I want my kids to love films as much as I do. I mean, really love them. As a parent, I have the power to influence and educate them on the joys of movie-going. My childhood consists of great, fuzzy memories of The Goonies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Back to the Future, among other countless staples of the 1980's. I thought I'd give my kids the chance to experience the same kind of euphoria that I did. And so that's how the idea of a "Junior Film School" came to mind.
A few months ago, I had decided that my son Ryan (who is now 4 and a half) is ready to watch some real films. He's not quite oblivious to the fine art of movies. He's head over heels with Cars and the Toy Story films. I knew I steered him right starting him off with some classic Pixar films. Eventually, I'll show him the rest of the Pixar canon (he has enjoyed Finding Nemo and WALL-E, but doesn't cling onto them as he does with Buzz and Woody), but I'm anxious to open him up to live action films.
For this inaugural session, the first attempt to shake Ryan out of the cartoon craze of Buzz, Lightning McQueen, Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank Engine is with the great 1984 comedy, Ghostbusters. Was this a wise first choice? My wife was very much against my idea of introducing this movie to him at such a young, impressionable age. I told her that he needed to branch out of his comfort zone a little bit. Ghostbusters has no violence, no extreme language or nudity. As far as I recalled, it's not a scary movie by any means.
One thing I should note. My son cried during a Curious George episode when one character was yelling at George for being a bad monkey. He cried during The Incredibles whenever that nasty villain, Syndrome, turned up. To say that he's a sensitive child is an understatement. Showing him Ghostbusters was my feeble attempt to toughen him up a bit.
Now, when my son is nervous about something, he talks. A lot. From the moment the librarian was spooked to when Stay Puft exploded, Ryan never stopped talking. We had a running commentary for the entire length of the film. Most of his statements ended with a question mark. In the opening library scenes, for example:
"Where did the sticky stuff come from?"
"Is that lady a ghost?"
"Why did that old lady scream?"
"Did the books fall down from the ghost?"
"Why did she scream, daddy?"
But to my surprise, he did not cry during these opening scenes. He talked, covered his eyes, talked some more, but never cried. And I'm happy to say that the rest of the film followed suit.
He also didn't understand why "the bearded man" (Walter Peck, played by the slimy William Atherton) wanted to shut down the system that eventually unleashed all of the ghosts.
Me: "Because he was ignorant. He didn't fully understand the damage he would create by shutting it down."
Ryan: "So... the man with the beard didn't know he was going to let Slimer out?"
When the film ended, I was relieved. I was proud of the kid. He didn't break down crying or run away or become emotionally scarred from the film. He survived the first class!
That is, until that night when it was time to go to bed. He just wouldn't fall asleep. He was thinking about the ghosts.
Same thing happened the next night.
And the next night.
And the next.
It's been a week since we watched Ghostbusters and the topic of scary ghosts comes up every night before bedtime. But I stand by decision to show him the movie. To my defense, he still hasn't cried about it. He talks it out as if he was a patient, and I was his shrink.
The way I look at it is this: When it's time for bed, or even when we're outside playing ball, the images come back to his head. When we're not watching movies, he's still thinking and talking about movies.
So... mission accomplished!
If anyone has suggestions for age-appropriate classics I can show him for future "lessons," feel free to comment below.