« Memorial | Main | Book Report: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat »

Help me raise a child, win valuable prizes!

Gentle Readers, YHB needs a little help and advice.

Here's the situation: since we have discouraged the Perfect Non-Reader from watching a lot of television over the last five years or so, and don't watch television ourselves when she is around, she has almost reached the age of nine without developing any movie-watching skills. This is a problem, not least because my Best Reader and I like watching movies and would enjoy watching movies with her. So we have decided to develop a Cinema Syllabus for the summer, aimed at coming up with a dozen or so movies to watch with her and discuss.

So. We need suggestions. Ideally, I would like to come up with a list that covers some different genres and time periods, and that leans toward cultural literacy. I don't imagine that we're going to get to everything, and if it is successful, we can keep watching movies together every now and then after we get through the syllabus. And keep in mind—the Perfect Non-Reader is not terribly interested in Romance and other Grown-Up stuff, and we don't want to soak her in gore, either, so there will be lots of stuff we will not teach her this year.

And what's also really important for this project is that we are giving her a background for movie-watching in the future. I can't help thinking that she will enjoy Westerns on the whole more if she doesn't start with Blazing Saddles or Unforgiven—or The Shootist. Maybe seeing Frankenstein before seeing Young Frankenstein or Dawn of the Dead. You know? I don't feel like she has to see a Nelson Eddy movie before watching Night at the Opera, because I don't think she would enjoy seeing a Nelson Eddy movie.

So keep in mind that she is (1) a kid, and (b) culturally illiterate. She has seen Star Wars. And Treasure Island. But that's pretty much it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


The Princess Bride?

When I was that age, I really liked the Marx Brothers, which is cultural literacy if anything is. I also liked musicals -- Singing in the Rain, and the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers ones, especially -- although there is a fair amount of Romance and that.

I don't think you can be fully culturally literate without seeing Casablanca, but again, Romancey.

You know, she's going to have to just get over an aversion to Romance. Sorry. Because Cary Grant! Philadelphia Story!

Toy Story is probably valuable. Shrek abounds with Cultural Literacy for the Young.

But of course you're looking for Real Movies, not cartoons. Although speaking of which: Looney Toons. Let's see. What about Shane, for your Western? It's pretty iconic. Time Bandits?

Maybe I'll come up with more later.


Wizard of Oz. Some of the 90sish Disneys with especially good songs - Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, plus Mulan because Mulan is awesome. The original Hayley Mills Parent Trap. Muppets. The movie of Holes. The Neverending Story. Dark Crystal. Labyrinth. Mary Poppins.


Baseball/Sports films: The Bad News Bears and Field of Dreams come to mind. There are probably better sports movies out there--I mostly suggest this as a subgenre of interest.

For Westerns, maybe True Grit or Silverado?

For swashbucklers, the Errol Flynn Robin Hood seems like it might be a good start. Raider of the Lost Ark might be a bit too intense/gore-filled for now, but soon, I'd think.

For SF, ET is iconic and accessible for the 9-year old. Close Encounters is maybe too sophisticated, but soon it wouldn't be.

For musicals in the color-film era, there's Julie Andrewsy things like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. The Music Man is delightful, but romance is a big corner of the plot. For pre-1950 musicals, there's always The Wizard of Oz.

For comedies in black-and-white, how about Harvey? Like Jacob above, most of the films I value from this era are romantic comedies . . . I'd mention The Man Who Came to Dinner as a screwball comedy where the romance element is only one thread among many. For pure farce, there's M. Hulot's Holiday.

OK, two dramas -- these are maybe probably too adult in theme for the perfect non-reader to appreciate (but who am I to know anything about that?) but that a nine-year-old could surely watch: Friendly Persuasion and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yeah, I'll agree with M. Cobb on the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. That's probably about the perfect age for that movie. ET is probably also a good choice, and Harvey. I like this comment thread.

Seconding The Dark Crystal. My Neighbor Totoro. The Boy Who Could Fly. Plymouth if you can find it (try YouTube). I suppose Ladyhawke's a bit too violent...maybe Stardust?

I assume you want her to LIKE movies, and not think of them as a chore she has to sit through, so why not some fun ones?
Monsters, Inc.
Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Bambi, The Sword in the Stone--those were made for kids, and they are part of her cultural heritage (like it or not). No reason for her NOT to see them (and most kids like cartoons?). Plus, then she can go read the original and compare. :)

How about musicals? The older ones that were broad humor mixed with a more serious story--Oklahoma, West Side Story, Godspell?
Auntie Mame? (not a musical, but I first saw it around 9 years old and loved it)
I definitely second the ET suggestion.

And note: the thing about watching movies on TV is the commercial breaks, while excruciatingly annoying for adults, may be just what a kid who needs to get up and run around a bit can use in order to make it through the movie...

Ooh! Sword in the Stone is a brilliant suggestion. I approve wholeheartedly.


Amy, I came in to say Mulan and was pleased someone had beaten me to it. It IS awesome! In my generation we all had to watch Little Mermaid (which does have great songs), though I personally had great difficulty with it at the age of the Perfect Non-Reader (I think) because it doesn't end like the story. Still a good lesson to learn.

Spirited Away is possibly my favorite movie of all time and a great kid movie, though perhaps a bit scary in parts?

I second Mary Poppins and Sound of Music as general kid cultural literacy things, plus which Julie Andrews is awesome.

I'd add to Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as Star Trek (maybe IV to start) for geek cultural literacy, though I think I was a little older when I saw those.

How about The Incredibles?

