Kids, Films, and the Search for Something Bearable

The other day my older son was humming the theme to Ghostbusters and my wife, as she often does when he’s humming, asked him to stop, or at least to quiet down. My brother-in-law, in town for the day, said to me, “Ghostbusters?” I told him that I had watched it recently with both boys, and he asked if it was age-appropriate.

“Umm, I hope so,” I replied, and then changed that to, “Yeah, I think so. They weren’t scared, not really, and there’s no sex in it.” My hesitation, though, told me something important. I really needed to come up with a program of films to watch with my kids.

I’ve had this question before. My wife was out of town a bunch of weekends earlier this year and I decided that it would be fun to watch films with the boys at night. But what films to watch? That was the question. I’ve done the Pixar films and I don’t have the patience for a lot of children’s movies. Frankly, I don’t have the patience for a lot of what is billed as “family” movies. I find these rather dreadful. Instead, I hoped, to come up with some ideas for films that were well made and also appropriate for multiple ages – ones that the boys could enjoy but that I would like too. This is harder to do than one might think.

Most films for adults are either too violent, too morose, or have too much inappropriate content for children for me to screen for boys who are nine and seven years old. Or else they’re just boring to kids, who don’t have an investment in the drama or don’t understand the comedy. I decided, in the end, to go for action/adventure as a genre that held the most promise. This led me to the James Bond series.

“Really?” perhaps you ask. Yes, really. There’s less sex there than you think – it’s more implied than shown – and much of the fighting is rather cartoonish and not lifelike at all. The boys were rarely scared, if ever. I began with Dr. No, the first one, starring Sean Connery. It turned out that this was a mistake. It’s not that it was scary or too violent. It’s just rather out of date – about 47 or 48 years old now. The look of the film, the technology shown in the film, the fashion, the cars – everything looked to be of a such different time and place that it was too disconcerting for my kids.

For the next one, I skipped a decade and switched to Roger Moore as Bond. These films were much more successful. Because of the camp factor that Moore brought to his portrayal of Bond, my kids found much more humor in these films. We all did, quite frankly. While I appreciated Connery’s portrayal, he’s also rather self-srious in those early films.

We watched, I think, all of the Roger Moore Bond films over the next few weeks. But then we finished those. What next? We tried Ghostbusters, and that was successful. We watched The Natural, because they like sports, and that might prove useful as a further avenue. But we have reached the point where we are not sure what to show them next. Comedies and action/adventures seem the best way to go. But which ones? They can’t be too scary or too age-inappropriate. I know that they are not both quite ready for what I might call classics, though there are a few I might consider. We’ve shown them musicals before, and we could, in theory, do a few more of these.

A few years ago, A.O. Scott wrote a nice piece in the NY Times about the limitations of family films, and the predominance of them in terms of what children see, in which he argued for less timidity in what we show our kids. It’s a good thought piece. He has some good suggestions – Charlie Chaplin, Monty Python, Casablanca. This post is essentially a follow-up, and a bit of a cry for help. Any suggestions for films to show two boys – nine and seven?

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2 Responses

  1. Five movies: Rocky I, II, III, IV, and V

  2. Well first of all, my kids whistle and I’m always asking them to stop, or at least go in another room,so that makes me laugh. Ghostbusters I & II was big around here, but we have the same problems and same questions. The original Pink Panther movies are a big hit (the re-makes are unwatchable unless you’re 4); also Laurel and Hardy. And there’s this website http://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-lists
    which has some good ideas (Superman II) but your post raises a much bigger point: “kid” movies are cynical crap, mostly (Um, “KItty Galore,” anyone?) and grownup movies (ala Adam Sandler & the Apatow crew) are pitched at…well, I dunno who they’re pitched at. Infantile grownups? We watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a few weeks back and the boys liked it…but the whole pacing of the movie was way off for them; it was episodic and not frenetic. Have you done Wizard of Oz? And–leave it to the French, of course — the animated Asterix movies are pretty funny, especially the one about Cleopatra (I think it’s A & O meet Caesar?) … The live-action with Depardieu didn’t make them laugh as much…And of course Star Wars, all eighty grazillion of them…but in terms of what the hell “Hollywood” is thinking? I think that basically, they’re not. They just trying to sell plastic toy tie-ins to the fast food restaurants, and anything bordering on actual character development or narrative gets in the way of action figures.

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