior, whether real or imagined. ‘Love had to ease him into the old Donald Duck cartoon shorts because he was distressed by the rivalry between Donald and those lovable chipmunks, Chip and Dale.
Goobie Girl, by contrast, isn’t distressed by bad behavior or even especially by danger–it’s the relational things that get her. In one episode of the Backyardigans, the characters are planning a surprise party–but for most of the episode all you know is that there’s a message that one of the kids isn’t allowed to know about. She was so upset by the apparent social exclusion in that episode that she insisted that we turn it off; we didn’t see the happy ending until nearly two years later (despite owning the DVD with that episode).
Between the two of them (and me!), we’ve had a doozy of a time figuring out what movies they could handle, so for a long time we simply didn’t watch movies; we stuck to Backyardigans videos passed down from cousins or Magic School Bus episodes checked out from the library–and even those seemed a stretch at times. But this year we decided to give Movie Night a go, and the kids were so excited that it inspired us to try a few repeats. Here are the movies we’ve tried and any trouble we faced, for those who might find it helpful.
- Cinderella – This one seemed like an easy start, since it was a story we had already read. Sure, the stepsisters and stepmother are mean, but when you know to expect it, it’s not so awful. The kids were charmed by the mice and enchanted by the fairy godmother, and it was a win for all.
- Sleeping Beauty – ‘Love absolutely adored this movie as a kid because of the prince fighting the dragon at the end. Peatie and I found Maleficent to be utterly terrifying, but we managed to survive.
- Shaun the Sheep Movie – This seemed like a no-brainer, since we own two DVDs of short episodes that the kids love. Unfortunately, the plot line with the farmer’s amnesia–in which he doesn’t recognize Shaun and shoos him away–was super upsetting to Goober, who burst into tears during the movie and then awoke three times that night with nightmares. Didn’t see that one coming…
- The Sword in the Stone – This was another favorite of ‘Love’s from childhood. Though Peatie was distressed by the treatment of Wart at the beginning of the movie, Merlin’s magic saved the day, and the kids enjoyed it overall.
- Mary Poppins – This one is super long, so we divided it into a couple showings over the course of a weekend. There were some short sections that caused distress (the kids getting chased for not wanting to deposit their coins, for one), but the kids LOVED the musical numbers. In fact, this inspired some choreographed performances at our house for the next week or two, and they asked to repeatedly re-watch favorite songs (“Chim-Chimney” being at the top of that list). I have to say that I don’t love the plot of this one, but the songs are certainly fun, and it’s a classic.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – The plot of this one is certainly crazy, but I vaguely remembered it from childhood and thought it would be worth a try. Once again, the magic and the songs saved the day. Peatie was distressed by the baron chasing them and by the Kid-Catcher (who is, in all honesty, terrifying); the hilarious defeat of the bad guys–mostly by a group of kids–redeemed it in the end, though this one was not as beloved as Mary Poppins.
- Wall-E – We weren’t sure if this one would give Goober nightmares or not, but our first choice from the library was so badly scratched that we popped this one in. Thankfully, having robots and a cockroach as main characters with a futuristic setting and a happy ending must have made any emotional distress abstract enough that it worked out for her (though she did hop on my lap a few times when Eve was being taken away). And while Peatie was disturbed by the conflict with the Co-Pilot, that one resolved soon enough that it wasn’t too intense. Phew.
- How To Train Your Dragon – This one had the outcast element as a potential cause for distress for Goober and the premise of disobedience as a possible problem for Peatie, but the dragons were so overwhelmingly exciting that no one focused on the distressing elements. As per usual, the adults were remarkably un-helpful characters overall–something I don’t love about kids’ movies, though at least these adults were fairly well-intentioned–but DRAGONS! Peatie, in particular, loved this one.
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971 version) – There’s more than one version of this classic, but I’d heard that the 2005 version with Johnny Depp was kinda creepy, so I waited until I could find the old one. The movie industry has made big strides since this was produced, so it was not exactly eye candy, but it was a silly and imaginative tale. I didn’t like that they made Charlie just as naughty as the other kids, if more likeable and lucky, and both ‘Love and I hated that the movie ended with, “Do you know what happens to those who get everything they ever wanted? They live happily ever after!” But the kids weren’t frightened (except slightly at the really weird boat-in-the-tunnel scene), and both of my negatives were great conversation starters.