Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bambi aborted

Don't worry, you haven't stumbled into some awkward and politically charged discussion about the moment when a deer fetus becomes an actual deer.

Instead, I wanted to discuss a bullet I dodged -- so to speak -- earlier today.

It was my older son's Wednesday home from school, his one non-weekend day off per week. As part of my new schedule, I am now home that day too. It's always a challenge to find activities to do that can please both him and my 14-month-old, while also factoring in the younger one's naps. Of course, since the older one was sick over the weekend and still has a rather awful-sounding cough, I took the pressure off myself to be superdad today. I decided to throw on a movie -- one I hoped I could get him interested in, and watch with him. And since the movie was only 70 minutes long, I didn't even have to worry that I was wasting our whole day.

By now you've surmised it is the Disney classic Bambi of which I speak. However, given that this is one of Disney's oldest movies, and my son was weaned on movies that move at a much faster speed, there was no certainty I could get him on board for the viewing. If I were being completely honest with myself, I'd say that I selected this movie from the library more because I wanted to see it for the first time since my own childhood, rather than that I thought it would be a great match for him. That said, part of being a cinephile parent is trying to introduce your children to the classics, so they don't think that movies didn't exist before the 1990s. So that's the public face I will put on this somewhat selfish act.

Yeah, putting on Bambi for your child is not a superdad move, but at least it's better/more educational than throwing on any old crap. However, as we started watching, I wondered if Bambi was a gross miscalculation -- one that would actually be the opposite of a superdad move.

You see, this is a movie where the main character's mother dies.

That doesn't make it unique among animated movies, and especially not in the Disney canon. However, it is poor timing for a kid who has been asking a lot of ominous questions about death, and what comes after death. I'd just as soon not encourage those unanswerable questions any more than they will be encouraged by his natural curiosity.

He's seen movies where people die before -- you may recall this recent post about the traumatizing experience of watching Big Hero 6 -- and I certainly don't vet the content of the movies I plan to show him based on whether this is a main element of the plot.

So what made Bambi different? I think it was something about the sweetness and delicacy of the movie. I sensed my son becoming emotionally involved in ways he isn't always emotionally involved.

And that made what was about to happen a whole lot worse.

The things my son was saying were just too cute. He was responding to the movie in ways that delighted me, that I couldn't have imagined. "Is that his mommy?" he said, when seeing Bambi together with his mother.

Yes, kid, that's his mommy. But don't get too attached to her.

I started to feel a bit sick to my stomach.

And then came the scene where Bambi's mother needs to check the meadow for danger before she allows Bambi to come out into the open. "I hope there's no danger," my son said, concerned.

There's danger, kid. Oh my is there danger.

And then came the moment when the animals all start to look alarmed, and run for cover. I knew it was about to happen. I caught myself hoping that this might be the one iteration of Bambi in which his mother doesn't get shot by a hunter.

Well, it didn't happen in this scene. Like a good screenplay should, Bambi foreshadows the threat before it comes to fruition. I had a reprieve of at least a few minutes, which felt really necessary in that moment.

The next scene involves leaves floating in a lake. "That's a beautiful lake," my son said, offering a more mature and sentimental analysis than I sometimes remember he's capable of.

Then, in the very next moment, I was saved.

"This is boring daddy," my son said.

I was taken aback, given how much of a 180-degree turn this was from how he had just been experiencing the movie. I gave him a moment to determine if this is how he really felt. As much as I kind of wanted to turn this movie off, even more than that I wanted my son to display consistency, to continue to be invested in a movie that apparently had him riveted just a moment before.

"This is soooo boring, daddy!" he repeated, with more enthusiasm. "Can we please watch something else?"

Yes. Yes we could.

And this is how I was saved from having to have a discussion with my son about the death of parents at about exactly the halfway mark of Bambi. (I'll watch the other 35 minutes tonight myself.)

On the one hand, I'm a bit discouraged by how things played out. Having proven himself capable of becoming engrossed in an old-fashioned, "boring" movie, he then went completely in the opposite direction, wiping out all the cinematic maturity he had just displayed. The suddenness of his lost of interest was almost more alarming than if he had gradually lost his patience over the course of ten minutes.

On the other hand, I wasn't really in the mood today to answer another question about what happens when you die.

It occurs to me that there must be some kind of sweet spot in a child's maturity where they are young enough that Bambi does not seem dated and slow, yet old enough to have a somewhat adult response to the death of Bambi's mother.

If there is, it's not age 4 1/2, I guess.

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