I’ve had media on my mind lately. And Finn McMissile, I’ve got my eye on you.
We took F (age 4 1/2 years) to his first movie about a month ago. It is something we’ve been talking about for over a year. He’d built up a sense of anticipation that we could have bottled. F is a focused boy. The only movie he has chosen to watch from start to finish his entire life is the original Cars. So with the news of Cars 2 coming to the big screen, we plotted our first big family trip to the cinema. F lost sleep with anticipation. He studied (and slept with) the New York Times synopsis. The NYT review, we didn’t share with him…
What age did you first take your child to a movie? Did you go because of a certain film or because the timing was right?
I’m asking because I think although there is no perfect answer (3, 4, 5, or 6), I wish our first movie had gone better. All in all, our experience was a great success in the eyes of my son, but Pixar let me down. As did Finn McMissile.
McMissile, why the unnecessary ammo?
You see, with my first-born F, restricting media was something I was decidedly good at. There were lots of other things I wasn’t (enter Mama-guilt built from “excessive” pacifier use, inability to make enough breast milk, or the slight sunburn F got on his cheeks at 4 months old when the shade from the tree was inadequate). I firmly believe TV isn’t good for our brains, particularly little ones, who are just learning how to think and learn. I subscribe to the AAP recommendation of no media prior to age 2. This belief made it easy for me to become near neurotic about restricting screen time for him. I also have been neurotic about limiting my boy’s exposure to play guns (in and out of media). I was determined to mitigate the media’s effects on F during earlier childhood. I know TV doesn’t provide opportunity for him. Because of the restriction, he doesn’t seem to crave TV or DVDs. He still watches only an hour or two of media a week and it’s all commercial free.
It’s been different with my O (2 1/2 year-old). He had some screen exposure prior to age 2 and watches more media now (a few hours/week) than his brother did at the same age. So is life of the second born…Consequently, he craves media more, no question about it.
As it turns out, I got entirely conflicted as the date for the first movie approached. We’d put it on the calendar, arranged care for O while we’d be gone. When I first heard that the main character’s name was Finn McMissile I retreated from innocent enthusiasm. What was so wonderful about Cars (1) is that besides a scene with a growling turbine chase scene, the movie is sweet. Not syrupy in my book– but rather a bit endearing and a view into loving characters finding true friendship and making good choices.
McMissile, by definition is something altogether different. And, about 2 months ago I pulled up the trailer for the movie on YouTube. F watched it with me on my computer at the kitchen counter. He was quiet about it, not buzzing and brimming with excitement like I would have expected. But here’s the reason: when F senses danger or threat, his innate distaste for threat surfaces. And he felt it. This Cars 2 has some blow up scenes, a torture scene (that I don’t think he understood), and significant violence. It was loud. Furthermore, so much of the movie reeks of merchandising. Yes, there is a bit of wisdom (lost) about the environment and a tour of international locations, but it’s lost in all the noise.
In a distilled summary, the movie experience was a hoot. The really frustrating part was the awkward branding (before the movie started we endured ads for chicken nuggets in the shape of Lightning McQueen) and we got a glimpse into what looked like the perfect first movie while watching a trailer for Winnie the Pooh. Both my husband and I longed to be watching that honey-eating bear. Ultimately, F stayed through the whole Cars 2 movie and I had the treat of getting to hold him through the final 40 minutes or so when he climbed onto my lap after an uncomfortable moment.
I’m left frustrated and a bit bewildered. For whom is the violence heightening the experience? Why use words like “idiot” and why torture a car? Why does this make a better movie, Pixar? Who comes in droves and who buys more merchandise because of it?
Tips For First Movie With Kids:
- Plan Ahead. I collected advice from friends and family, from other pediatricians, and from those on Twitter prior to the movie. I was told to make sure we’d visited the bathroom prior to starting the movie, review and rehearse with F what to expect, get popcorn on the way into the seat, and have plenty of time for prep. We bought tickets ahead of time. There was no rushing (that’s unusual for us!) and we had plenty of time to take in the entire experience–we took lots of photos during our journey. The best part (for me, maybe) was that F was on a date with his two parents –a treat in itself. We made this out to be a big adventure and I think it enhanced the experience.
- Vet The Movie. Use resources you trust like your friends with children, your family, your pediatrician, and online resources. I love Common Sense Media. It’s a site where you can read movie reviews, hear opinions about age-appropriate content, compare weakness and strengths of shows & movies, and browse for alternatives by age. Common Sense Media gave Cars 2 a green light for 6 year olds and only a yellow light for 4 year olds. I read the review prior to taking F so I knew we were possibly a bit over our head and that violence was an issue. But like all things, we make decisions in the context of life and we knew F had his heart set on this movie. So we gave it a go.
