Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's Real?

One of the things that's most fascinating about having kids is seeing the acquisition of culture, including pop culture, at play in real-time. Now my kids (seven-year old twins), as long-time readers may recall, are, how you say? Scaredy-cats. They have a history of finding any kind of drama, or conflict, too intense too deal with. When we saw Tangled, they both spent about half the film with their heads buried in our chests.

And yet sometimes movies I would expect to be far too intense turn out to ones they like. A few months back, on a Sunday afternoon, E.T. happened to be on HBO, and Twin B and I caught it about a third of the way in. I was expecting to have to turn it off, especially as we neared the "E.T. gets sick and dies" stuff, and yet she was engaged throughout--without any of the "turn her head away from the screen" behavior I was expecting.

Now, just last week, on a lazy Sunday morning, I put one of my all-time favorite movies on the good 'ol Netflix Streaming--The Iron Giant. If you haven't seen it, The Iron Giant is a great, great movie, the directorial debut of The Incredibles' and Ratatouille's Brad Bird. It's a fun movie about a boy befriending a giant metal robot form outer space, but it's also a deeply moving film about what it means to carve your own destiny, and how no one can tell you the kind of person you are--you get to decide. Gorgeous old-school animation, an exciting climax, the movie has it all.

They hated it.

Well, maybe not hated. But they were, if not as scared by it as, say, Tangled, uneasy. And in the end it was just not something they liked. Which of course was deeply disappointing to me as a big nerd. And yet intriguing in a way, as it illuminated for me how adult, in a sense, so much of the film, and its themes, are. Maybe it's not really a kids' movie. Maybe it's too deep for a seven-year old.

Or maybe they just didn't like it.

Another thing that fascinates me is how they process the reality of a film. It's taken some explaining to get across the idea that a movie isn't real. I still remember watching just a little of Spider-Man and explaining to my daughter, with the remote pausing and rewinding multiple times, how they mix an actual man in a Spider-Man costume with a cartoon of Spider-Man drawn on a computer to get the effects they want.

And yet she still sometimes needs reassurance that things are not "real." This evening, watching a bit of Home Alone, she wanted to make sure that the little boy wasn't "really" alone. So I explained to her that in real-life he wasn't alone--that there was, indeed, a man right in front of him holding a camera. And she seemed to get it.

I like explaining some of the tricks this way, showing the girls how movies get the effects they see--and that sometimes frighten them. I think it helps, and it feeds a natural curiosity that I love. And yet sometimes I wonder if I should do a little less of it. Let some of the magic keep as magic. As mystery. If only for a little longer.

Until Whenever

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