Thanks for all the suggestions, and please keep them coming if you think of more. But I should clarify—we have watched some animated children's movies together. Although not very many, now that I think about it. Shrek, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, The Sword in the Stone, I think Snow White, the Disney Robin Hood, Ratatatatatoillie, probably something else that isn't coming to mind. Oh, Howl's Moving Castle, although I don't think she stayed all the way through that one.

It was since we recently showed her The Sword in the Stone that I really thought we need to work on this; she did not enjoy it at all, and found it difficult to follow. Now, she knows two or three versions of the Arthur story, so I thought this would be right in her proverbial. But no.

Have I written about her traumatic experience with Ella Enchanted? Essentially, she loved the book, and the movie was (a) dreadful, (2) not anything like the book, and (iii) utterly dreadful. She had already, some years earlier, disliked The Wizard of Oz for not being like the book, and also rejected Return to Oz when we saw that a year or two ago. So I want to stay away from adaptations of things she knows, for the summer anyway.

I am definitely putting Shane, The Bad News Bears, Harvey and ET on my list (subject to availability). I was leaning toward Captain Blood or some non-Robin Hood swashbuckler. I am inclined to wait on The Princess Bride until after an old swashbuckler, to set up a discussion of how it plays with the genre, and what fun that can be. Or not—we tried sitting down with her to watch it a year or two ago and she drifted off pretty quickly.

Also, the idea of The Parent Trap is a good one, although of course quite romance-related. It makes me wonder if I could easily get hold of the other Disney movies of that era. The Absent-Minded Professor series, The Million Dollar Duck, Blackbeard's Ghost, Candleshoe, Gus, The Apple Dumpling Gang. Hm. Not sure if they will be part of this project, but they might just appeal to her.


I would treasure the fact that she isn't addicted to the tv screen.

Have you taken her to an actual theater? I loved going to the movies as a kid, but couldn't watch a movie at home. The immersive experience of the theater, and not having the distraction that home watching presents of known appealing alternatives all around you, might focus her attention rather differently.

Marx Brothers ftw.

oh alrighty then, she's not as deprived as you made her sound. :) Funny about not liking movies for which you've read the book--I certainly know that feeling, though it didn't bug me about The Wizard of Oz for some reason.

I'm pretty sure I saw West Side Story, Gigi, Godspell all at around 9 years old. And you don't have to worry she's read the book on those. :) Also A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but that might be a bit much for her.

Definitely Mary Poppins and Sound of Music. I like the idea of working her into adventure/swashbuckling movies before doing The Princess Bride, but it might be tricky to find something that is suitable for her age? ON the other hand,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swashbuckler_film has a nice listing of classic swashbucklers which might be an awful lot of fun... :)

What about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

It makes me wonder if I could easily get hold of the other Disney movies of that era. The Absent-Minded Professor series, The Million Dollar Duck, Blackbeard's Ghost, Candleshoe, Gus, The Apple Dumpling Gang. Hm. Not sure if they will be part of this project, but they might just appeal to her.

Well, it looks like Netflix has most if not all of these, so that might be a possibility if you do/are willing to do the Netflix thing.

To a Disney of that era list, I'd toss in The Shaggy Dog, Pete's Dragon, Hot Lead & Cold Feet, and The Love Bug. On the pure animation side, The Jungle Book is fun and not musically vanilla. Maybe she hasn't read Kipling yet?

On the Miyzaki animation side, Totoro really is charming, and Kiki's Delivery Service seems like its story might be accessible--strikes me as very YA, anyway.

Does the problem for the Perfect Non-Reader seem to be too much plot, or too little plot, or bad plotting? Or does she just not connect much with the visual element? Or just check out after an hour, no matter what?

The nature of the problem would have some impact on whether, for instance, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would be a good idea. Lots of fun, lots of music, but way way way long and the plot completely falls apart. I loved the movie when I was young, but I never watched much beyond the first half . . .

Oh, yeah, and Escape to Witch Mountain. (Did I really watch _all_ of these Disney movies when I was young? Yes, I guess so.)

Hmm -- I second Michael's point about taking her to an actual theater, if possible. I am forever grateful that 1) we had a real live revival theater in my town when I was a kid (the Lincoln in New Haven) and 2) my parents took me there frequently. Consequently there are a zillion classic films (Singing in the Rain, Casablanca, Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, An American in Paris, Some Like It Hot, and more) that I saw for the first time on the big screen. I've always found movies on the big screen far more compelling, and I will never forget the interminable time between "Major Strosser has been shot...." and (what's he going to do????) "...round up the usual suspects." It's just not the same on TV.

It may be that I am part of the last or near-to-last generation for which it was possible to see these for the first time on the big screen, but it's sure worth trying. Does your university have a film series?

Our experience taking the Perfect Non-Reader to a movie theater has not been of the best; she has expressed marked preference for watching movies at home. That may change, but for now, that's what we are working with. And no, the local university doesn't do a lot of public showings of classic films, although the local public library does some of that. We should look into it.

The main problem so far, at least to my diagnosis, is that she has difficulty following the plot of a film. Some of it is difficulty remembering who is who when their names are not given every time they speak; some of it is just not paying close enough attention and letting her mind wander. When reading a book, of course, you can let your mind wander for a bit and then find yourself at the same page you left off, but a movie keeps going on without you. This is another advantage of beginning the instruction, at least, at home where we can pause the film and discuss—or just pause it to take a break, if we want to.

So: what about a Bond movie? Not the most recent, of course, but do we start with the ancient Dr. No or something in The World is Not Enough territory?


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.