- Review The Movie With Your Child. Don’t let the movie experience end when you walk out of the theater. Return to the movie for a few days, discussing what was good about it, themes in the movie and what your child is thinking about. I guarantee your child will be thinking about it…Further, rate the movie, pick it apart, find its beauty, its flaws. After the movie, ask your children about what they saw. In our family, we have a tradition after every single movie we don’t say a word about the movie until we exit the theater. Then on the count of three outside the theater doors, we throw out our hands and rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s an awesome gestalt and starts the conversation. The only movie my husband and I have ever agreed is a 10: The Incredibles.
- Trust Your Instincts (& Your Child’s): If it doesn’t seem right—leave. Just get up and go. I had told F prior to the movie that we could hightail it at any moment during the movie if he didn’t like it. I reminded him that he was in charge for this movie. He never took his parachute but he sure did come close…
- First Movie Best Bets: Here’s Common Sense Media’s list of best First Movies. I was right–Winnie the Pooh made the list. Maybe learn from our mistake, choose Pooh this summer as a starter.
Great blog post. We still limit our 8 year old to a few hours of screen time a week. Our 2 1/2 year old and one year old get no screen time and don’t care at all. Our now 8 year old went to her first movie when she was 3. It happened to be Cars. It was the perfect experience for her. I felt the same way as you about cars 2. When we saw the preview for the new Pooh movie even our 8 year old can’t wait to go see it. When she was 4 we went to see Happy Feet and ended up leaving because it was too violent and scary for her. We recently let her watch with us the first Harry Potter film. She is reading the books out loud with Dad and will be allowed to see maybe the first two movies under our supervision. Anything that is PG 13 can wait until she is 13. Why is everyone in such a hurry for their kids to grow up. They will be 13 and over soon enough. Guidance for media is so important for our kids. Letting them watch violence that is too advanced for their age isn’t doing them any favors. I am starting to miss the innocence of the Cars 1, Toy Story 1, Winnie the pooh movies. we need more of these with less adult themes and branding.
My kids are opposite of yours – my older one will watch anything, even HSN, so I have always had to restrict media. It’s clear how it changes her behavior. My second thinks TV is novel for about 3 minutes then wants the distraction off. When my daughter (4.5) begged to go to the movies, her little brother (almost 2.5) got to go along because I didn’t have the luxury of leaving him somewhere else. The 3D IMAX experience was just a tad scary for my 2 yr old, but the grandeur and total immersion was enough to hold his attention. He put his 3D glasses on and off a few times and settled in. Both kids were quite impressed by the experience and tell family and friends about it weeks later. My 2 yr old didn’t absorb as much of the content, but he will tell you to help baby elephants. 🙂 The 45 minute length was also just right for both kids. We tried a regular movie – Winnie the Pooh – last week. It was OK but not as impressive and they haven’t mentioned it to anyone. I’m sticking to the IMAX family friendly documentaries until they are in grade school and have a better grasp for fantasy and nested plots.
Amy Neal says
We took our 5 and 3 year old kiddos to Cars 2 and were similarly dissappointed. However, last summer when they were just 4 and 2 (and a sleeping newborn in a wrap carrier) we went to Toy Story 3 and LOVED it. Just enough action, and the sweetness came through. I’ve also been hearing great things about the new Pooh movie. Obviously not as heavily marketed though…so my kids haven’t mentioned wanting to see it even once. Anyway, bummer for Pixar. Let’s hope they get it back together, huh?
We also took Will to see Cars 2 for his first movie experience. He is will be three in August. We went because of the movie and because the timing also seemed right. We did no screen time until age 2 and most days, he doesn’t watch any television, but we do enjoy sitting down to a family “movie night” after Emma is in bed on some weekends. He has watched several movies start to finish, so we felt as if he was ready for it.
We prepared similarly, but also brought his special blanket and pillow on the advice of friends. He spent most of the movie alternating between our laps, which was by far my favorite part. Like you said, it felt like a special date with the three of us (Emma was with Grandma), and that is what I enjoyed the most. I think HE enjoyed the huge bucket of popcorn the most! 🙂
Also, like you, I was incredibly disappointed with the movie. I CRINGED several times during the film and my husband and I exchanged glances over several word choices. The car torture scene might have gone over Will’s head, but it didn’t go over my head and I wish they had left it out.
I had read the reviews and knew what we were up for in some sense, but I guess I was still surprised by how much violence, noise, branding, etc., there was in a G rated movie. To counteract that, we did talk up the themes of loyalty and friendship, which fortunately, I did feel were pretty strong though out the film and made sure to discuss what a good friend Mater is to McQueen.
He sat through the whole thing and I think he did enjoy it, but I would say it was definite sensory overload. He was a turkey afterward, perhaps just too much fun for one day? I think it will be awhile (Emma’s first movie perhaps?) before we are in a theater with him again.
