Scott Neumyer is the author of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town. He's a publicist for Click Communications as well as a writer and photographer. You can reach him on Twitter and at www.scottwrites.com. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.
"Raising a Cinephile" is a new recurring column about preparing your child to be knowledgable and interested in high-quality cinema and television as they grow. In it, Scott breaks down the movies, television, and cartoons he's showing his two-year-old daughter now to help her appreciate the finer side of film as she reaches the age where she can choose her own entertainment in hopes that all his preparation will allow her to make the best decisions possible. Plus, it gives him a good excuse to revisit some really nostalgic movies. Bonus!
The first time I tried to get my two-year-old daughter to watch Fantasia was a disaster. I imagined it would be the perfect movie for her to watch while she ate her lunch in her high chair. She loved music (and often relaxed when we put on anything classical) and bright pretty colors and was already starting to recognize different animals. Fantasia had hippos in pink tutus dancing to Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" - what more could she possibly want?
Well, unfortunately, it didn't work out like I had planned. Within the first five minutes, The Wiggle Bear (who shall from here on out be known as such) was crying and screaming and covering her eyes. It turns out that, for a two-year-old, Fantasia is absolutely terrifying. Who knew, right?
It was around that time that I realized the problem; I hadn't prepped her for the majestic awesomeness of one of Disney's earliest films. Especially one without a true, clear narrative. She sure loved her Baby Einstein DVDs, but the vision of streaking bright laser lights over some Bach tunes was a bit much.
This experience with Fantasia, however turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It quickly showed me how I had failed as a father by not melding my little one's mind well enough yet that she could truly enjoy something as advanced as Walt's magical music show. My failure in this regard sparked in me a mission that I've been continuing to this day and will be the driving force behind this recurring column.
After the Fantasia mishap, I realized it was not only time to start really prepping The Wiggle Bear for a life of quality movies, but that I'd been subconsciously doing it all along. It turns out that watching The Silence of the Lambs over and over again while she was still in the womb was no accident. I had already begun the teaching.
No longer would she be allowed to only watch mindless entertainment built for toddlers, but she would now be required to try shows and films hand-picked by dear old Dad. Movies, cartoons, and television that would prime her to enjoy good entertainment when it came time start making her own viewing choices.
My goal was to have a daughter that would ask me to watch Citizen Kane on her eighth birthday (I know, I'm pushing it, but I dream big). I wanted a daughter that would grow up knowing what "rack focus" means. I wanted a Wiggle Bear that would appreciate Miyazaki as much as she loves Toy Story. I wanted to grow a perfect little quality cinema lover and I was determined to put her on the right path by introducing her to the right things before she had a choice.
She may not love watching The Last Unicorn when she's two-and-a-half but she might sit through it just long enough for its ethereal beauty and lyrical qualities to sink in. I was "priming the pump" and hoping that my Wiggle Bear would thank me later.
I needed to make sure my little one would recognize the madcap fun and chaos of the original Smurfs cartoons before she watches them traipse through New York City and drive Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays crazy. It was important to me that she watch (and appreciate) The Year Without a Santa Clause before she stumbled across A Miser Brother's Christmas on TV this coming holiday season. It was essential that she be completely freaked out (as I was as a kid) by Garfield's Halloween Adventure before she could hear Bill Murray as the voiced of the lazy, lasagna-loving cat.
You see, I'm totally fine with here watching all those modern updates of classic cartoons. The world changes, people adapt, and we get re-imaginings of classics. I'm resigned to that fact. And, it seems, that kids love them. Bright, shiny CGI cartoons are all the rage and some of them are incredibly fun (we have a soft spot for the Alvin & The Chipmunks movies in this family). My new rule, however, is that The Wiggle Bear must first be exposed to the original, nostalgic goodness that spawned these modern re-creations. Must!
So I hope you'll stick around and follow along in the coming weeks as I detail some of the movies, cartoons, and films I'm exposing her to now before she gets just a bit too old to tell Daddy "no." Who knows... Maybe we'll all learn a thing or two.