If you’re now humming the song from Disney’s Aladdin you’re on board with where this post is going.
I have a confession. I’m a Disney fan – I know this is not cool but I am very excited about the day when I can share this life-long love with Little B.
It’s easy for me to pinpoint the start of this fascination, it was my first ever trip to the cinema. I don’t remember how old I was, I think four or five, but I have always remembered the film.
Well, actually there were two because in those far-off days you got a B movie and the main feature, with a proper interval for ice-creams between the two.
Imagine that. Not simply lots of adverts and trailers – a short film before the one you’d come to see. Like having a support act at a gig. I think cinemas need to bring this back.
Anyway, the B movie was Charlie The Lonesome Cougar. Yep, that’s a real film.
For years I struggled to recall what this fuzzy memory of a big cat sitting in a pick up truck could possibly have been.
In 1991 I went to University to do a film degree and we’d all be in the pub trying to be cool, as you do when you’re young students.
Someone would say “Yeah the first film I saw was Star Wars“, which was so obvious and they were scared to admit it was really Pete’s Dragon (yes, another real film) or Cinderella. Some smart arse faux-intellectual would claim the first film he’d ever seen was Bicycle Thieves to try and impress some girl he was trying to pull.
I was too honest so I said the first film I’d ever seen was, “Something about a mountain lion raised as a pet who rides around in a jeep”. My fellow film students would look perplexed and then someone might suggest I must have mis-remembered it and was it perhaps Born Free or Grizzly Adams?
“No it wasn’t sodding Grizzly Adams – that’s about a bear!”
At this point people would decide the originally fun film chat had got a bit intense and wander off to the bar.
I’m sure you can see that Disney’s obscure choice of B movie caused me years of social trauma. Years later I was very happy when IMDB was invented and I could find the stupid film in question. By then no one cared. So I’ve inflicted this tedious trivia on you instead.
Anyway, do bear with me.
The main feature was a rather better know Disney classic called The Jungle Book. And from the moment Mowgli is adopted by Bagheera and Baloo I was entranced. The beautiful hand drawn animation, the colours that fizzed from the screen, unforgettable characters, fantastic songs, and the underlying feeling of peril embodied by Kaa the snake and the tiger Shere Khan.
And although it may not be cool I never stopped wanting to watch Disney animations, although most critics agree they went seriously downhill in the 80s. They may be ostensibly for children but there is usually a good deal for the parents to enjoy, and there is a dark side to them.
I think the best children’s stories, like the fairytales so many Disney films are based on, should have elements of danger. Not all the characters are good and not everyone survives. I don’t think anyone who saw Bambi when they were young ever forgets that awful scene with the forest fire (I won’t say more just in case you haven’t seen it!)
Some people may think it’s wrong to allow children to watch or hear a story that may upset them, but I think at the right age and with the opportunity to ask questions afterwards these tales can help children deal with worries about the world or their own lack of power.
Children are born helpless and part of growing up is facing a series of situations where adults don’t always have the answers. In the past fairy tales served a purpose in a world that was beset by dangers and life was brutal.
Thankfully most children don’t go through major trauma at a young age (although for those that do, stories can be a powerful tool in helping to rebuild a damaged psyche).
But all children are on a journey and for example realising that your parents aren’t the gods you thought they were is a key stage of developing a sense of self, and that is an unsettling right of passage.
The lead characters in Disney films are faced with challenges and they overcome them, and through their identification with the lead character – be it Mowgli or Simba in The Lion King – children learn at a deep level that they too have the power within them to face challenges big and small and come through the ordeal stronger and wiser.
It may be something as common as fears about monsters under the bed (Monsters Inc), dealing with being different to everyone else (Dumbo), or a big trauma like the death of someone close to them (there’s that deer again).
At a lighter level Disney films are (mostly) smart and funny and leave you on a positive note of resolution. And for me at least they are some of the few films I am happy to watch time and time again. (Confession – so far I have escaped the phenomena of Frozen so I will stay out of the debate on that!)
So for the record here are my Top Ten Disney (and Pixar) films that I am hoping Little B will enjoy watching with me:
10. Robin Hood: coming at the end of the original golden era not long after Walt died this scrapes in for me purely due to nostalgia. The characters are almost ripped off from The Jungle Book but there’s enough good tunes and slapstick humour to paper over the cracks that were starting to show. And Brian Blessed’s in it. Oh, no sorry that was a different Robin Hood.