Overall, I think our pre-planning paid off and Will was ready, but I, too, yearn for simpler times and simpler movies.
My Husband was so excited to take our 3 1/2 year old to see Cars2. After reading the review on Common Sense Media, I said no way. A movie at the theater is bigger, louder, scarier, (funnier, sadder) than at home anyway. The last thing I wanted was for him to go see a movie that might be scary for him. They saw Winnie the Pooh last weekend as a first movie instead. I stayed home with the baby, so I missed out on the experience, but from all I heard it was great! It’s so hard to find appropriate movies for little ones. Sorry Pixar, violence, guns and torture aren’t needed in a rated G movie.
Cars is our favorite kids movie. As you said, with the exception of the Frank the Combine and the antics of Chick Hicks, there is nothing scary or violent in the movie. I like to tell people that it’s a good first movie…there’s no “bad guy!” Our 5 year old son loves the movie, so he was beyond excited about the sequel. But we didn’t take him to it. He’s only been to one movie (Toy Story 3), and he was really scared. I read the critical reviews (less than stellar) and the common sense media review and we decided that there was no way we were going to take him to it. I echo all your sentiments! It’s too bad that Pixar thought they had to fall into the trap of violence and commercialism. By the way, our second favorite movie (another “no bad guy” favorite) is Madagascar. LOVE that there’s no violence (other than the moment when Alex tries to bite Marty!). Give that one a try with F.
Related to this topic would be to make sure that kids know that it’s okay to NOT want to finish watching a movie that is distressing them. I walked out of my first movie when I was nine. It was something that was way to scary for me, but I knew that my aunt – who was visiting us at the time – really wanted to see it. My mom still speaks with pride of me leaning over and saying “Mom, do I have to watch this?”. She took my six year old sister and myself out into the lobby to wait, and everyone was much happier.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
great story and obviously a strong memory. I’m a huge advocate of using all sorts of opportunities (like this one) to help children learn how to advocate for themselves. Clearly you had great skills as a nine year old and tons on insight. It’s an amazing asset!
I took my daughter to her first movie when she was four or nearly so (I forget). It was to see the documentary “Babies”, and I think it was a good choice as it was not an overwhelming movie with fast paced scenes. No real dialogue, just the images. She was enthralled throughout the movie, but kept asking questions the whole time. Thankfully the room was nearly empty, as we had choosen a weekday afternoon show time at a small cinema.
Emily Gibson says
I agree that a parent should always be ready to leave the theater if that is what is best for the child. My first movie at age 4 (in 1958!) was Disney’s “Bambi”. I could not handle the terrible tragedy of Bambi’s mother being shot (off screen) by the hunters, so my mom, bless her soul, took me out of the movie and took me home.
I still can’t watch that scene without feeling my stomach clench up just like when I was four…
So glad to find this blog! Also glad I’m not the only one who found Cars 2 unnecessarily violent for little kids. We generally do no screen time but figured it might be worth trying to take our 21 month old, since *we* wanted to see the movie, but didn’t make it through the whole thing. She just wasn’t interested in sitting still that long and honestly, I’m glad, given what I’ve read here about the end of the movie. I was surprised that it was rated G.
This gives me a good insight as to when it’s appropriate to bring my 4-yr old girl to the theater. My husband has been bugging me about it and just how you said it – trust our guts. I told my husband that I don’t think H is ready and now I’m sticking to it. I know hubby has a good intention but I want our first movie theater experience to be pleasant and not scary and the nightmares that may follow. I don’t know if that’s normal for a 4-year-old to be scared of loud noise, big objects, and anything that gets up to her face. I think all these happen in the theater so movie at a theater won’t be considered for a while. But I like those tips and certainly will bookmark Common Sense Media for future reference.
Jen B says
My Dad used to love to take us to movies… pretty much as far back as I remember. When I was about 4 or 5, I went screaming down the aisles after a certain scene in “Cocoon” where the alien sheds his skin and turns into a being of light. It’s meant to be a light, fun comedy, and the aliens aren’t meant to be scary at all, but when you’re 4 or 5, anything about skin coming off is bad news.
Thank you for sharing this with your readers. My daughter (also 4.5 years old) wanted to go to her first movie for the last year. My husband and I debated for what felt like forever, and decided she could go this summer. She wanted to see Cars II, but we do not let the kids see anything we do not watch first. Instead, we took her to see Winnie the Pooh last month at a second run theater and she was over the moon about the experience. We talked about the scary guy in the movie afterwards, but it was innocent and charming it was a very easy experience for all of us
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
The funny thing is, we followed up with our experience and went to Pooh as a family. My 4 year-old was more scared by Pooh than by Cars 2. He didn’t like when tiger was in that costume!! That’s the whole thing about knowing your kids best, using some resources and trusting your gut. And never forgetting there is always a door to leave…