Kid Flicks

Bean’s Screening Room: Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney, 1959)

Vintage Sleeping Beauty poster art, property of Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty shouldn’t be called Sleeping Beauty. It should be called Fairy Ganglands or Wandfellas or Maleficent’s Sweet Badass Song or something like that. Because, you know, it’s not actually about Sleeping Beauty. She doesn’t really do anything.  She has about as much agency in this film as Oliver Twist does in the book about him. Which is to say, none.

No, the story’s really about a wicked fairy who gets snubbed by a local dignitary, exacts revenge through a curse, and is ultimately thwarted by the interference of what can only be described as a magical sewing circle of ditsy great-aunt types. Like all fairy tales, it has the potential to be a really dark, gruesome story. In the fifty-odd years that have elapsed since the original release of Sleeping Beauty, Disney seems to have worked this out, so on May 30th they will be releasing a film called Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie:

Which looks all right, I guess. I would still prefer to see the original set of fairies hashing out the details of their assault on the Forbidden Mountain like mooks in a Scorsese movie. But you can’t have everything in life.

The original film itself is worth watching, though. Bean likes it for for the scary dragon at the end, and for its “danciness”– having borrowed heavily from Tchaikovsky’s ballet for the score, Disney decided that his animators should put a lot of balletic bounce into the characters, using live-action models who were also dancers in many cases.

And it really shows. I always marvel at how much better the quality of movement and character design is in the older Disneys than it is in the newer ones. Here’s Aurora and Phillip dancing to the “Once upon a Dream” ballad:

It’s just a joy to watch them all move: the animals, the prince and his horse, Aurora. Even though her feet are too small for her body, and her waist circumference is smaller than that of her head, she really has weight and balance like a dancer– she even spots her turns when she spins!

Additionally, her physical proportions are always constant and her looks consistent throughout. This consistency came at a cost– it took seven years to finish Sleeping Beauty, and its insistence on a kind of flat, modernist interpretation of medieval art turned some people off at the time. However, I think it stands up.

Compare that clip to Beauty and the Beast (1991), which was nominated for Best Picture:

Watch Belle in the scenes when they’re outside. Sure, she’s pretty, but her face and eyes don’t always look exactly the same from shot to shot, and the Beast sometimes seems bigger or smaller compared to her in proportion. The black lines outlining their figures seem sketchier– and not in the way that the characters in The Jungle Book were, either. There’s less discipline in the art.

Nowadays, computer animation makes it possible to keep characters looking like themselves no matter what, because you can build yourself a virtual model. And in the right hands, it can make for great fun:

(The dude with the potholders on his hands at 3:01 in that video will never fail to make me laugh.)

However, it lacks a certain charm, don’t you think?



Occupational Hazards of Parenting: The Earworm

I’m not talking about a literal worm in the ear. I am talking about the German ohrwurm: a song that gets stuck in your head. (Bonus unrelated German word: backpfeifengesicht, “a face that cries out for a fist in it”.)

Anyone is susceptible to the earworm. As a parent (or child minder or school teacher) you are susceptible to particularly awful ones. I can only imagine the searing groove songs like Hakuna Matata and Baby Beluga wore in the brains of parents unfortunate enough to have kids in the target audience at the time. I myself have lain awake many a night with the theme song to Peppa Pig going round and round in my brain. It literally goes like this:

Pe-ppa Pig!

[bink, bink-bink BINK-bink, bink-bink bink-bink-BINK-bink]

Pe-ppa Pig.

[bink, bink-bink BINK-bink, bink-bink bink-bink-BINK-bink]

Pe-ppa PIG!

[bink, bink-bink BINK-bink, bink-bink bink-bink-bink-BINK!]

Lately, however, the makers of music for children– specifically those making music for children’s movies– seem to be giving us a slightly better class of earworm. The Despicable Me movies especially:

(The whole song is here, and it’s pretty fab.)

You can also go the Devo route with the LEGO Movie. This song is used in the story as an illustration of mindless corporate pap, but it’s actually pretty catchy:

Plus the lyrics are kind of hilarious:

I feel more awesome than an awesome possum
Dip my body in chocolate frostin’
Three years later wash off the frostin’
Smellin’ like a blossom, everything is awesome

However, nobody does earworms like Disney. If you gather together any number of women who have raised (or who have been) girls in the last 25 years, and begin singing “The seaweed is always greener on somebody else’s plate–” 

You are very likely to get a sing-along going very quickly. I have found myself belting out Disney hits in the shower, chanting them on runs, crooning them as lullabies. And, most recently, horrifying my husband while cleaning the kitchen:

Name your children’s music-related earworms in the comments below, please.

