My wife has been giving me a hard time lately. She says she likes the weekly “When Can I Watch” column, and for the benefit of my fragile ego, I choose to believe her. But she points out – and rightfully so – that the first dozen films covered have been male-centric. So while I’d like to argue that girls can love Michael Bay’s Transformers movies and the monster mashing of Super 8 as much as (if not more than) the next guy, deep down I know that she’s raising a valid point.
She’s not alone. A few parents have reached out asking for suggestions of films that they can start watching with their daughters. Most of the titles brought up in e-mails and Twitter replies will be covered in subsequent columns. (Thanks, all, for writing in!) But this week I’m going right to the snow-covered top of the proverbial geek-girl cinematic mountain to tackle my wife’s all-time favorite, a film we shared with our boys a while back that found its way into heavy rotation at the O’Connell house: Robert Wise’s Best Picture-winning The Sound of Music
So, let’s call ourselves the name “Me,” yodel to the lonely goatherd, flee the Nazis in the dead of night, and figure out when you can watch The Sound of Music with your kids.
The Discussion: “… That Will Bring Us Back To Do!”
When Michele and I first met, most of our “get to know one another” conversations revolved around movies. Michele isn’t, by any means, an obsessive film fanatic. She loves watching movies, and will hold her own in any film circle discussing the ins and outs of some impressive geek classics. Unlike me, though, Michele easily could survive without film. It’s part of the reason why she’s the yang to my yin. Michele reminds me daily that it’s OK – even healthy – to turn off that part of my brain that focuses on movies roughly 1,439 minutes of the day.
But one film positively unleashed Michele’s latent film-geek goddess, and that was Wise’s Sound. I can’t remember exactly how we ended up watching the film one afternoon during our dating days, but I won’t soon forget Michele’s reflexive response. She started singing every single word of the film. Every. Single. Word. She even had homemade choreography for each musical number. It was like watching Raymond count the matchsticks that landed on the diner floor, only in tune. The sweet, melodic sounds of Julie Andrews’ voice flipped a switch in Michele’s brain, and she was right back in her family’s living room, where she and her sisters apparently wore out a Sound of Music VHS, studying it frame by frame.
Believe me, I understand. I did pretty much the exact same thing for Grease, Hair, Rock ‘N Roll High School, and, when my parents weren’t paying attention, The Blues Brothers. I just hadn’t seen a film open up that side of my future-wife’s personality. It was downright thrilling.
And do you know what? The movie had the same effect on our kids. Well, right up until the Nazis showed up. But we’ll get to them in our Red Flags section.
Red Flags: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
“How come they sing everything they say?”
That was my 7-year-old son’s response to The Sound of Music, perhaps the most honest reaction a kid can have when exposed to his first full musical.
And Sound is about as full as a movie-musical can get. The memorable music and lyrics of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s compositions power the timeless story of a governess named Maria (Andrews) and her courtship with Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) during World War II. Each song is a bona-fide classic, from “My Favorite Things” and “Do Re Mi” to the title track (which instantly beckons an image of Andrews twirling gracefully on a mountaintop in Austria.) You wouldn’t catch “Edelweiss” or “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” on my iPod, but Michele will tell you it’s not The Sound of Music without those tracks … and each and every reprise that occurs as the film moves along.
But man, is it long. Nowadays, a studio would break this into three installments. At 174 minutes, Wise’s adaptation of the Broadway classic will test the patience of any child, even one who has bought into Maria’s musical parenting skills and swoons at the romance beating through the heart of the film.
Our boys, for the most part, were enchanted by Maria’s story. They loved her interactions with the Von Trapp children, and tolerated the not-so-subtle romances between Liesl (Charmian Carr) and Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) or Maria and the captain. Mostly, they enjoyed the music, which envelopes children of virtually any age in the symphonic melodies created by Julie Andrews’ angelic voice (more on that in the Green Lights section).
But the kids grow up on screen, even as your children in the audience do not, and Sound started alienating my sons as the wicked Baroness muscled into the picture, or as the Von Trapps dealt with the breakout of world war and the family’s need to escape, in the middle of the night, to Switzerland. There’s a dramatic separation at the one-hour-and-42-minute mark, followed by an intermission. “What’s this?” my son asked.
Exactly. Thankfully, there’s plenty in Sound to keep kids interested, and we’ll touch on those next.
Green Lights: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
There are the obvious messages in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s compositions, which are punctuated in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay, from the strength of a unified family to the power of love between soul mates who appear to be complete opposites at first glance. Plummer gives an acting class in restraint as he drags Captain Von Trapp from cold to compassionate. And I’ll gush all over Julie Andrews in a moment.
But it’s the sound of Wise’s The Sound of Music, specifically the film’s collection of musical staples, that cements the film’s status as a Hollywood classic. Ted McCord’s gorgeous cinematography – from the lush scenery of Austria to the opulent Von Trapp home – is forever linked with infectious tunes like “Do Re Mi” and “So Long, Farewell.” And Marc Breaux’s lively choreography infuses the musical numbers with a carefree charm that Andrews wears like a glove. (Michele's homespun choreography was better, mind you, but I'm biased.)
And oh, Julie Andrews. What a supreme goddess. Andrews is worshipped in our home, a face worthy of the O’Connell family’s Mount Rushmore of talent. The Sound of Music was the middle of a trio of musical projects that captured Andrews’ flawless singing voice (Mary Poppins and Thoroughly Modern Millie completed the trilogy). Her voice would captivate generations. There’s a reason why Andrews made headlines in 1999 when throat surgery permanently damaged her singing voice. The world lost a legitimate treasure that day, which only makes films like The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and Millie all the more valuable.
There’s a pretty good chance your house will come alive with The Sound of Music when you are ready to watch Robert Wise’s Oscar winner with your children.
Despite the presence of Nazis and a threat of war, there’s far more in the film that’s palatable for kids, especially if you watch with them as an interactive parent and talk them through Maria’s musical transformation from the convent to a maternal role of governess, and on to Captain Von Trapp’s spouse.
The Sound of Music will entertain kids who are 8 and older (not 16, going on 17). Wise’s soft treatment of what could have been adult material filters it for younger minds. And kids will dream of having a maternal figure as wonderful as Maria in their lives … or they’ll appreciate the wonderful parents who shared this special film with them in the first place.
For previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, and two of the Transformers flicks.