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?


Diana said...

Um... not Supersize Me. Have you seen that? I thought it would be just a good way to open my kids' eyes about the fast food industry but there's a disturbing shot of the guy getting a rectal exam, and rather rambling (like this comment) discussion, by his girlfriend, of how he was having difficulties getting and keeping an erection. That was embarrassing. I can cross "sex ed" off the list now.

But back to you. I know you try to avoid the Disney machine but Toy Story was a huge hit at our house, amongst us all. The second one not so much, but that first one - classic.

Maxine said...

Even though they have Americanised it, Matilda is an excellent movie, remaining true to the spirit of the book. I think there is plenty in it for adults to enjoy as well as the child.
When my girls were around 3 (Helena's age?) they did watch Disney films but their favourites were videos of Thomas the Tank Engine and a programme about two puppets on a narrowboat, called "Rosie and Jim". We could not watch these on live TV as I was at work all day when children's TV came on, but I got some of them on video and I remember having a companionable half-hour on getting home exhausted in the evening, watching an episode. Those videos are pretty well worn out by now!

Another great movie for a slightly older child is "The Princess Bride", which has been watched endlessly.

Bybee said...

At Helena's age, my son loved "Ernest Goes To Camp". A well-meaning but eternally bumbling camp counselor played by the late Jim Varney, Ernest is a goofy but sympathetic character.

raehan said...

The Music Man was a big hit in our house.

I can't imagine Bringing Up Baby being a hit with toddler, but who knows? I loved it as a teenager.

martha said...

This movie is not old, but my 4 year old was mesmerized by Duma. I can't say she loved it exactly, the ending where the boy has to leave the cheetah in the wild made her cry for days. But I think it was also really therapeutic for her in that it brought up her worries about moving onto a preschool for older kids this summer, and gave us a forum to talk about them. She brings it up fairly often, and wants to see it again. Plus, it's just a really good movie, for adults too.