Thursday, January 16, 2014


When I look back on my early childhood I remember a certain low-level yet persistent frustration which was the inevitable result of becoming obsessed with something but lacking the resources or general wherewithal to do much about it. I always marvel at stories about kids in the 1950’s who lived within walking distance of a movie theater and could and did go there every single Saturday for cartoons and cliffhanger serials and monster movie matinees. I did not have that level of access to cinema, and going to the multiplex was a rare treat. I also didn’t get an allowance until I was probably around ten years old, and my grandparents had a tendency in those halcyon days to buy U.S. savings bonds for special occasions rather than sending cash (though my parents probably would have claimed eminent domain over cash, too) so I never had a ton of pocket money for comics and toys and whatnot. You’d be forgiven for thinking, based on the way I go on and on about those pieces of pop culture ephemera of my youth, that I was up to my eyeballs in them as a kid, but I really don’t think I was. I was aware of all of it, but a lot of it was second-hand, playing with someone else’s Star Wars or GI Joe collection at their house afterschool or just seeing commercials on tv or photos in the Spiegel catalog. My parents were perfectly indulgent around Christmas and birthdays, but almost never just bought me (or my siblings) random goodies just for a decent report card or acceptably pro-social behavior or anything like that.

I’m not bemoaning any of this as remarkably sad beginnings that I had to overcome. Obviously I came out reasonably unscarred and still fully capable of getting obsessed with things, and then indulging those obsessions for my own sake. But clearly I have a choice when it comes to raising my own children: follow my parents’ example of moderation in all things including the virtue of patience (specifically being patient between Christmas and your next birthday), or be more indulgent and ever and ever more indulgent, and ha ha that was pretty cute how I pretended for half a second there as if there were actually a differing position I might consider.

Because of course when I indulge my kids, I indulge myself. Case in point, the most recent Saturday Night Movie which the little guy feasted his eyes upon was How To Train Your Dragon. I believe I have mentioned how he took an interest in knights and dragons right before Christmas (fortuitously enough) and then received knight and dragon toys aplenty and now is full-blown obsessed, which is all well and good. I was just as happy to indulge knights and dragons as I had been to indulge Cars or Toy Story, although in the latter case it did make Saturday Night Movies a bit of a trial, as apparently I get a little antsy about sitting through Toy Story 2 for the hundredth time while no such limitation afflicts my son. So not only were knights and dragons a good opening for reconsidering the movies on tap for Saturdays, but I had actually heard very good things about How To Train Your Dragon from a very technical, nuts-and-bolts screenwriting perspective, and I was eager to check it out to satisfy my own curiosity. Really it’s a win-win all around.

(And for what it’s worth, it’s utterly trivial to add a particular children’s movie to my Netflix queue in order to allow my kids to watch it in the comfort of our home, which is an entirely different paradigm from what my parents were working with back in the early 80’s, when the only options were not exactly cheap movie theaters and the inflexible scheduling whims of cable tv. I know.)

So, bottom line, the little guy enjoyed the movie, although it is pretty intense. It has an admirable message, where institutionalized cultural violence is demonstrably bad and multicultural (Vikings and dragons) understanding and cooperation is good, but there’s a lot of violence up front to be made an example of first. In fact, the movie is actually rated PG, and I’m just about positive it’s the first non-G-rated movie the little guy has under his belt. In my own defense, I didn’t really consider the possibility that it wasn’t rated G until it was playing onscreen, as I had just assumed that all animated movies marketed to kids were rated G. Learn something new every day (even five-plus years into this whole parenting thing).

Of course, technically, I wouldn’t say the little guy has seen the whole movie. As is his wont, he was excitedly running in and out of the room for almost the entire running time. But his sensibilities may also be developing, at least somewhat. Not too long ago he would leave the room during the scary part of a movie and say in no uncertain terms and with a quaver in his voice “I don’t like this! Tell me when it’s over!” With How To Train Your Dragon he made frequent departures but never lost his composure per se, and when his mother and I asked him what he was doing he said he was “reporting back to his crew” which apparently was some number of imaginary friends hanging out in the dining room or thereabouts. So, fair enough.

But the dragon obsession remains in full effect, with How To Train Your Dragon leading the way at this point. I haven’t run out and bought tons of books and licensed toys and sundries from the franchise just yet, but it’s only been a few days; I’m not saying I’m not going to, either. And it’s been a while since I took the little guy to a proper movie theater matinee, but I might have to mark my calendar for June, when How To Train Your Dragon 2 hits the screens.

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