Monday, February 16, 2009

Children of All Ages: Go See This Movie

While enjoying our rented Mad Men season one DVDs these last couple of weeks, Jason and I had an epiphany: we are much more awed and impressed by the television of the last few years than we have been by the movies of the last few years. We liked The Dark Knight, and I was moved to tears by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and we so enjoyed Once that we immediately bought the soundtrack and played it in the car for one entire weekend. But those are the only standouts among "serious" movies for me in the last 18 months or so; the only movies that made me get emotionally involved and think and dream and ooh and ahh for days afterward. That's pretty sad.

Even in these hectic years A.A. (After Ainsley), movies are a big part of our entertainment. I would dare say movies have even been a bigger part after we had a child; we might not have been able to get Mamaw to babysit every time we wanted to see a movie in the theater, but we could always pop something in the DVD player after the kid was in bed. We had a few years there when we looked forward to movies coming out the way some people look ahead to vacations; I would mark things like "Return of the King premieres!" or "Have a sitter to go see Prisoner of Azkaban!" or "Spidey!" or "X-Men 2!" on my calendar and count down the days.

It's been years since I have felt that kind of excitement about a movie. And years since I felt the kind of cinematic wonder a movie like the Lord of The Rings films and even the Spiderman movies (all but the last one) inspires. It's both anticipation and pay-off. The movies we've seen in theaters the last couple of years mostly had just the one, but not the other. But for weeks before the Lost season premiere, I was downright giddy with excitement. And then after that

But here's another revelation I had just last night: some of the best movies I have seen in the past two years, some of the most entertaining, moving, and thought-provoking, have been movies made for children.

What gives?

Maybe it's because as a mom I now see the world through my kid's eyes. Maybe my brain has been so slushified by kids' TV fare like Hannah Montana and The Wiggles and (God help us all) Wonderpets that when something quality for kids comes down the line I see it as a veritable masterpiece. But I offer the following "children's" films from the last couple of years as evidence.

To top the list: Wall-E. Such beautiful animation that you forget it's animation. The speechless first 30 minutes are a work of art. And the message, that we need to take better care of our planet and take a second look at our rampant consumerism, is something that adults as well as children need to learn. Look at the number of movie critics who put it on their "top ten of 2008" lists and the fact that many thought it would be a Best Picture nominee; how often does an animated film make such an impact on those so-hard-to-please critics?

Then there's Enchanted. It got a little Oscar love, showing that it was more than your typical Disney kiddie matinee movie. It had brilliant acting, and a great message for girls: the guy doesn't have to literally be Prince Charming to be your prince. It's kinda like the antidote for all the Disney animated classics; you're not going to find Prince Eric, or Prince Charming, or Prince Whatever-His-Name-Is from Sleeping Beauty in real life, and there are no fairy-tale endings. But finding a guy who loves you even though you come off as slightly crazy and like to break out in song in the middle of Central Park, and who is willing to fight the evils of the world for you, can give you a pretty good happy ever after. Oh, and sometimes the girl rescues the guy.

And today I add a new favorite: Coraline. I highly recommend, whether you have a kid to drag along or not, that you get yourself to a theater that's showing it in its full 3D glory and strap yourself in for the ride. It is, to use a movie review cliche, visually stunning. The 3D-ness doesn't feel gimmicky here like it does in a movie like Bolt because it's a stop-motion movie; the 3D effects aren't trying to make 2-dimensional animation look like it's 3-dimensional, it's simply showing off the fact that what's being filmed are, in fact, 3-dimensional sculptured works of art. It's a dark fable with quirky characters and a brave, smart heroine of a little girl who first gets herself into, then out of, grave danger. There are moments that border on horror, and the very young may get a little creeped out. But Ainsley didn't fidget for the entire hour and 40 minutes, and when it was over gave it the Ainsley seal of approval: a big open-mouth smile with her tongue hanging out. The message of this one is great, too, and it's summed up in the tagline on its poster: Be careful what you wish for. (I would also sum it as: The grass might be greener on the other side, but it might also be full of poison oak and spiders.)

Money is tight, and people's movie manners suck, and it's sometimes hard to justify putting down the equivalent of a tank (or 2, if you're taking kids) of gas to see a movie. But this one...for young and old alike, I think it just might be worth it. Forget the big-budget "adult" movies; I'd take a movie like Coraline over the latest smash-bang action flick any day of the week and twice on Sundays when you can get matinee pricing. Maybe this just shows I'm a mom; maybe, just maybe, it's because kids' movies are pushing the bar in a way more mature movies are afraid to do.

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