Editor’s Note: Electroshadow is proud to introduce yet another awesome contributor. This time, we have accomplished writer and doting mother Lisa Ng, whose inaugural piece is all about how movies have the power to teach our children valuable life lessons…
I was 5 when my parents took me to watch my first movie at the cinema. The movie was “Star Wars” and the cinema, The Odeon. At that time, I don’t think parents take into consideration what’s age-appropriate. But I’m glad for it because I’ve never remembered any other movie the way I remember George Lucas’ genre-defining classic.
The movie experience is indescribable when you’re short in height and on vocabulary. I only remember not being able to sit still as I had wanted the whole screen to fill my vision – something bobbing adult heads can be a barrier to.
The amplified sound, the looming characters, the heightened spectacle of battle and, of course, the quintessential plot about good versus evil as well as the triumph of the will over numbers – these have left a mark on me both in how I spend my precious free time these days (“Honey, wanna watch a DVD?”), and how I perceive the world (“Bastards need a light-saber up their backsides!”).
It’d be another 2 decades before the DVD system arrived. But it didn’t matter what system or format my fix came in. If my head wasn’t buried in a book in those years, it was glued to the TV or movie screen.
I think these kinds of passion are genetic, because my 3-year-old seems to have inherited a partiality for drama and performance, for movies.
Aidan, like many kids in this day and age, has the luxury of pointing a plastic rectangular box at another rectangular box that’d get a round disc inserted inside to play his favourite movies. But truth be told, it was never quite our intention to start him early on the world of moving pictures and sound. In fact, before he was born, we had grand illusions of taking the Mormon path to avoid fuzzing his brains with jumpy editing and heavy American accents.
I managed to hold out for 2.5 years. So what happened? Well, we took him to watch “The Lion King Musical” at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre, that’s what happened.
It was August 2011. My husband and I were dying to catch this once-in-a-lifetime Broadway phenomenon. But we weren’t sure if Aidan would like the theatre experience. Whether he’d embarrass us with a mega meltdown tantrum. Or miraculously stay throughout the 120-minute show.
Miracles do happen as we found out.
Since that viewing, there have been many requests for encores. Except that a ticket to a musical like that costs about 20 times the price of a DVD, which you could repeat again and again for free.
And so, thanks to his parents’ pragmatism, Aidan’s love for animated movies began.
As it stands, his library includes: Walt Disney’s “Dinosaur” (2000), “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Cars”, “Toy Story” 1 & 2, “Finding Nemo”, “Ratatouille”, “The Iron Giant”, “Kungfu Panda” 1 & 2, “The Fox and the Hound”, “The Lion King”, “A Bug’s Life”, “Lilo & Stitch” 1, 2 & 3, “Happy Feet” 1 & 2, “Bolt”, “Charlotte’s Web” and “Dumbo”.
It’s easy to figure out what a regular 3-year-old boy like Aidan likes. Out of his stash, “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Cars”, “Dinosaur”, “Bolt”, “The Iron Giant” and “Lilo & Stitch” get played the most. In all these films, there’re always bad and good guys. And there’s always action. There’re sometimes guns but always a lesson. Ok, that last bit about the lesson is what we – the parents – like.
Speaking of lessons: At first, I was a little concerned about exposing Aidan to shooting scenes, scenes that occur liberally in “Lilo & Stitch”, “The Iron Giant” and “The Fox and the Hound”. But as it turned out, he didn’t learn to form a handgun with his thumb and index finger or go “Boom, boom, boom!” from Pixar; he learnt them from Occupation Week at his pre-school, when two policemen came to do a show and tell.
If there IS anything he has learnt from the Disney-Pixar creations, it’s that Carnotaurs eat smaller dinosaurs but Iguanodons are vegetarians (“Dinosaur”). That winning a race isn’t everything because if you can help someone in trouble, you’re already a winner (“Cars”). That you can be small but important and decide your own destiny (“A Bug’s Life”).
This is primarily the reason why I changed my mind about turning Aidan into a Mormon. The fact that some of these animated movies provide such great themes for learning through its characters, stories and vivid imageries that boring old Mama could never recreate even if she were a professional puppeteer with a Jim Carrey knack for impersonations and facial contortions.
