As the fourth and final entry in this series, I am covering the world of children’s movies. Okay, maybe not the “world”, because then this article would be twice as long as it already is and I can barely get people to read my articles now. I’m covering a few, okay maybe like 20, of the movies that either make me really happy or that make me really frustrated because they inspire bad behavior somehow.
If you have read my previous entries about screening what your kids watch, then you already know I am really big on avoiding screen time with things that display too much attitude, dangerous behavior and overall lack of the values we try to teach at home. It’s frustrating when you do your best to teach a toddler not to hit or yell at others then they see their favorite character doing it in a show they love. It undoes the whole process and can really throw a wrench in a child’s understanding of right and wrong.
One thing we all have to realize going into this conversation is the simple fact that movies are not made for toddlers. Animated movies are for kids. Kids are not toddlers. The typical, target demographic for most animated motion pictures is between 6 and 16, and then of course, the cash-cow; those children’s parents. Small children often watch, love and become obsessed with characters in animated movies, but that’s just a happy side effect of a parent wanting to share it with their children or an older sibling who actually is within the target demographic. Major motion pictures, even “kids” movies, are not made for the in-between age children who are too old for Baby Einstein and the “peek-a-boo” show and yet still too young for Phinias and Ferb or Spy Kids. So, when talking about movies here, we have to realize that we can complain all we want, but they never intended these things to be viewed by the 1 to 4 year old crowd in the first place and the reality is if you don’t like it, don’t watch. There are plenty of toddler-safe “movies” that are aired on Disney Junior and other pre-school networks and can be later found on Hulu+ and/or Netflix that ARE for our kids. That’s the reality that frustrates parents with multiple children because you can’t allow one child to watch something the other child is old enough to process simply because of bad attitude or whatever else they throw into them that are not really great for children. It’s just super frustrating, so here’s my list of the current goodies and baddies in our world.
So, anyway, here the list, in no particular order.
1- Wreck it Ralph – Love it, shelved till further notice for: Bad attitudes, name-calling and violence
This is a great Disney movie, one of my favorites of the newer series. It’s about a video game villain who does not want to be bad anymore. He tries to be good and goes on an adventures outside his game to prove it’s possible to change your programming. I thought my son Liam at age two, would like this movie because of the bright colors and the racing cars. I didn’t bargain for his ability to pick out and mimic all the bad behaviors. Our whole family loves this movie and at first, it was great- he asked for it almost daily. Then we hit a development milestone and his understanding and language shifted and began a new level of mimicking. He began to “wreck” everything from the floor, to the couch, to his sister, himself, toys, strangers, daddy, the cat, he would build towers JUST so he could “wreck” them while screaming at the top of his lungs; I’M GONNA WRECK IT!! … Yeah, not such a good thing. Also, there is an awful lot of name calling in this movie; “gutter snipe”, “crumb snatcher”, “stink brain” and my favorite- “cherry chasing dot muncher” (does that sound dirty to you, or is it just me?) just to name a few. Oh, and Liam has two new phrases that came DIRECTLY from this movie; “STOP IT!!” and, “THAT’S MINE!”, neither of which are a positive addition to his vocabulary. The main characters are pretty sassy to one another and there’s anything from smacking across the face to sticking their tongues out at one another, snatching things out of others’ hands and running away while laughing, there are nasty attitudes and hitting each other, or themselves with hammers and things around them and a whole LOT of candy. Oh, and there’s this issue with giant, green bugs that get shot and explode. Not pretty, could be scary. It all makes sense in the context of the movie and it is really a very sweet story, in spite of what it sounds like based on what I’ve just written- but once my little mocking bird decided to start wrecking the cat and his baby sister, I decided it was a little too early for this one. Also, he had nightmares about giant, green bugs for a week. Maybe we will try again next year. (Just for reference, I wrote this list last year when Liam was two. We have since tried it again and some of these issues have not repeated themselves, but others have, so it got shelved again.)
