Thursday, April 12, 2012

Junior Film School: Ghostbusters

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.

Through my Junior Film School posts, I will chronicle my attempts to open up the minds of my young children. The best way to do this (for the time being) is to show them some of my favorite films from when I grew up. Note: My daughter Emma is almost 2 years old and a bit too young to be a part of this experiment but I hope to include her in future "classes" as she gets older.

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?"

I knew I was in for a challenge when he was a little shaken up by the screaming librarian. When the three Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis) were scared off by the very same ghost a few moments later, he began covering his eyes.

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.

And when I say he talked, I mean, he talked. He talked about the eggs on the counter. He talked about the nice lady being grabbed by the bad doggie. He hated those doggies. "They are mean and ugly, and did bad things." But he loved Slimer! He was a little sad when Slimer went into the trap. He liked Stay Puft, but for some reason he kept referring him as "the snowman." He was confused by the whole Gozer/crossing the streams scenario. (Try explaining why Gozer wanted to destroy humankind to a four-year-old. Ditto as to why crossing the streams was "very, very bad.")

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.

"I like Slimer and the snow man, but I didn't like the screaming ghost and the mean doggies." He just kept repeating that sentence over and over. My wife had a "told you so" look on her face and made me talk him down.

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.


Bubbawheat said...

I kind of feel the same way with my daughter who is 5 years old and has also seen Ghostbusters (and loved it, she loved the marshmallow man and wasn't scared by any part of it).

It was actually Coraline that brought out her fears, and it was in the same kind of subdued way. She never said she was scared or was obviously frightened at any time, but she would have the occasional nightmare about the other mother and would sometimes talk about her when it was time for bed.

Dave said...

Your girl is a tough cookie. "Love" isn't exactly the right word for Ryan to use for Ghostbusters, but maybe he'll come around next year or so.

Coraline looks iffy. I haven't seen it, but it looks creepy, even for me. :-)

Thanks for writing.

Pete said...

Dammit you're making me broody. I can't wait to start a film school with my kids. Great post! I look forward to more of these! As for Ghostbusters, that scene with the librarian used to scare the living piss out of me so I think you're son's done very well. I think the guy from the painting in Ghostbusters 2 is also bloody scary so I'd wait a while to show him that. I think Hime Alone should be on your list somewhere. Loved that as a kid. You'll also be introducing him to Joe Pesci!

Dave said...

Home Alone! Not a bad idea! I may have to consider that. I haven't seen it in years, so I can't remember if there was anything he'll be scared of. And he won't be seeing Ghostbusters 2 any time soon. I wasn't a fan of that one.

Thanks for chiming in!

Fernando Quintero said...

Loved this. I too want to educate my future children on good films. Actually, I just read a book with a similar theme. Mind you, the kid in question was sixteen and not four, but I think you'd enjoy it. It's "The Film Club" by David Gilmour (

Dave said...

Fernando, thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds like a great read, right up my alley! I agree, they are a bit young to really "appreciate" films, but I just can't wait for them to turn 16!

Franz Patrick said...

I think it's a good thing that your son asks questions when he's scared. It's much better than keeping it all in and having to breakdown hardcore later.

As for other movies he might like, I grew up with "The Rescuers Down Under." Lots of animals. (I just saw the first one recently, pretty good!) As for something live action, definitely "Babe." If you want to show him a hybrid, "James and the Giant Peach."

Dave said...

Franz, funny that you mentioned "Babe." I was thinking that this might be my next film. He's already familiar with some animated films and it's not much of a stretch for him. For the sake of this "project," I'm looking for live-action, well-reviewed, well-loved "classic" films. I think "Babe" definitely fits in that category!

Ann said...

Hi Dave,
Thanks for your comments on my blog. I really enjoyed yours and this post struck a chord. I was very anxious to get my kids (2 girls, currently 10 1/2 and almost 9) past the juvenile stage of TV and movies. I started slowly with longer and longer cartoon movies to address the attention span issue with Pixar films. To address the issues of them dealing with conflict, I watched cartoons such as "Teen Titans, Powerpuff Girls" and "Avatar, the Last Airbender". I enjoyed those shows as well and the last one, we watched as a family. Then I tried some classic kid oriented live action stuff that have dark elements like "The Wizard of Oz" or "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and stop motion stuff like "Nightmare Before Christmas". "The Corpse Bride" was my youngest daughter's favorite until she saw "Avatar" in the theatre at the tender age of 6 and she loved it. She will be 9 soon and it is still her favorite movie. Another favorite for the family is "The Princess Bride" and anything Muppets.

Dave said...

Ann, thanks for the wonderful suggestions! I realize I may be pushing it with a four year old, but I guess it can't hurt to start young (or can it? lol! I hope I'm not scarring them!!). I think it's so adorable that your then-6-year-old loved Avatar when it came out. Who would have thought a 6-year-old could love that movie so much??

I definitely want to show him A Princess Bride. But some scenes in that can be a little intense, so I may hold off on that for another year or so. It's one of my favorite films!

Thanks for writing!

Robert said...

Confused by crossing the streams? It's simple - total protonic reversal. ;)

Great post. You mentioned your memories of the Goonies. Do you plan on showing him that anytime soon? I can't think of anything in that that's really scary. Maybe some skeletons or Sloth's ugly mug?

Dave said...

Hey Robert. The Goonies is definitely on the list of titles I want to show my son. But I may have to hold off on that for a year or so. I do think Sloth and the Fratelli situation could scare him a little bit. Robert Davi putting Chunk's hand in a blender may be a bit much. :-)


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