At some point in life, people cross the line from G-ratings to blood, guts and bad language. You know those kids who go to college and overdose on R-rated movies and then talk about how cultured and artistic they are. They turn up their noses at the latest Pixar movie, and you can’t even breathe the words Beauty and the Beast without getting a ridiculing. The problem with putting aside childish things is that you miss the valuable lessons hidden – or obvious – in classic children’s movies.
As a silly and mildly frightening example, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory presents a strong, although sugarcoated message of integrity. Wonka allows five lucky kids to take a tour of his chocolate factory, but they all seem to fall short of his standards. Augustus Gloop plops into the chocolate river and is sucked up a tube; Violet Beauregarde chews the untested piece of chewing gum after she is warned against it and balloons into a giant blueberry; Charlie breaks the rules but experiences the power of forgiveness when he owns up to his mistake.
Most kids remember Woody the cowboy doll looking sadly at the name Andy scribbled across the bottom of his shoe in Toy Story. When Andy gets a new toy, Buzz Lightyear, Woody faces issues of jealousy and insecurity, but risky adventures teach them to swallow their pride for Andy’s benefit, and after some shady business with a bully and a rocket, find they can be friends in spite of themselves.
In The Jungle Book, Mowgli is raised and befriended by wolves who begin a quest to return him to the man village when they discover Shere Khan is in the jungle and threatening Mowgli’s safety. They meet some bumps along the way when Mowgli decides he wants to stay in the jungle, but in the end, Bagheera and Baloo encourage him to go back where he belongs.
Growing up is the theme of many kids’ films. In The Lion King, Simba feels guilt because of his father’s death and runs away. As he gets older, he is faced with the decision to return and accept responsibility for the dismal state of Pride Rock or stay with Timon and Pumbaa, living carefree in the jungle. Simba eventually decides to take his place as king – with a little help from his cloud-father and a crazy monkey named Rafiki.
In Mary Poppins, Jane and Michael are used to taking advantage of their nannies by playing pranks and getting into trouble, but Poppins manages to gently whip them into shape without stifling their creativity. The adults in the movie laugh so much they are flying in the corner of a living room. Jumping into paintings, dancing on rooftops and flying kites, the children and their stiff-upper-lip father make a compromise on the correct way to act and learn to relate to each other.
Children’s movies are not shallow. They help us hold on to that spirit of imagination and creativity. R-rated movies can be great, but they are not the only ones at the theatre. You are never too old or mature for a kid movie. Keep an open mind, and remember you can find depth if you’re looking for it – even in a movie with talking animals, dancing chimney sweeps or Oompa Loompas.