2- Toy Story 1- Shelved for: violence, yelling, dangerous situations
VERY sweet movie about friendship, teamwork, doing the right thing and being a hero. Out of the blue, my son started yelling at me from across the room for no reason, saying, “MOOOOOMMMM!!!!” Not in a nice, “hey mom what’s up” kind of way, but an impatient, attitude-filled, “MOM WHERE ARE YOU!” kind of way and I couldn’t figure out where the heck that had come from until we were watching Toy Story one day and I heard it. Same tone, same length, everything, identical. It was Sid. Sid, the neighbor kid- is a brat. He’s mean, he yells at his mom, his sister, he plays with power tools, explosives and he violently tortures and blows up his toys. Another issue- I don’t know a single child who has watched this movie and NOT thought they could fly because of Buzz Lightyear. Buzz Lightyear falls off a flight of stairs at his house and breaks his arm off. He doesn’t get seriously hurt by real kid standards, so apparently now yelling “to infinity and beyond” is a good idea while jumping off the couch, chairs, climbing up as high as you can get so you can “fall with style”. No thanks. Maybe in a few years. We still watch Toy Story 2 AND Toy Story 3 and no problems seem to come of either of them.
3- Brave- Shelved for: Fight scenes, pranking, hitting, biting and throwing things and “but mooooooooom!!!” and “It’s not fair!!” and the multiple “Merida-isms” that are full of attitude, talking back, yelling, slicing up a bed with a sword because things don’t go your way and many, many, many others, none of which needs to be repeated by a mocking bird three year old.
This is by far, one of my favorite animated movies and Liam just announced to me today that Merida is his “very most favorite of ever”, even more than Princess Aurora or Cinderella. Merida is brave, strong, smart, she learns a valuable lesson about family and love, respect and honor. Her mother, Elinor, learns to see her daughter in a beautiful new light, not just as a daughter, but as an individual with amazing qualities. The subject is dear and near to my heart; Celtic themes, magic and mystery the struggle between mother and daughter, what the mother hopes for her child vs. what the child longs for in her heart and how they somehow meet in the middle. There’s a witch, a henge, will-o-the-wisps, Celts in kilts, bears and some excellent symbolism that teaches truly valuable lessons. This movie, for all its incredible beauty and rich story telling, is not for young, impressionable children. Why you ask? Well, here goes the list of why Brave is not on our watch list at the moment… When the clans assemble from the neighboring lands, they act like catty siblings and full on fighting ensues on more than one occasion. The fight scenes have sword fighting, biting, punching, kicking, throwing tables and chairs at one another, flashing each other (yes, FLASHING – which my son now tries to do and thinks is HILARIOUS) and although it’s all very humorously written and is really fun for parents or anyone who has ever been to the Scottish Games or a Renaissance Faire, it’s not so humerus to have your three year old randomly biting people because he saw someone do it in a Disney movie and he suddenly thinks he’s a Celt. Well, he is a Celt… but… oh, you know what I mean. Trust me, that’s a little hard to explain to someone when they have teeth marks in their ankles. In one scene, the king and all the clans go bear hunting in the castle, chasing it with swords. It’s all fun and exciting and Liam’s favorite thing now is to run around the house with his toy sword screaming things like, “There it is! Kill it!” Not really a fan of that. Especially when he has decided his little sister is the “it” in question. Oh and one other thing… Merida’s three little brothers turn into bears and when they turn back into kids, they’re naked. The line that is adorable in the film in context, is, “Now that’s a wee neked baby!” It’s a heartwarming scene and I love it, but then Liam decided it would be fun to take off his clothes and run around the house yelling, “I’m a wee naked baby!!” So. As much as I love this movie and as much as HE loves it, too- we will be putting it away for a while until I can get the behaviors that came directly FROM it under control. Once that happens, we will try reintroducing it with lots of conversations about context and appropriateness.
4- Tangled- Shelved for: Violence. That’s about it. Otherwise, it’s awesome.
Another beautiful movie with great lessons about love, faith and the power within us all to heal and love and be resilient against all odds, to remain a decent person in spite of harsh circumstances and to be empowered to do the right thing, even if it’s hard. Unfortunately, again… there is a bar fight scene in a pub that we absolutely cannot watch anymore. There’s hitting people with frying pans, hitting animals in the face, throwing axes at people, punching, kicking, again with the table throwing, ankle biting and some sword fighting. In context of the film, it all makes sense, but what people fail to remember is that for a toddler, these things are NOT in context because they are too young to process the whole movie, the lessons and consequences or really even understand what is going on. Once we saw this movie a handful of times, Liam was emulating ONLY the funny, high-action fight scenes and it got to be too much, so we said goodbye to Rapunzel and Flynn for a while. Sad day for mom. *footnote- While I agree 100% with what I wrote in the context of younger children, we have tried this one again since I wrote this and so far, so good. Liam (about to turn 4) now seems to understand a little more clearly that the bad guys or, “ruffians”, are the ones acting badly, and that since HE is not a ruffian, he shouldn’t do that. So far, so good with the re-introduction… now he just runs around trying to find magic golden flowers to save the queen and I am perfectly content with that. ❤
5- Frozen- Shelved for hitting.
