Ah, Movie Night. Both times Ian was deployed in Iraq I found it very helpful to set frequent small events to look forward to. There were too many days (weeks, months….) to try counting down to when “daddy was coming home” without it getting depressing, so I always tried to have something imminent to draw the kids’ focus toward something good. The most successful of these was the implementation of Friday Night Movie Night.
Friday Night Movie Night is now an entrenched ritual, and one that it has been nice to add Ian to now that he’s back. We got a special popcorn popper just for movie night, and Aden is queen of the popcorn (although she doesn’t feel comfortable doing the last step of flipping the popper over to release the bowl it comes with). We pull the convertible love seat out into bed-mode and pile on among pillows and blankets. Five of us don’t really fit all that comfortably, but we make do. (A new arrangement will have to be figured out when Quinn is no longer a pint-sized little sweetie who can sit directly in front of me without blocking my view.) Sometimes it’s inconvenient and a bit of a hassle, but I love Friday Night Movie Night.
The biggest blow to this weekly event was the closing of our local video store. Many a Friday afternoon was spent at Bucky’s Supervideo wandering the aisles and trying to come to a family consensus on what to rent. But sadly, Bucky’s closed it’s doors a few months ago, and the DVD selection at our local library is… let’s say ‘unpredictable.’ The library is also closed on Fridays, so we actually have to plan ahead. Or choose from whatever odd things are available on Netflix Instant View or already on our own shelves.
In any case, I thought I’d throw out some of our lessons learned thus far, offer ideas and suggestions for movies to those with small kids, and hope for more recommendations from anyone out there who are in the mood to just name good movies.
It’s hard finding things that all five of us want to watch, and if we get started late sometimes we need to keep movie night short. To customize the length of movie night we often turn to things with lots of small episodes. Our favorites are Shaun the Sheep, Spongebob Squarepants, and Pingu. Shaun the Sheep is a spin off of the Wallace and Gromit claymation movies. They are fun for adults and they keep Quinn laughing too. Pingu is odd and sweet, and Spongebob is just funny. By comparison, we recently watched a collection of old Felix the Cat cartoons, and man they were weird. They contained some uncomfortable portrayals of race that we had to explain, and even though the kids enjoyed them simply because they were cartoons, Ian and I found them to be really pitiful in every respect. Which is funny, because I remember liking them as a kid myself, but they don’t hold up well. They were amusing but only because they were kind of unintentionally surreal. Anyway, it’s nice to have lots of little episodes in a row because you can find a good stopping point instead of interrupting a larger story if people are too tired to stay up.
Silent movies are fun. My kids really enjoyed Modern Times and still talk about it. I like that my kids know who Charlie Chaplain is, and that they are not put off by things in black and white or without speech. They are fans of Harold Lloyd, too. Since nearly everything had to be expressed without words, the gestures, etc., are exaggerated enough for even little kids to follow. My kids also like the Marx Brothers, but only Aden is old enough to get the fast verbal jokes. Everyone loves Harpo. It’s fun to point out to the kids how many of the gags they enjoy in the Animaniacs and other shows were lifted straight from old movies and now they are in on the references.
Pixar movies seem to be a little too intense for my kids for some reason, which is a shame because I wouldn’t mind watching Up again, or Toy Story 2. If there is one scene in a film that gets them too nervous they nix the whole movie. (Maybe when they are older.)
We try to introduce the kids to things we liked growing up. We did some old episodes of The Muppet Show and Rocky and Bullwinkle and those went over well.
We’ve seen every available Miyazaki animated film, (why those aren’t freakier to them than Pixar movies I don’t know) but Ian hasn’t seen most of them, so they are due for a rerun. The kids like My Neighbor Totoro best, probably. Ponyo is maybe the weirdest film I’ve ever seen, but if you give up on the idea that it needs to make any sense it’s enjoyable.
Actually, that reminds me of something I meant to write about a full year ago and never got around to. I had a weird moral dilemma and would be curious about other people’s opinions. One of the movies we watched while Ian was away that the kids liked best was Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s another Miyazaki film, and therefore it was originally in Japanese and the English version is dubbed. My kids loved that movie, particularly Aden, who adored the music and memorized all the dialogue. We got it in the mail through Netflix and hung onto it for weeks. After a month of endless viewings we happened across a copy of the movie on sale at Target. I thought, “Great! We will own it and I can finally send the other copy back to Netflix!”
Unfortunately, the new copy of Kiki’s Delivery Service had been dubbed differently from the one we were used to. Some of the lines had been changed, and something about the music was different. (I’m not sure of the details because I, personally, don’t care. But Aden can run a list off for you.) The kids hated it. Actually, I think just Aden hated it, and by extension the other kids decided they hated it too.
So I thought about it, and wondered if it would be wrong to mail our new copy back to Netflix and keep the old one. There was a small sticker with a bar code on it around the hole in the center of the DVD on the Netflix copy, and it would be easy enough to pull that off and move it over to the other DVD. I figured how bad could it be? They get a newer cleaner copy, we get to keep the one that makes the kids happy, it was win win. But Aden saw me messing with the little sticker on the DVD and asked me what I was doing. I explained what I’d been thinking, and then she said, “Isn’t that stealing?” So I stopped and said that maybe it was. What lesson was I teaching Aden?
I pondered it for several days. If switching the DVDs was potentially positive all around, was it wrong? I decided to call Netflix. I got a nice woman in customer service whose first reaction was that I try the switch and see if I get away with it. I told her I didn’t want to “get away with it,” that’s why I was calling. If I had permission, it wasn’t wrong. I wanted to be above board. She thought about it a little longer, and said most people when they wanted to keep something just pretend they lost it and paid the small fine. I told her I didn’t want to pretend anything, that my daughter was watching, and I wanted to be honest. She thought about it a little more. She was a fan of the film and knew about the differences between the two versions. She said the only potential problem for Netflix was that all the copies they owned were of the first version, and someone else trying to rent it again might be confused to get a different version in the mail. It was an interesting conversation, and in the end she decided it probably wasn’t right of her as a representative of the company to suggest I do anything other than send back the copy they originally sent me. Which is what I did.
Aden still refuses to watch the newer version, even though I have a hard time believing a year later she remembers every nuance of what is different, but she might. I may insist on it anyway some Friday night and tell her to get over it already.
But what does anyone else think? It’s not a quandary for the ages by any means, but it was an interesting little ethical puzzle to me for a little while. Ethics are important to me. I want my children to be compassionate, critically thinking, ethical people, and those are qualities best led by example. So I’m comfortable with how that got resolved, even though I’m sure many people would have made a different choice and not seen it as a big deal. But to me if the end result is that Aden can say to herself, “Mommy doesn’t steal” then it was worth it.
Okay! It’s almost Friday! Movie suggestions! I need ’em!