On Second Thoughts, The Waybuloo App Was A Bad Idea

And we’re back. Wipe the dust off your corner of the blog and stay a while, won’t you?

I won’t try to catch you up too much. Since March Eve has been easing into nursery, growing her feet in spurts, and learning to boogie. We’ve had some visitors– Dunka Dave!– and gone to stay with lovely friends, including a trip back to Kington, where I broke my leg last year. (This year I only left with a bit of a hangover after celebrating with others who were observing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I don’t truck with monarchy, being in favor of small-r republican government, but any excuse to drink Champagne is a good one.). As you can see, Bean enjoyed herself there, what with all the balloons:

Jubilee Balloons

Because a tot whirling balloons is what Her Majesty wants.

Also, there was plenty of cereal to eat, cereal being one of Bean’s dietary staples:

Two Spoons

Double spoons: double tasty.

Over this period of, oh, ten weeks since our last update, she’s been coming on strong in the language department, which is important. Because, you see, she’s way behind where she should be.

This is something immediate family members will know, but extended family might not. The Bean’s language development–expressive language, at least, her speech– is so far behind that of her peers that she is more like someone just turning two than someone who’s 3 1/4 years old. Our nephew can hold a conversation with you, and he’s 10 months younger than Bean. But Bean can’t. She can rarely answer a question with “yes” or “no”– well, okay, with “yes”. She’s got “no” down pretty cold.


He can also scare you in the pub.

When I was Bean’s age, I was reading books. And her Dad wasn’t far behind when he was that old, wayyyy back in 1971.

It is concerning enough that multiple professionals have now expressed interest in the Bean. Initially we found this very anxiety-making, as my friend Yelena, who bears the brunt of my whining and nail-biting, will tell you. But now we find it rather reassuring. There’s a pediatrician and a speech therapist. A child psychologist and nurses.

Tiny Dancer

“It is a flower. A ORANGE flower.”

Whatever it is that’s holding Eve back isn’t dire, even if the “A-word” has been floated by a few people.  It’s  just a hurdle to be overcome, and she has an entire team of people interested in working out what extra help she needs to stop sounding like these guys when she talks:

So she’ll be going to some extra playgroups, and getting some exercises to do, and whatever else, in advance of her entry into the UK school system in 2013 (or US in 2014, not yet decided on that).

Now. The App I mentioned in the title. I recently bought an iPhone, and in my MummyMania I began researching things I could download to it to keep Bean busy/ reinforce her language skills. On a whim, I picked up the Waybuloo app, which includes some basic games starring our favorite football-headed freaks.

I showed it to Eve. I let her play with it for what I foolishly thought would be about 10 minutes.

This was a mistake. It’s now “her” iPhone.  She goes hunting in my bags and coat pockets for it, hollering “Where Evey’s phone?”

If she sees it, or even something of a similar color to the case I’ve put it in, she begins squawking: “WAYBULOO! I WANT TO PLAY ONNA WAYBULOO, PLEASE, YES MOMMY! OH MY GOODNESS!” and then begins howling the names of the characters, as if they have all been taken from her in the dead of night by secret policemen.

Sorry, kiddo. Mommy’s held off buying herself one of these toys until after the age of 30. You can wait, too.

Bean’s Screening Room: Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

About 48 weeks ago I was on board an airliner headed east across the north Atlantic. Greenland was slipping by in the dark about 35,000 feet below us. Trev was gently snoozing in the window seat. Behind us, around us, and across the aisle were pre-teen choir kids in matching polo shirts and hats, quietly playing cards, or sleeping, or watching movies on their seat-back screens.

Bean was restless: the endless parade of flight attendants bringing drinks or food or duty-free perfume made it impossible for her to drift off. I tried to get her to watch a movie. She didn’t pay attention to Wall-E. There were 856 Harry Potter sequels available, but I thought they were too scary for someone just 16 months old. In the “classics” section was the Wizard of Oz, but it wouldn’t play for some reason.

So I queued up Singin’ In The Rain, and popped the headphones onto Bean’s head. For a while she was more interested in taking the headphones on and off: now I hear things, now I don’t. Then the dancing started:

She was mesmerized. Obviously, for a toddler, the plot of Singin’ is immaterial: in the 1920s, successful silent movie actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) makes the difficult transition to talkie pictures with the help of his zany pal Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) and Princess Leia’s mom (Debbie Reynolds).  This is probably Hollywood’s favorite subject– itself– but rarely is it carried off with so much charm and fun. Jean Hagen’s turn as Don’s scheming, screechy leading lady is pretty terrific, too (she was nominated for an Oscar):

I also like the relationships in the film. Sure, Debbie Reynolds’s character Kathy is a little dull, but she’s actually friends with Don, not merely a trophy to be sought and won. After losing track of her following a chance meeting (he jumps into her car to escape a mob of fans) Don goes looking for Kathy not just because she’s cute, but because she made him think critically about his job. It ain’t Shaw or whatever, but if half the films that came out today portrayed even this level of nuance in the relationships between men and women, we’d be better served.