Ah, Frozen…. the movie that has literally hypnotized the majority of our nation’s youth (and a great deal of it’s adults, as well), connected commiserating parents world-wide and created a magical world of ice, music, a talking snowman and a sweet reindeer… And of course, ELSA, Anna, their tragic story of loving sisters, misunderstandings and the world class hit; Let It Go. The first few times we saw it, I didn’t see anything at all wrong with it. There was no bad attitude, no unnecessary, slap-stick fight scenes, no hitting, minimal fighting, there were only TWO, very small scenes where any humorous violence took place; one in Oaken’s Trading Post when Kristoff gets kicked out, and once at the very end when Hans gets justifiably punched and thrown in jail. These two scenes, of course… are the ones MY son decided to reenact. He reenacted a lot of other parts too, he loved the ice farming scene in the beginning, Olaf’s song, he loves pretending to push ice blocks around the house and lots of other things, but the one that he loved to reenact the most? Hans getting punched in the face and thrown (literally thrown) in jail. He tried to punch and toss his toys and once, even his sister. Obviously we corrected the behavior when it occurred, but it kept occurring every time we watched the movie. Finally, we decided to put Elsa away for a while after that and after about a week, the pretend punching stopped. Oh, and one more thing this movie taught him- There is a scene when Elsa is afraid of her power and her father tries to help her. She desperately yells out “Don’t touch me!” and he backs away. My son now says this, ALLLLL the time. Especially when I’m trying to get him dressed or brush his hair or help him into the car when he doesn’t want to go. SUPER annoying. Note- Since writing this back in April, we have since tried again and so far, have had great results. The behaviors we were concerned about, so far, have not returned. We are watching closely and ready to pull this one again anytime, but for now, Elsa and Anna are back in our lives. …yay.
6- The Incredibles- Shelved for: Sibling rivalry, attitude, yelling
Another film that we love and need to wait a few years on for our kids. The reality is, some of these movies really just aren’t meant for young kids and again, it’s our job to be patient and to know better. This movie is awesome! It’s a super hero family and they love one another. That is the great part. The not so great part is a particular scene where the brother and sister fighting at the dinner table. Dash, the son who can run really fast, begins to run around the dinner table at lighting speed, hitting the back of his sister’s head over and over again until mom yells at them both and tells them to stop. Now, we watched this movie about 8 times and I really didn’t see anything wrong with it, until Liam started running around the room, smacking people as he ran by them because of that scene. He also now says a very whiny “aaaww maaaan” when you tell him to do something he doesn’t like or if you say “no” to a request. (also a Dash thing) Those are the big ones, but there are other things, too- like arguing, fight scenes, lying and gunfire. All of that together was enough for me to realize this movie just isn’t meant for toddlers and I’ve got to be the grown up and just be patient. *Sigh* …. I hate waiting.
7- Lilo and Stitch- Shelved for: Yelling, fighting, name calling, sadness, scary monsters, but mostly this:
An AMAZING movie for older children and even tweens. not so much for toddlers… here’s why; Stitch breaks things, ruins things, destroys things. Of course he does. He’s a genetic experiment designed to destroy the universe! If Loki and a hell hound had a baby, it would be Stitch. He yells, scratches, bites, breaks things and ruins toys, but what’s worse- so does Lilo! Lilo punches, kicks, screams at her sister, she runs away from home, she turns on the stove, she bites another girl, she runs into the woods by herself and then a man comes to take her away from her sister after you learn that her parents are dead. This is a train wreck of bad behavior and terrible circumstances for any child too young to comprehend what’s really going on. Pros- Love. Family. Joy in friendship and redemption through second chances. Making sure everyone always gets an opportunity to shine while remembering that family is forever- not just on good days. This is a beautiful movie to help a child in a single parent, or otherwise alternative family feel valued and show them that a small family, no matter how broken, is still a family and that love is always what counts. It really is a beautiful movie with a wonderful lesson, but through the eyes of a toddler, it’s just a big example of everything NOT to do that they will WANT to do after seeing this movie with an adorable, cuddly, blue mascot there to cheer them on. Soooo yeah, we’ll be waiting on that one, too.
