Home on the Range

For six years, I resisted taking my daughter to the movies. What was the hurry? I didn’t go to my first movie till I was 7. And it’s not like she wasn’t being exposed to the joys of cinema — she’s watched a movie on DVD almost every Friday since she was 2 years old, her first being Cinderella. I’ve always enjoyed selecting the movies for home viewing, because I am very picky. I’ve managed to keep her on a fairly strict diet of old-school musicals (preferably Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Disney classics made between 1937 and 1971, though I eventually made some grudging concessions to the ’80s and ’90s (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin).

See, I find that most of the soulless dreck Hollywood churns out for children is just product, calculated to make them want to buy a lot of crap they don’t need. There are exceptions, of course (most anything directed by Brad Bird), but a lot of the better films seem too frightening or spiked with too much adult humor to be suitable. Then again, I can’t deny it — my refusal to take my kid to the local multiplex has also been motivated by self-interest. I love movies and have so few opportunities to see them myself that I resent the idea of blowing 40 bucks on the dubious pleasure of sitting through Madagascar 2 or Ice Age 3 when I’ll be waiting an eternity for Inglourious Basterds to make it to Blockbuster.

Irrational though it may be, I also loathe the idea of walking out of a movie before it’s over. I’ve only done it once, and it was not my idea. When I was around 10, I went to see A Tale of Two Critters with a friend and her dad, who apparently didn’t realize he was taking us to a double feature: a Disney movie about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a raccoon and a bear paired with The Late Great Planet Earth, a Christian doomsday “documentary” narrated by Orson Welles that opens with a stoning. I still occasionally find myself wondering how that one ended. Anyway, when you take a kid to the movies, you are risking the walk-out. At the very least, you’ll be making urgent trips to the bathroom and seeking refuge in the lobby during scary parts, meltdowns, or to fetch replacement popcorn after the first bag gets dumped on the floor.

I know what you’re thinking: If you’re so uptight, why not let someone else — Dad, Grandma, friends — take your kid to the movies? I’m down with that, but not for her very first time. Both my husband and I wanted to witness that milestone. But the longer we waited, the more ridiculous our quest for The Perfect Movie started to seem. I imagined my daughter as an ostracized middle-schooler, branded by her peers as that “weird Luddite girl who’s never been to the movies.” I started to question my pickiness. It’s not like my first movie, Brother of the Wind, was one of those cinematic masterpieces that resonates for a lifetime. (A guy who looks like Santa rescues a litter of orphan timber wolves. Stuff happens. He releases them back into the wild. The End.) Perhaps I’d begun to lose perspective. The way I remember it, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo is a towering cinematic achievement, but perhaps it really is no better than Cars. Could Hotel for Dogs be just as good as The Shaggy D.A.?

Before I had to resolve these difficult questions, the stars aligned, fortune smiled, and The Perfect Movie arrived, unhyped, on a blistering August weekend: Japanese auteur Hayao Miyazaki’s gorgeous spin on the Little Mermaid story, Ponyo. The glowing New York Times review promised no scary parts, and my daughter was already a Miyazaki fan, having seen My Neighbor Totoro dozens of times on DVD. So here was something the whole family could definitely sit through, and we did, happily. Hot dogs were consumed without incident. No one had to go to the bathroom. No one freaked out, except maybe a little during the trailer for A Christmas Carol featuring a creepy CGI Jim Carrey as Scrooge.

Milestone achieved, mission accomplished. A lovely first movie that might loom a little larger in my daughter’s memory than Brother of the Wind (or was it Grizzly Adams?) does in mine. The only downside: Out of all the trailers she saw, the movie she now most wants to see is Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Um, friends, family … anyone, anyone?

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