Parenting ruminations

Dumb kids movies mimicking violent cliches from dumb grownup movies

Most TV and movies are trash, whether for adults or kids. The grownup material loads up on mindless violence or sex to compensate for its underlying dullness and unoriginality. Kids media sells stuff. None of this is news.

But twice this fall I’ve bumped into disheartening synergy that I felt merited a lament: the endless recycling of violent grownup-movie cliches had jumped the track into movies for small children. This seems like the worst direction this could go, though maybe not surprising.

Here is my n = 2 of complaints. I’m sure if I had the misfortune of watching such movies in increments of more than 45 seconds I would have more to rant about.

Toy Story 3

Today at the pediatrician’s office they were showing a scene where Buzz Lightyear is strapped to a chair, struggling. He’s interrogated, and after refusing to cooperate, has his memory wiped. He’s held down while a menacing drill forces open his battery compartment and he is switched to demo mode to erase his mind. This evokes the torture scene in Spectre where James Bond’s head is drilled into in an attempt to destroy his memory. Yes, Spectre was made years after Toy Story 3; the point is the striking similarity of the torture scenes. Both are regurgitations of an old cliche, restraining someone and torturing away their life or personality. See The Princess Bride among others. How could studio execs, writers, the audience all think this torture cliche is normal or acceptable to include in a kids’ film?

(The Spectre scene was unpleasant to watch and if you can cheerfully absorb that, you may be desensitized).

Detective Pikachu

I walked through a room while the movie was on and found a protagonist clinging for life to a skyscraper as the villain knocked his fingers off one by one. This violent cliche has been used countless times, most recognizably to me in North by Northwest. At least this movie is rated PG, not G, but this scene is still guilty of being a pastiche of grownup action movies and is both too scary for (not-jaded) little kids and wholly unoriginal.

Kill your TV

Mainstream TV and movies may be the most overrated things there are. It’s our mass culture and it’s almost all lousy. I try not to harp on this – I come off as a wet blanket and alienate myself – but when I take my kid to the doctor and they are showing a torture scene for kids, I have to say it. It’s not “prestige TV,” there is no “golden age” of TV, it’s unoriginal and titillating and empty. Go outside or read a book or build something. And spare your kids the trash. It’s entirely possible to have a low- or no-screen childhood in 2019.

And when you do show movies, if you check first you can avoid showing them things like, oh, “scenes meant to suggest prison culture/abuse” and movies where the main character is “nearly killed … taken hostage … [the villain] wants to kill [the heroes] and nearly succeeds.” If those aren’t the things you think make for wholesome entertainment for young children.

Thanks to George for suggesting that I meant “grownup movie” in this post, not “adult movie.”

2 replies on “Dumb kids movies mimicking violent cliches from dumb grownup movies”

I tried hard to get rid of the TV in the waiting room at the clinic and in the inpatient unit I directed. Impossible. Toy Story and Thomas the Tank Engine have long been popular with children with autism; I think it is because the characters have fairly mechanized and predictable faces as well as repeated phrases. Of course lots of typically developing children watch them repetitively as well. Then there is the issue of the difference between repetitive watching of movies, something that was impossible until your generation at the advent of the VCR, and repetitive reading of the same story.

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