9. Monsters Inc: I wanted to put this higher up but this is a tough list. Very funny, the unlikeliest loveable heroes in Sully and Mike, and of course the cutest McGuffin in Boo (voiced by a real life toddler – very smart casting!) And it has to be in my top ten for the sheer chutzpah of the rollercoaster ride through the scream factory.
8. Beauty and The Beast: for the ballroom scene. This came out at the start of the CGI revolution and it’s hard to explain now quite how breathtaking the ballroom scene was the first time round. This came out at a point where I thought Disney films were well behind me but even though at the time I saw it as a ‘kid’s film’ I still appreciated the technical achievement up on the screen. Great songs too and a ballsy female lead who has been the template for strong Princess characters ever since, all the way through to Let It Gooooo…
7. Toy Story: as a series these films are probably vying for the top spot. They got better and better and are clearly made by people who love cinema with constant hat tips to other films – The Great Escape, The Shining to name but two. The lead characters may be Buzz and Woody but the ensemble cast are all carefully crafted with their own issues and back stories. The relationship between Mr and Mrs Potato head is as wonderful a portrait of marriage as any drama. Finally, the trilogy is all about the process of children growing up and moving on; I doubt there was a dry parent’s eye in the house when Jessie’s Song came on half way through Toy Story 2.
6. The Aristocats: once you’ve heard ‘Thomas O’Malley” you’ll either be humming it all day long or cursing the day I suggested you watch the clip below. As a cat fan from when I was old enough to pull our cat’s tail this was a film asked to go and see more than once. Good job my mum likes cats. If you don’t simply swap it for 101 Dalmatians.
5. Aladdin: For being the first Disney film I went to see as an adult with slightly suspicious 20-something friends and everyone had a great time. Why? Stuff the soppy romance. It’s all about Robin Williams as the genie. Still one of his greatest performances, still can’t believe he’s gone. 😦
4. The Lion King: all together now…”BAAAAAAAA SOWENYAAAAA!” From that amazing first note that jolts you from your seat, through the horror of the canyon, Jeremy Irons’ perfect villain in Uncle Scar, Pumba and Timon vying for best sidekicks with Baloo and Bagheera, and the triumph of the return and it all coming full circle of life. All of that means we can excuse Sir Elton crooning over the weird sexy lion love scene. I’ll never forgot going to see it and my mate piping up in the pub afterwards: “Is it just me or did anyone else find that lioness a bit attractive?” Tumble weed moment. Oh well, Hakuna Matata.
3. Lady and The Tramp: talking of weird animal love scenes. Spaghetti. This is probably the pinnacle of the original Disney run, it’s perfect family entertainment and a sweet throwback to a bygone age. Yeah I know the dogs have a romantic meal and kiss each other. Again. Bit weird. But also the best bit of the film and probably one of the all time best scenes in cinema history.
2. Finding Nemo:for the water. Did you ever stop to think about how hard it is to animate water? The sense of being under the sea? You can’t see water really, but it’s THERE, affecting how everything else looks, like an invisible gauze. Incredible technical achievement. And that’s before you get to the perfect father and son relationship between single dad Marlin and little Nemo. I saw this long before I became a dad and it made me cry. I dread to think how I’ll be now I have my own Nemo. But then I can claim I’m crying with laughter at Dory…now where was I? Oh did I tell you I like Finding Nemo? Just keep swimming.
1. The Jungle Book: I think I already told you about this one. First film I ever saw (yeah yeah – sod the cougar). Best sidekicks ever. Best baby elephant. Best songs. We even walked back down the aisle to one of them on our wedding day. I don’t think everyone got it but who cares. The Bear Necessities is as good a way to approach life as you’re likely to find in any philosophy book!
Sadly Little B isn’t old enough to and see the latest Disney Pixar release Inside Out which opens next week but I think it looks to be one of their most original creations yet. We’ve all asked ourselves what’s going on inside our children’s heads. Well, this film attempts to bring the emotions of an 11-year-old girl to life; the main characters are her emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust. Obviously, there are a lot more emotions than that but you can’t have a cast of thousands! I look forward to seeing it and maybe writing a little review. In the meantime here’s a sneak peak:
Happy viewing. Which are your favourite films to watch with your children?
Categories: Being Dad