by Carrie Kirk
"No wire hangers! No wire hangers ever!" -- But good movies? Yes.
The gates have opened. The heavens have parted. And there is light shining upon my family since we started watching movies together. The watching of movies is nothing new for the three of us. Years ago, it was your standard grazing of Disney and Pixar from the lengthy buffet of screen choices. We grinned and grimaced our way through All Dogs Go to Heaven (Check it out ... one freaky film for kids. The animated movie's lead character, yes, a dog, dies, then dodges the angels to buy some more time on Earth, and ends up helping out an orphan girl. And there's a singing alligator.) And then there were the movies about construction equipment. We pressed the rewind button on the VCR player so that we might view -- over and over again -- Mighty Machines -- At The Construction Site where the bulldozer, excavator and crane all have human voices while on the job. Many moons ago, my son William got up bright and early at 5 a.m so he could begin his day seeing the movie's ultimate demolition of a building -- dynamite and a countdown. High drama and high sleep deprivation for all.
We still go to our fair share of movies at the theater, despite Netflix and cable being two additional family members in the Kirk home. We have sidestepped the home theater, not really out of any principles but because of lack of space and money for the completely awesome movie chairs. (But do you agree that when you sit in one of those you feel a bit like the heavy humans in the movie WALL-E? Remember that their toes had evolved into useless webbed sausages from using only the motorized movie chairs to navigate their home ship, as opposed to standing and walking. But that's just a movie, right?) The same kid who once couldn't get enough of the talking bulldozer now pounces on my laptop so he can cruise through Dr. Who, the Monk television series starring Tony Shalhoub and the more recent Psych shows. Did I mention that William has a great sense of humor? I guess it all started with that bulldozer. Our movies at the theaters are mostly box office hits like Guardians of the Galaxy. All I can say about that is thank goodness it's no more than two hours out of a day.
Redbox spit out our most recent film to watch at home. Not touted as a 2013 blockbuster The Secret Life of Walter Mitty had depth and breadth and despite the lead character's actual or imagined ("zoned-out") action scenes, it wasn't about that. Based on the James Thurber's short story that appeared in The New Yorker in 1939, it met the criteria a parent has when she wants to move her children into some good movie discernment. It has good actors, strong story line, various locations, a bit of action, a lot of ingenuity, and a happy ending that really is more of a happy beginning of something the audience can only imagine. Another movie that I thought would never make the cut in our household was Arsenic and Old Lace. Originally a play, it is mostly known for its film adaptation in 1944, starring Carey Grant and my favorite, Peter Lorre ("Johnny, not the face"). My oldest was just 7 years old when he watched it with me and his dad and got the humor and ridiculousness of the dark situation immediately.
We've had some Battleship-board game "misses" along the way too. Raiders of the Lost Ark was way more violent than I remembered for younger kids. Who knew I could run to the television that quickly to shield my kids from the opening scene, as I desperately fumbled to find the off button? And Austin Powers. When your kid turns to you at one point and asks if this is appropriate for him to watch, just shut it down.
I encourage all of us parents to pull movies -- and any well-done television series -- from our own film repertoire and ask friends and family for suggestions. And do a Google search as well as check out a book or two, such as The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together by Ty Burr. I always find it helpful to peruse the DVD selection at my local library. Seeing the movie titles will jog your memory and leave you with a longer "must-see" list. You might not be able to bypass the talking bulldozer, but it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship amongst you, your kid and witnessing art on film.