Of course, for the Bean, both on that airplane and now at home, it’s about the musical numbers.  Here’s the amazing slapstick of “Make ‘Em Laugh”:

Some explosive hoofin’ (Gene Kelly, BTW, did all the choreography for these numbers, to the point where he has a co-credit as the film’s director) in “Moses Supposes”:

And the HOLY COW hotness of Cyd Charisse and her legs in the “Broadway Melody” section:

Finally, there’s the big one. Imagine having a 103-degree fever while doing this:

This is a film that came out the year Bean’s maternal grandparents were born, but I’m glad that she is so enthralled by it, to the point where she puts it in the DVD player and tries to dance along.

Gene Kelly was an admirable guy, and not just for his ability to put a smile on your face as an entertainer. He had a relentless work ethic, a perfectionist’s drive to learn, and a deep respect for people who bother enough in life to master anything, whether it was tap-dancing or carpentry. Taunted in his early years by people who thought a man who danced must be a “sissy”, he deliberately built himself up to an athletic standard and avoided the top-hat-and-tails style of dancing in favor of t-shirts and street clothes: he wanted the average guy in the street to know that dancing and singing are an important part of enjoying life.

In an age when most celebrities only have a talent for self-promotion, I think it’s worthwhile to expose your kid to people who struggled to make something beautiful or lasting or useful during their lifetimes, whether they were artists or scientists or social reformers or writers. Gene Kelly, in my opinion, qualifies.

Bean’s Screening Room: “My Neighbour Totoro”

"Kawaii!" is Japanese for "Cute!"

Last month we were grocery shopping, and found a copy of Spirited Away in a bargain bin for £3. This initiated Bean into the world of anime– Japanese animation. Specifically, it’s brought her into the world of Hayao Miyazaki. Mr. Miyazaki is revered in Japan and cited as a major influence by animators all over the world, including Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit) and the Pixar guys (John Lasseter et. al,). In fact, Totoro has a cameo in “Toy Story 3”:

To call Miyazaki a “Japanese Disney” would be incorrect– he hasn’t opened any theme parks, and there’s no studio pumping out pop starlets under his name. He sticks to lush, old-fashioned hand-drawn animation, mostly feature-length, and lovely, lyrical stories that usually feature ordinary girls who get caught up in supernatural situations. They might take some getting used to if you’re a Westerner brought up on three-act structure plots. They’re slower, more poetic, quieter. And deeply, deeply weird.

While Spirited Away (2001) is considered the big masterpiece (and it’s probably Bean’s favorite), I’m going to start with the movie that started getting Miyazaki really noticed in the west as an artist who creates for children and gave his production company, Studio Ghibli, its mascot: My Neighbour Totoro.

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In The Most Delightful Way

There’s a rule of parenting: never buy your kids a book, music record, or video you don’t plan to memorize. I should have known this, seeing as how I grew up with two sisters who demanded repeated readings of There Are Rocks In My Socks! Said The Ox to the Fox and wore out the tape of Land Before Time.

Since late July, we have been memorizing Mary Poppins. I don’t know if it’s the singing farmyard animals, or Julie Andrews, or even Dick Van Dyke’s risible “cock-er-nee” accent, but the Bean’s hooked.

It’s bad. She will park herself in front of the DVD player, holding the case, and give you puppy eyes until you come over and set it up. If you don’t move fast enough, she will try to put the disk in herself, not quite seating it properly in the carrier. There will be a terrible grinding noise from the machine, and she will grunt: why isn’t it playing?

On Saturday, I tried to put in The Wizard of Oz for a change. Once the MGM titles came up, she turned off the machine, ejected the disk, and handed it to me. “Neh,” she said, shaking her head.

I reckon we have watched “Mary Poppins” five days out of seven for about a month now. That’s a lot of spoonfuls of sugar.

It’s like there’s a spell on the house, full of scratchy Disney animation from the ’60s and the (admittedly extremely impressive) warbling of Dame Julie. So, in an effort to break the spell, I will ruin this film the way I ruined movies during my college career: by overanalyzing it to death.

Ready? Spitspot, best foot forward!

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