As Aidan develops sociability as he must journeying towards the Big 4, there’s a real need to help him initiate as well as maintain friendship. And the following movies come with built-in lessons that certainly help the cause:
- “Toy Story” 1: Great for tackling the fear of being less favoured by a friend or teacher, especially when a new student joins a class.
- “Dinosaur”: Carnage by pre-historic giant lizards in between lessons on respecting your elders and standing up against bullies (something we encounter a lot at the public playground).
- “Beauty and the Beast”: Romance between a pretty girl and a horrid beast on the surface, a quick course in giving bullies or kids you don’t like a second chance underneath – a chance to redeem themselves or show their goodness.
- “Finding Nemo”: The search for the lost son disguised as a lesson in listening to your parents when it concerns safety (for the kid); and in trusting your children as well as letting go (for the parent). Also about never giving up.
- “Ratatouille” & “Kung Fu Panda”: A rat and an obese panda teach us, in separate tales, that we can do whatever we set our minds and hearts on.
- “Happy Feet”: An animated musical that regales us with a delightful tale about how everyone’s different and unique with individual skills and talents.
- “Charlotte’s Web”: Friends can come in all shapes and sizes and when you’ve found good ones, you take care not to lose them.
- “The Lion King”: The very popular Hamlet-themed cartoon that resounds with the message that it’s what we do that defines us (Batman, safari style!); I also use this to remind Aidan not to run away from his responsibilities even if he’s scared because facing up to our fears can only make us stronger.
- “The Fox and the Hound”: A poignant Disney classic about how we can be very different and still be good friends if we focus on what we have in common and work around our differences.
- “Lilo & Stitch”: The blue and very destructive 6-legged alien koala shows us that we can use our powers to destroy or to build things, and how we must choose. This one’s a fun movie for also teaching how a family sticks together even if some of the members look or behave ‘different’.
- “The Iron Giant”: A heartwarming story about loyal friendships and sacrificial love. About seeing the good in others even when it seems impossible.
- “Bolt”: A lovely lesson about how we can’t always do everything alone no matter how “super” we are. Like “Cars” (which has Lightning McQueen acting all cocky when he’s stranded in Radiator Springs), I use this movie to teach Aidan not to be arrogant and think he’s all that.
- “How to Train Your Dragon”: A great story about charting your own destiny with a gem of an advice for parents to let their kids be who they are! Plus, there’re dragons of all shapes and sizes, what’s not to like?
There’s one observation I’d like to end this story with. And it’s about how Aidan is repeatedly told that we should emulate the good guys in the movies, but still proudly announces that he likes the ‘mean’ characters in his favourite movies.
You’ll never hear him wanting a toy Aladar from “Dinosaur” who saved Kron by pushing a Carnotaur off the cliff (“Mama, I like the mean Carnotaurs!”). You’ll also never hear him break into spontaneous songs about Flick or Princess Ada in “A Bug’s Life” (“Hop, Hop, Hopper…I like Hopper! Hop, Hop, Hopper…”). And while he may ask for a Lightning McQueen Duplo set, he ‘ll tell you without flinching that Chick Hicks in “Cars” is “so powerful and nice” – never mind that the green old cheat likes knocking competitors off the track.
But when you’re 3 and given a lot of rules to operate within, power is what you crave for and nothing exudes or displays unapologetic power like the nemesis!
On a different level, humans are drawn to cool characters, the ones with the flaws but also with the best design or weaponry. We’re drawn to the baddies also because we secretly wish we could be irresponsible like that without any karma-type payback or the law on our back. I mean, a lot of us preferred Darth Vader over Luke Skywalker a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We even broke out in spontaneous rasps of ragged breathing while playing a game as unrelated to the movie as catch. We just didn’t fess up to it because it was not politically correct to do so. With so many anti-hero movies floating about, the bad guys aren’t 100% evil these days and even the good guys are a bit grey on the side of morality.
The lesson for us parents? Nobody’s good all the time. And nobody’s bad all the time, either. And I’m pretty sure there are movies out there on this topic for our kids, too.