Sunday, June 7, 2009

Not So Up About "Up"

Took the kids to see "UP," Pixar's latest, with some of their other preschool pals & parents.

Spent half the movie trying to answer Thing 2's incessant, very puzzled questions, in-between reassuring her about parts that were too intense for her. Spent about a quarter of it watching Thing 1's face: he was amazed, mesmerized, amused, among other things, though a good deal of it clearly was going way over his head. Spent the rest of the time alternately entertained and wishing it wasn't so emotionally grown-up.

In case you haven't seen it, I caution that some spoilers are ahead, but here goes:
 in the first few minutes, in a montage, protagonist Carl Fredrickson goes from being a young boy to an old man, and his entire relationship with Ellie, the girl he marries, is chronicled, including a miscarriage of her pregnancy, and later, her death. Later on in the movie, a vicious pack of dogs repeatedly chases a cute bird trying to get back to its babies, as well as Carl and his boyscout pal Russel; the dogs are repeatedly physically and verbally abusive to the one nice dog, Dug; and aged explorer Muntz puts the bird, Dug, Carl and Russell, who is after all just a kid, presumably much like the kids in the audience, in mortal jeopardy time and time again.

The movie is imaginative, inventive and funny and heartfelt. But I gotta say, I kinda wish I hadn't taken my kids.

One of my kids' schoolmates had to be removed from the theater, and the movie wasn't even half over. She was just that upset. She wasn't the only kid who was taken out part-way through.

After the movie, one of the preschool pals' moms and I wondered together why filmmakers for kids find it so necessary to throw so much death and loss at young children. We don't think it's necessary. It's not that we want to shelter our kids forever, but as the mom said to me, "There'll be plenty of time for that stuff later." She lambasted kids movies for always being about someone with "a dead parent." With Disney in particular, having a lead character who's missing a parent seems like a requirement (think about it: Ariel, Jasmine and Belle only have daddies; Cinderella, just and evil Stepmom; and Simba's father is murdered by Simba's uncle -- it's basically "Hamlet" for the under ten set). But even Pixar sometimes kills somebody off within the first five minutes of a movie (Nemo's mom). This time, the character who died wasn't somebody's mother (the miscarriage scene, which I'm sure went well over my four-year-olds' heads, made sure of that). But she was a lovely, likable character, and she was dead in like four minutes after being introduced.

I'm pretty sure my kids didn't quite get this, at least not entirely. But Thing 2, who is way more sensitive and attuned to such things compared to her brother, turned to me at one point and asked me point blank, "Where did Ellie [the character who dies] go?" This is not what I bargained for when I spent forty dollars so my family of four could attend a Sunday family matinee.

I haven't let our kids see BAMBI, despite the cuteness of Flower and Thumper. I'm not over the loss of Bambi's mom yet and it's been decades since that first viewing. And you can bet my kids are years away from the hard stuff of HARRY POTTER (both parents murdered, and the guy wants to off Harry too ... if that's not nightmare-inducing, I don't know what is). It's not always death that's the trauma in these movies either. I'm still heartbroken over that separation between Dumbo and his mom.

When my kids were three, they lived on such tame fare as CARS, CURIOUS GEORGE and BEE MOVIE, in which nothing truly scary ever happens, and nobody dies. I know these movies aren't emotionally as rich as those that deal with more serious themes. They're surely more forgettable. And though I do think many of the movies I saw as a child that have stayed with me dealt with some serious subject matter, I've got to admit that I'm equally keen on MARY POPPINS.

In fact, after today's experience, I'm even more keen on it. My kids adore MARY POPPINS. It's overly long, it's lacking in the conflict department, some elements seem totally random (what's with that retired admiral next door shooting fireworks off his ship-shaped roof?). But the only sorts of questions they have prompted are "How does Mary Poppins fly?" and "Is she magic?" And there have been countless car rides with the kids singing "It's A Jolly Holiday With Mary," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "Chim-Chim-Chiree."

We all know life can be dark and scary and grim. Aside from its dark parts, UP is, ultimately, an "up" experience, and the lesson the main character learns as he processes his grief and decides to do something life affirming, is a good one. It's just not one I think my kids need to learn just yet.

1 comment:

Girl From Texas said...

I found your blog b/c there is a link to it from Bill Madison's blog. Your humor is great and I share many of your feelings about being a late blooming mom (I had my kids in my mid-30's).

Quick random question : Are you related to Haward Sklar ?

Karen Strecker Reidy ( aka Girl From Texas)