First of all, why do we expect boys to not like movies that are about girls? Is this an idea that comes from the boys themselves, or does it come from us parents?
I hadn't seen Princess Kaguya yet, hadn't even heard of it until the Academy Award Nominees were announced. But I've loved all of Takahata's other films, so I bought it on sale at Costco, and gave it to Bilbo (8) for a present.
Traditional thinking might say that an eight-year-old boy wouldn't be super excited about receiving a movie about a princess. But I thought might as well give it a shot. Girls have to watch movies with 99% boy characters all the time, why not treat the boys the same way?
Now, just so you have an idea, some of Bilbo's favorite movies are: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Pacific Rim and Big Hero 6. And that blasted Beyblade TV show. So he's about in line with your average young boy.
But, believe it or not, Bilbo was super excited about getting the movie. He didn't know anything about it, but the description on the back sounded good to him.
We couldn't watch it the day he got it, but he kept begging and begging, so we showed him the trailer.
I don't know about you, but that trailer didn't make a lot of sense to me. I still wanted to see the film, but mostly because the style had a cool handmade feel to it, plus I trusted my experience with other Takahata and Ghibli films. But Bilbo was still just as excited. First thing the next morning, he asked if he could have his friends over and watch it.
So at about 10am, we settled down in the home theater with my four kids and Bilbo's two friends, both 8-year-old boys, and watched it. And they were all totally into it. There is so much to enjoy about this film.
The first act is delightful. The bamboo farmer discovers a miniature princess inside a bamboo stalk. He brings her home to his wife, and the girl transforms into a human-sized baby. Each scene after that, she ages and grows before the characters' eyes, leading the village boys to call her "Little Bamboo." All the kids were smiling and laughing the whole time.
We had to pause the movie half way through, I can't remember why, but then a few hours later, Bilbo went and got his friends again, and we finished it. There wasn't any fighting, no real "bad guys," no explosions and lasers. None of the stuff typically associated with young (and old) boys' movies (except there is a scene with aliens, so that's cool). Instead there was playing in nature, birds, boars, resourceful kids, family conflict, a girl choosing and rejecting suitors, and a fair amount of singing. And as soon as it was over, Bilbo asked, "Can we watch it again tomorrow?"
So there's your indisputable proof. This idea that boys only like stories about boys is a bunch of crap. Of course, Studio Ghibli has been proving this for the last 30 years. Maybe the American studios are finally starting to catch on, too.
I believe in the power of cinema. So do you, probably. I love sitting in a dark theatre with an audience of strangers and collectively being transported into the story. I've had so many great experiences with movies and gotten to see life through so many different sets of eyes.
Currently, I still watch a lot of films by myself, or with my wife, but I also particularly enjoy Family Movie Night. We haven't made this a formal, every week kind of thing (yet), but a couple times a month at least we'll all sit down and watch something together. Sure, the selection is often something that the kids are excited about--the latest animated feature or kids book adaptation--but just as often it is a chance for me to introduce films to them that I loved when I was younger, or maybe more recent stuff that isn't as obviously interesting for kids.
In case you're wondering, I've got four kids in my family, Peter (14), Susan (11), Bilbo (8), and Lucy (4) (Not their real names). Sometimes it's a trick to find something that will appeal to all of them. Peter likes dramas and comedies, but gets queezy with any kind of blood. Lucy wants to watch whatever the older ones are watching, but gets nightmares if it's anything scary, or loses interest if there isn't a love story (her comment after watching Ella Enchanted: "That movie makes me want to be in love so bad!!") The middle two are pretty much up for anything.
But here's the fun part: they tend to really like most of the stuff we've watched together, even if they wouldn't have chosen it on their own. And an added bonus: I get to enjoy it more as well. I mean, come one, Karade Kid part II is a goofy movie, and would be pretty much intolerable if I watched it by myself at my age. But watching it with the kids... I can forget how cheesy it is and enjoy it because they're standing up, flapping their arms in excitement while Daniel san kicks that bully's trash. They don't know it's cheesy, or how dumb that final pellet drum karate move is. They just think the whole thing is awesome and emotional and satisfying. So it made it fun for me too. And, let's face it, no one can resist the closing credits power ballad by Peter Cetera.
Here is a sampling of films we've watched together the last few years:
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2014)
Regarding Henry (1991)
Into the Woods (2014)
Freaky Friday (2003)
Baseball: Inning Five (1994)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
The Boxtrolls (2014)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Million Dollar Arm (2014)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
High Noon (1952)
Heaven can Wait (1978)
School of Rock (2003)
Children of Heaven (1997)
War Games (1983)
North by Northwest (1959)
Little Women (1994)
The Hobbit (2012-14)
The Secret of Kells (2009)
The Illusionist (2010)
Pacific Rim (2013)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Nobody Knows (2004)
The Nutty Professor (1963)
Not One Less (1999)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Some were more successful than others with the young audience. They didn't get many of the jokes in Heaven can Wait. And all of us got bored during High Noon. I was more than happy to fall asleep during the Boxtrolls. But for the most part they were totally engaged and learned some things, too.
So I'm starting this blog to record our experiences and reactions to watching all kinds of movies together. I hope you enjoy it.