Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creepy sadness for kids

My friend Jeni recently posted Andrew O'Hehir's list of 10 landmark "children's movies" that might not good choices for family film night after all. I have some issues with his logic: Sure, Spirited Away is sophisticated enough for adults, but many children can handle difficult themes earlier than we think they can. When O'Hehir cites the movie's "creepy-sad nuances -- like the recognition that one's parents do indeed die eventually" as a reason to keep the kiddies away, he's ignoring a long history of tales, fables, and bedtime stories that have dark edges, or even dark plot elements.

What makes a film suitable for children, I think, is a point of view that resonates with them, and material that isn't so troubling or confusing that it takes them out of the emotional and narrative experience. Bambi's mother dies in Bambi, and parents worldwide recognize that as an appropriate way to introduce their kids to the notion of mortality. Spirited Away may add an aspect of "creepiness" to its melancholy, but that doesn't mean children shouldn't or won't understand and love it. (See also: Maurice Sendak on whether Where the Wild Things Are is "too scary" for kids.) I will give O'Hehir major props, however, for making me want to see The Witches again; I'd honestly forgotten it existed.

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