Monday, October 23, 2006

Drama and Trauma at the Cinema

Recently, we took our nieces to see Barnyard. I'd seen a trailer and looked like a fun, goofy computer-animated film. I was a bit confused by the fact that most of the cows seemed to have male voices, but I sort of wrote that off, figuring that perhaps they just had male voices but they were still female cows. After all, cows are female. Bulls are male. Very clear and prominent physiology can tell you at a glance whether you're dealing with a Ferdinand or a Bessie.

I was willing to suspend disbelief and so we packed off the girls for what I expected would be a couple of entertaining hours at the cinema. As often is the case, I was wrong. First of all, the male cows were presented as male cows. All the people who read that script, you'd think someone would have said “Uh, there's no such thing as a male cow.”

I don't know if it's just that since the cows spent most of their time as bipedal creatures that the artists thought it was funnier to give every bovine character an udder. Maybe udders were deemed more visually appealing or less threatening than balls. Whatever the rationale, it was a disturbing distraction. Not to mention that the movie is going to produce a generation of urban and suburban children who think that there are male cows and they have udders. Woe unto the city slicker who tries to milk a bull, that's all I'm going to say.

The movie started out rough and got worse. Otis is a wild boy of a cow and his dad wants him to be more responsible. It's coyote season and the barn animals must protect each other. The hit-you-over-the-head-life-lessons were starting early. The animation wasn't great. Besides the udders, I was also suffering from an annoying inability to identify what, exactly, this creature was supposed to be. (I thought maybe a cat. Peter thought it was a weasel. IMDB says it's a ferret. You decide.)

The highpoint of the film comes when those wild and crazy barnyard animals turn the barn into a dance hall and then order pizza. But it's a law of life that as surely as night follows day, a low point must follow a highpoint. Sure enough – there's a confrontation with the coyotes and Otis' dad died defending the hens, the job Otis himself was meant to do except he talked his dad into taking the shift so he could party.

It's a mark of how bad this film was that I, the girl who cries at Kodak commercials, was not emotionally affected by this fight-to-the-death scene. In fact, the only reason it registered with me at all was because the 6 year old niece climbed into my lap and even in the darkness (of the matinée), I could see that the 3 year old looked confused, upset, and afraid.

I felt bad, at this point, terrified that not only was I subjecting the girls to a crap film, said crap film was going to scar them for life. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I was overreacting. After all, my generation learned about sudden, unfair death of parent figures in screenings of Bambi. We weren't scarred for life. Much.

I think I was just surprised by the major trauma in the middle of what I thought was a children's comedy cartoon and the girls had such strong reactions to this trauma. I've always sort of known that children, with the limited ability to distinguish real from make-believe, take in movies and television shows in a different way than adults do. I'd just never seen this principle in action.

It brings a whole new level to my biggest cinema pet peeve – parents who take their children to age-inappropriate films. This can be as innocuous as bringing a four year old to You've Got Mail or as egregious as bringing barely school-aged kids to see Hannibal. I know, it's easy to judge when you don't have kids, but really. If you can't afford a babysitter and you can't stomach any more saccharine-sweet, moral-laden cartoons, then have the forbearance to wait until the movie comes out on DVD.

When we left the cinema, the girls seemed okay. Of course, it's easy with nieces (and nephews) since you're not going to be the one woken up at 2 am if there's a nightmare. In any case, I'm sure the girls were much better off than the two kids of similar ages whom I saw leaving World Trade Center with their dad that afternoon.


At 23 October 2006 at 10:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who in God's name would take their tots to see World Trade Centre? Maybe they were dwarf relatives!

There are some feckin' weird people out there. Yes there are.

At 23 October 2006 at 15:59, Blogger Fence said...

I too have been puzzled and bewildered by tv/film types showing cows and yet pretending that they are male. There was an advert recently which featured a male cow, with some sort of gun device attached to his udders with which fired milk at certain substances, in order to "milk up" kids' diets or somesuch nonsense.

As for the whole death in children's films, I don't think it has a long-term affect. You mentioned Bambi, but there was also The Lion King more recently.
Death is a part of life, and shielding children from death probably does more harm than good. That being said, of course young children should not be going to adult films. I remember some toddlers at The Gangs of New York!

At 24 October 2006 at 20:30, Blogger -Ann said...

SL - There certainly are. Unfortunately, they usually decide to sit next to me on the bus.

Fence - I am glad I haven't seen that ad - it would probably disturb me to the point of needing counseling. I want to believe that this male cow thing is artistic license and not poor biological knowledge. You're quite right about death and I think I'm overly careful and sensitive about my nieces since they aren't my kids, you know?

At 26 October 2006 at 15:34, Blogger Fence said...

Artistic? Pschaw, evilness it what it is (not to be overly dramatic or anything).
I think I'm overly careful and sensitive about my nieces since they aren't my kids, you know?
Yeah, you don't want to upset the parents ;)

At 26 October 2006 at 18:54, Blogger -Ann said...

Nah, I just hate responsibility and guilt and don't want to be responsible and feel guilty for ruining them.

Animators with evil natures is an interesting theory for male cows. I seem to remember my brother, who went to art school, telling me that the Disney animators did something with the nipples on the Indians in Pochantas so that they wouldn't be prominent or offensive or something. There was another story about Pochantas that involved the cost of changing something trivial, like the buttons on jackets or something.

Maybe, if my dear brother is reading, he can clarify my horribly jumbled recollections.


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