Okay, so those are the current “no’s”, so here are the “middle of the road” movies that we watch but I keep an eye on the kids for reactions and I’m ready to pull them asap if they do any one of the things I don’t like. Here’s a few and what to watch out for:
Yes, the Disney original. I LOVE this movie and when I say love, I mean I was obsessive over it for years and years, I know it by heart and I cannot WAIT to share it with my babies and have them see the same magical wonder of Neverland and help them build stories of their own. Pros include love of family, respect for siblings, value of friendship, imagination, magic, fairies, compassion and being a hero, and the all powerful- good vs. evil. Cons include; jumping on the bed is super fun. Jumping out windows to fly into the sky when the parents are not home could also be fun. Hitting people with sticks is okay because you’re fighting pirates. Drawing on random objects that don’t belong to you is really okay because it’s a treasure map. Daddy is scary, mommy is nice. Captain Hook is scary. A man-eating crocodile is also scary, but funny, too so it’s okay- and super fun to pretend to chomp up your baby sister. Could inspire nightmares depending on how sensitive your child is… and the line at Disneyland for this ride is NEVER less than 40 minutes.
Liam loves this movie. People laugh because he’s a boy, but I say screw it- he is allowed to like a princess movie if he wants to. He loves the birds and the talking mice and he loves their songs and the Fairy Godmother. He likes it when she’s happy and dancing and gets sad for her when her sisters make her cry. The behavior I’m watching out for, is the nasty attitudes from the sisters. They are grabby, mean, selfish girls and when they catch Cinderella wearing their things, they pull at her clothes and rip them apart. I don’t want Liam ever thinking that it’s okay to do this. When we watch it together, we talk about it and I tell him things like, “see how mean they are, they make her so sad when they do that to her” and I think he gets it, but I am still watching just in case.
The Tinkerbell movies-
Any of them. Liam and Lottie both absolutely LOVE these and they are actually really calming for them. We often watch parts of these movies when they are too wound up and it’s time to settle down for nap time. They become mesmerized by the fairy dust (Yes, I know, they’re totally my kids) especially Liam. You can just see the joy on his face when the fairies do something awesome. There are also some great lessons about friendship and trust and faith that doing the right thing will pay off. Thing is, Tinkerbell is a snot. She’s strong willed and bullheaded, she yells at her friends, she throws attitude when she doesn’t get her way and she always, ALWAYS does exactly what she was told not to do. This contrary action always ruins everything for the entire Pixie Hollow community, but she doesn’t care- she just wants what she wants, and is blinded by her desires. She always feels bad after and then fixes whatever is wrong, but the fact is, you spend an awful lot of the movie watching her do everything wrong. For now they’re still okay because these concepts are a little over his head, but I’m watching closely. The most recent installment; The Pirate Fairy, is a family favorite and has MUCH less overall attitude, even the bratty fast flying fairy, Vidia is actually really kind throughout most of this one. There is still an element of attitude and snark from her, but it’s VERY toned down compared to the last few movies. Overall, The Pirate Fairy has excellent songs, great lessons and is a sweet story that teaches a valuable lesson about the bonds of friendship, forgiveness and the value of questions. I’m watching closely to ensure the behaviors that are not preferred don’t come through for him and if they do, we’ll remove them accordingly, but for now it seems to be okay.
Despicable Me, 1 & 2-
The first one is actually pretty awesome. The things I watch out for with that one, are the things he picked up first thing; the gun fire scenes. He has a thing for guns, in spite of my not wanting him to play with them, and the freeze ray, the squid gun and the fart gun are pretty tempting things to reenact. Liam prefers to mimic Vector, the arch nemesis of our villain hero, Gru, by saying things like, “Curse you, tiny toilet!” and, “Oh yeah!” when he does something good, but most recently, he runs around yelling “Freeze ray!” at everyone, expecting them to freeze until he tells them it’s okay to move. The second has more that I found questionable, but still pretty low key and everything is all in good fun, not actually attempting to hurt someone. The only part about the second one that is on the fence, is the purple minions. They’re super mean and they fight, bite and hurt people. They are actually kind of scary… they move and act like zombie hordes but their fuzzy purpleness makes them sorta cute still, so they don’t scare anyone. Like I said, we watch these movies, but I do so with a sharp eye on how they effect both kids.
And now for our favorite movies:
Room On The Broom-
Just today, we have watched this movie 4 times and read the book 6 times and I have to say, I am not even a little bored of it yet. This is one of the sweetest stories I’ve heard in a long while, depicting a kind and compassionate witch who loves animals and takes good care of her dear friends. They, in turn, take care of her. The story is about acceptance, inclusion, love, sacrifice and family. The movie is just beautiful, the animation is rich and colorful and the music is enchanting. Truly, a beautiful story and a great movie, perfect to watch while reading the book before bed.
