Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Old movies, young kids

Helena's taste in films I find a bit odd. But there's no doubt that tastes and interests are guided by exposure:

When our nephew was 3, we tried to watch "Mary Poppins" — only to be met with an unexpected stumbling block: If it wasn't animated, he wasn't interested. (Really, really not interested.) As a result, after our son was born, my husband went on a musicals campaign: "Singin' in the Rain," "Swing Time," "The Wizard of Oz," even parts of the Bollywood extravaganza "Lagaan." By the time our son was 3, he demanded his own pair of tap shoes.

When Helena came along there were only 2 children's movies in my video collection: Fantasia and Charlotte's Web. Five years ago the VCR was already a bit temperamental, so they've been viewed but rarely.

Among baby preparation purchases were The Aristocats (a sentimental favourite of mine, although I try to resist the Disney machine as best I can) and Hans Christian Andersen (of which I have fond memories from my own childhood). About this time we also received a copy of The Secret Garden, "for when she's older."

Our movie viewing then, in Helena's early days, was limited to these. So maybe it comes as no surprise that she likes them, and has a fondness generally for "older" animated movies as well as live-action films.

I think kids respond to live-action more than we give them credit for. Children's television programming in my day featured real people: Romper Room, Mr Dress-up, The Friendly Giant, Mr Rogers. Even Sesame Street muppets interacted with regular folks much more frequently than they do today. It's bemoaned that it's increasingly harder to hold a child's interest, but technologically advanced animation (no matter its appeal to adults and its commercial success) may not be the answer. Maybe kids don't like animation as much as we think they do; they're simply not given many other options.

Interestingly, here in Quebec there are several non-animated French-language children's programs, which Helena enjoys well enough — adults dressed in animal costumes, or adults reading stories. They look cheesy and amateurish to my now-jaded eyes, but there's a naive innocence in them, and a sense of reality you don't get from cartoons. (I wonder if European programming has withstood the Disneyfied American influence.)

Helena loves Mary Poppins, but the animation sequence is her least favourite part. (Lately though, we've been watching it in French and in Spanish; we expect it might be useful to know how to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in other languages.)

Ty Burr, in The Best Old Movies for Families, a guide for parents, gives his top five choices for toddlers:
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Bringing Up Baby
Meet Me in St. Louis
Singin' in the Rain

I fully endorse his choice of Singin' in the Rain.

While our first exposure to The Wizard of Oz was an overwhelming experience, our viewing this weekend was delightful.

Last year on impulse, for a buck at a checkout counter, I picked up Shirley Temple's The Little Princess. I'd heard it be a desecration of the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (my very favourite!), but had never seen it for myself. It is a travesty in relation to the book, but Helena loves it.

I'm inspired to hunt down those cheesy old Sinbad movies I used to watch on Sunday afternoons.

What old movies do you recommend for kids?
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