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Reviews | In defense of ‘inappropriate’ children’s films

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During the darkest and coldest part of our 40s of 2020, my husband and I looked to the movies from our youth for comfort, and we shared them with our 7 and 3 year olds. In a few weeks, we ran through “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Back to the Future,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and the 1991 version of “The Addams Family”.

These are all movies that Common Sense Media – a site that gives suggestions for age ranges for TV and movies – considers inappropriate for kids until they hit double digits. At the time, we didn’t think much about a strict relevance scale when choosing family entertainment because there were so many hours a day to fill, the parks were closed, and the temperature rarely hit 50 degrees.

Despite the alleged inadequacy of these films, I began to notice that my oldest daughter had much more insightful analytical comments about them than she had about contemporary children’s films. She was certainly thinking more deeply than I did when I was a child. Take “The Addams Family” (for children 12 and over, in common sense). A few months before she saw it, we had watched the 2019 animated film “The Addams Family” (for ages 7 and up), and while she loved it, she really didn’t. much to say about it.

When we watched the decades-old live-action version, however, it had a flood of questions from the start, mostly about how the characters Gomez and Morticia funded their lavish lifestyles before their fortunes were made. stolen. “Did they have work? ” she asked. I told him no. “How could they afford this big house and the butler if they don’t have a job?” I wasn’t sure, I said; maybe their money was inherited. “Are they people? ” she asked. Without conviction, I said, I think so – they are strange people with special powers. “No, but are they people? ”she asked again. Finally, I punted at: They’re rich, independent creeps, okay?

As Halloween approaches and parents are probably wondering if they should let their kids be terrified and thrilled by the fantasy and horror classics, I thought about my daughter’s responses. I think she applies more critical thinking to older films because a lot of films today are so refined and calibrated for safety that it is difficult for a child’s mind to grasp them. thorny edges. Why would a child assign himself a mental book report on something that is completely tidy?

Today’s dishes often contain overtly sweet and moralizing take-out messages, as the film’s conclusion was premased. As Katie Walsh put it in her Los Angeles Times review of the ‘Addams Family’ of 2019, “The Addams may look, talk and act darker and weirder than most, but what makes them stranger is that they are loving and close-knit. family. ” Compare that to Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of the 1991 version, which described the humor of “The Addams Family” as “dry, mean and totally self-sufficient,” but noted that the film lacked any real plot.

It’s not that I’m trying to twist my child’s still developing mind too much a lot. But sometimes we can forget that they are up for a challenge.

The idea that it is healthy for children to be disturbed by art is not new. Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist, won a National Book Award in the 1970s for “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales”. (He was later charged with plagiarism.) In this book, Bettelheim postulates that the “softening” of classic fairy tales, as John Updike wrote for The Times, has removed their value to children. The world is not a sunny place, argues Bettelheim, and art that reflects only sunny results does not help children deal with their own dark and coarse impulses, which are universal.

Since the 1970s, when Bettelheim was in vogue, children’s entertainment has absolutely exploded as a genre. When I was a kid in the ’80s and early’ 90s, before my family got cable, if I turned on the TV after school, that meant reruns of “Three’s Company” or “Oprah”, “Donahue” and “maybe a little too mature”. Jerry Springer ”- while the Looney Tunes variety cartoons were reserved for Saturday mornings. My kids, on the other hand, have an ocean of streaming content explicitly designed and curated for them.

AO Scott, one of The Times’ top movie critics, told me that tech and parenting trends intertwined during my teenage years to create this glut of brilliant family entertainment. With the rise of VHS and DVD technology, movies have entered the home like they never had before. At the same time, the 1990s saw an increase in what is known as “intensive parenting”, defined as “constant teaching and supervision of children”.

By the early 2000s, there was a market for movies that kids and parents would watch together, Scott said, which led to movies becoming more openly moralistic. Parents wanted to think that what they let their children watch was healthy, maybe even uplifting. He cited “Shrek” as a prime example of this type of entertainment, with its obnoxious pop-cultural references sprinkled just for parents, silly cartoons for kids, and “a message about how everyone should be. loving that is often just glued to. And I think it’s often to play on the anxieties of the parents more than the actual sensitivities of the children, ”Scott said.

I’m not trying to be Andy Rooney – insisting that the movies were so much better in my day! And I recognize that the movies and television of my youth were often more overtly racist and sexist than those of today. (And I would watch newer movies, like “Moana” and “Ratatouille,” on repeat, with or without my kids, because they’re great movies.)

But I think something is gained by allowing children to enjoy a varied media regime, including entertainment that might challenge them emotionally, make them think critically, or leave them without an uplifting message. After all, I spend hours watching “Real Housewives” – why should my kids be deprived of the pleasures of a little more kid-friendly TV villainy?

As Amy Nicholson, film critic and co-host of the ‘Unspooled’ podcast, told me, “When movies leave room for questions, kids can fill it with their own imaginations, including what they want. feel ”. For my oldest, that means scrutinizing the Addams’ finances, and maybe considering a forensic investigation into what’s hidden in their safe.

  • Jason Zinoman, the humor critic for The Times, showed off his 7-year-old “Jaws” and he has no regrets.

  • Carrie Goldman watched “Schitt’s Creek” with her children and found that the spicy show gave them a sense of connection and belonging.

  • In May 2020, Caroline Paul wrote about hosting a free virtual art class for kids and how expressing feelings in drawing helped kids overcome their strong feelings of a pandemic.

Parenting can be a chore. Let’s celebrate the small victories.

My little boy needs a mom, dad or even grandma hearing on FaceTime to perform certain tasks, like brushing his teeth. Except that this trick didn’t work when it came to taking medication. So I got our cat, King Tut, into the action and now every time I take the medicine bottle he calls the cat to watch as he swallows whatever I have to give him.

– Simonia Brown, Delmar, NY

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