Monday, December 5, 2022

Stopped motion

Well I guess that settles any debate about the reasons my son like Wendell & Wild.

When my soon-to-be nine-year-old really enjoyed Henry Selick's latest a few Sundays ago, it made me realize I should try out Henry Selick's first on him -- it being Christmas season and all.

The fact that he said he wasn't sure how much he liked the animation in Wendell & Wild, and in fact that he may have liked the film despite its animation, did not deter me. I figured, The Nightmare Before Christmas is considered a classic by many people, if not by myself, and it was high time I myself gave it another watch, my most recent one having come in 2006. Such a classic, in fact, that even though he may not have remembered it, the Haunted Mansion ride we rode at Disneyland would have been decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas seasonal attire. (Then again, that ride may have happened in 2014 when he was not yet one, so he probably didn't even go on it.)

Well, my confidence was sorely mistaken.

So mistaken, in fact, that my son did something I don't think I can ever remember him doing in any movie we've sat down to watch together -- he actually left halfway through.

It all started when I could tell he couldn't get comfortable. It's been the first truly hot weekend of the year, with summer having officially started on Thursday due to the convention of changing seasons on the first of the month in Australia. But I was perfectly comfortable with the temperature in our garage and I suspected that boredom/disinterest were the bigger issues.

He moved up to a camping chair, and tried several different positions in that, before moving back down to the floor with me, lying in an array of beanbag chairs.

It was at this point that I gave him permission to leave if he wanted to, though I also told him that the movie was only 79 minutes long so he wouldn't have to settle in for a long wait before it finished. He sensed that it was a really big deal for him to quit on a movie, and I could tell he didn't want to. "I think it's going to get better," he said.

After another ten minutes in which it did not get better, for him anyway, I renewed my offer to have him stop watching. I made the offer in a state of complete graciousness, not any passive aggressive suggestion that he had failed me, so I assume that was what allowed him to finally slink out of the room like a guilty criminal, leaving me to finish by my lonesome. (My wife and my older son opted out before the movie began). I also explained that it was not a personal favorite for me, so he really wouldn't be hurting my feelings.

And though it's true this is not a personal favorite, I do think I like it a little better every time I see it. This was the third time. I still got to the end feeling pretty sure that this was never going to rise to the level of personal favorite, but it's hard not to appreciate the artistry of this film, even if it misses a little bit on its tone.

I think one problem was that for the portion he watched, it was a lot more Halloween oriented than Christmas oriented. He loves Halloween, but in December, that's so four weeks ago. As I continued to watch, though, I doubted that even the Christmas portion would do much better for him. I'm not sure how he would have taken to Jack Skellington delivering headless troll dolls as Christmas presents and the like. And this is to say nothing of the scene of Santa on a rack at the hands of Oogie Boogie, who unravels into a mass of worms and other creepy crawlies by the end.

I think he might have also been turned off a bit by the percentage of dialogue that's sung. He may not have been fully keeping up with the story, since I think it's a learned skill to get as much meaning from song lyrics as you do from spoken dialogue. I didn't conduct a post-film interview to find out.

Then there's the animation. If it was a potential detractor for him in Wendell & Wild, it must have been all the harder to hold onto when he wasn't getting or following the rest of the story. That may also be something of a learned skill. I'd guess that you maybe aren't obsessed with stop motion animation on a technical level until you are old enough to appreciate what's actually going on. We have discussed the process and he seems to find it impressive, but at this age, a movie is the impression it creates, not a knowledge so much of how it was made. 

And who knows if the gothic Tim Burton stylings is something kids pick up at a young age either. While we adults are in awe of that sort of creativity, it might just seem macabre to him. I have it on good authority that other kids have loved this movie at a young age, though I've never sat with one of them myself while they were watching it.

Well, nothing lost I reckon. There are not a huge number of great films he will miss out on if he doesn't go for stop motion. The Laika films are mostly great, of course, but some of them are big misses. And he'd probably like Nick Park's stuff fine because it's very cheery in its tone. 

Combined with Saturday's viewing of Violent Night (review here), which I really did not like, Christmas viewing season is officially underway. I know we're planning to watch the new Will Ferrell-Ryan Reynolds comedy Spirited with the kids, probably closer to Christmas, and I may also be trying to see the new animated Scrooge movie as well as the Christmas Story sequel, though I think that last is on a service I don't get. Even if we miss the sequel, we are sure to watch the original, as my dad will be here for Christmas and he's always considered this to be a window into his own midwestern childhood. The kids haven't seen it yet. 

So we'll have our other opportunities and we'll likely hit on the next one, especially if it doesn't have a spindly skeleton man kidnapping Santa Claus and torturing him on a rack -- or at least allowing those things to happen on his watch. 

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