The Snowman and the Snow Dog-
This story is another quiet, soft and beautiful story based on a book and full of magic, love and giving. It’s about a boy grieving for his puppy when he creates a snowman and a snow dog in his back yard. They both come to life and bring him comfort and take him to a magical world of snowman fun and when they return home, the snow dog becomes real. It’s a story that touches the heart with it’s simplicity and wonder, it’s quiet, magical presence and powerful story, all told through music and animation- there are no words. This is a perfect quiet down movie and an excellent tool if you have to help a small child cope with a pet loss.
The Hungry Caterpillar-
Another movie based on a book, The Hungry Caterpillar was our go-to quiet time movie to settle down before bedtime for the greater part of last year. The movie features the tale of the hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle, but also includes five of his other stories; Papa, Please Get the Moon For Me, The Very Quiet Cricket, The Mixed Up Chameleon and I See A Song. The stories are all read, as if from the books directly just as the previous two I mentioned, and done in the same animation as all his beautiful books, full of rich watercolors and a really cool layered paper look. They’re soft, quiet stories, perfect for before bed or nap time.
This is an awesome movie for toddlers. It has compassion, giving, kindness, silliness, love and sacrifice all in very simple terms, mostly without dialogue, so it’s very clear what is happening. Small children really get this movie and absorb the lessons easily. The “bad guys” are not bad enough to be scary and the characters are primarily computers and robots, so there’s no nasty attitude. There’s no death, very minimal violence and when Wall-E is in distress from saving the ship and almost getting crushed, his love, EVE saves him and it’s a happy ending. To a two year old, this movie is awesome and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it that I can find. He reenacts scenes from the movie by flying a spaceship through the air, he talks about going to Saturn to touch the ice in the sky, he talks about “EVE” and loving the plant, keeping it safe. I made him a little Wall-E and EVE out of cardboard and plastic bags and he has tea with them and he hugs them when they are sad on the TV. As he grows, he will learn the lessons of the story- to treat all creatures and our Earth with respect so we may never encounter a life like the one shown. He will learn the value of respecting all things and having compassion for all.
Nightmare Before Christmas-
Okay, okay… so many of you might think I’m nuts to let my babies watch this movie. I’ll explain why. First of all- it’s been a favorite of mine since it’s release when I was 16. It’s been a huge part of my life and I was not about to change that when I had babies. Second, every child who has seen this film from early on is not afraid of it. It’s not scary if you, as the parent, don’t encourage fear! It is about an endearing skeleton man who wants to find the love and joy of Christmas. He feels a hole in his heart that cannot be filled and he discovers the magic of Christmas time by entering Christmas Town. He feels the love, the joy, the peace and wonder of the season and he desperately tries to create that feeling in his own life by making some bad decisions and hijacking the holiday. When things go terribly wrong, he then comes to realize that he already has those things- that love, compassion and giving already exists in his world, he had just lost sight of it for a while. It’s a sweet love story and can be very powerful in teaching about the magic of Christmas. The movie is about self-acceptance and love. It’s about the joy of giving and how that joy fills your heart BECAUSE you gave- not because you took something from someone else.
Now, it’s not without it’s negatives- The villain is mean and yells a lot- but because he’s so blatantly a bad guy, Liam has had no problem identifying that as a bad thing in this context. Lock, Shock and Barrel are mean to each other. They are the “trick-or-treater” henchmen who work for the villain and they are not very nice to each other. If a child is paying close enough attention, they may emulate this negative behavior, so this is an -“on the fence” movie that works for us now, but may be taken off the list if he begins to emulate the bad behaviors. (We’re are 2 years into this film being a staple in our house and so far so good!)
Okay, so this is my list so far. It’s long, I know.. .it took me almost two weeks to write it and there are literally HUNDREDS more where these came from. It’s always up to the parent to decide what is best for their little ones, so please remember to screen any TV time carefully to ensure the shows they watch are meeting up with your family’s standards. All too often, parents think, “Oh, I have to get this task done, here watch Nick JR” and just let them watch whatever is playing on that channel, thinking of COURSE the programming will be acceptable, because it’s designed for younger kids. Unfortunately, we just don’t live in a world where we can “just let” our kids do anything.
I would love to know what your favorites are and if you have also noticed any negative behaviors due to television programming.