Monthly Archives: April 2012

“Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” — Best Pictures of 1942 — Bambi (#8)

Bambi and friends

I have a friend who steadfastly refuses to let her five year old daughter watch Bambi. “It might traumatize her,” she whispered with an almost comically exaggerated seriousness, as though children are incapable of dealing with emotions. It’s not that the movie is traumatic, or disturbing, or inappropriate. Her objection was that Bambi’s mother is shot by a hunter, and that might scare little Suzy. I asked her why it was so bad for Suzy (not her real name, of course) to be frightened for a segment of a movie. After all, it turns out all right in the end. Bambi grows into a stronger deer at the end, partly because of the experience of losing his mother. But she just shook her head and looked at me as though I had suggested dropping Suzy off at the registered sex offender’s house for daycare. “You’ll understand when you have kids,” she replied, failing to shed any light on her position and making me wonder what happened to the adventurous woman I used to know.

That is, of course, because there is no light to shine. Her position is based on a strange obsession we have today: protecting our precious, delicate children from anything that might make them feel bad. We have crossed the threshold from physical protection and social and emotional guidance to shielding them from anything that may cause them pain. You know, the stuff that shapes character.

It’s amazing to me that we have so little regard or respect for children. Advocates of “wholesome” entertainment have sucked the life and vitality out of children’s movies and television. There was a time when children were meant to learn about life from the stories parents told at their bedsides. And not mundane nonsense you could get out of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, like why we should eat our vegetable or how we oughtn’t to sass our parents. Today kids movies are only meant to keep kids quiet for a little bit while keeping them just as dumb as when they woke up that morning.

Early fairy tales were meant to prepare children for an unpredictable and often cruel world. Today they are prepared for a world where masked superheroes will save the day. Oh, and that they shouldn’t chat it up with strangers.

Bambi navigates a strange new world

Early Disney movies were often based on sanitized interpretations of these fairy tales, but Bambi is based on a novel by Felix Salten and, though I’m sure the movie makes it sugary sweet, it does retains some of its darkness. It is powerful and worth seeing because of this, not in spite of it. Few films deal with an individual’s place in nature better than this story about the childhood and maturation of a young male deer named Bambi. What many people like my overprotective friend see is only a movie in which Bambi’s mother is gunned down by an unseen hunter. But how does Bambi’s triumph mean anything without her death? Lonely and afraid, Bambi had to make his way without the protecting guidance of his mother and, though frightened and insecure, managed to carve a place out for himself in the forest.

Instead of traumatizing kids, Bambi ought to reaffirm the essential courage and strength in all of us, even (or maybe especially) after the darkest losses. Instead of fearing that your precious little angel couldn’t possibly handle a movie that deals with serious issues, parents should seek out challenging stories like Bambi. Otherwise we’ll end up with an entire generation of kids who think pain is for losers and to be avoided at all costs, not an essential and healthy part of growth and life.

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“I Love Janette”: Tulips Shall Grow — The Best Pictures of 1942 (#9)

Before I talk about Tulips Shall Grow, I just want to say something about movies in 1942. I watched just about everything from that year that is considered classic, is considered to have a great performance, made a lot of money, was made by an admired director or producer, stars a performer I particularly like, and just plain sounded interesting. At the end of many hours of watch I have to say 1942 wasn’t much of a year. There are, as we will see, some spectacular movies, but all in all, the year was pretty mediocre, especially after the strong three or four (maybe five) years that preceded it. I can’t say why the quality of film declined in 1942, though it may have something to do with a hobbled European and Japanese film industry andHollywood’s preoccupation with churning out propaganda. Whatever the case, it was disappointing.

Any other year a short animated subject like Tulips Shall Grow wouldn’t have made my list. But I took one look at the list of movies I watched and found so few that I would elevate to the status of best of the year, that I decided it wouldn’t hurt to expand my consideration to shorts as well. Then I wondered why I had neglected them at all. They are, after all, still films and there are many that I love.

George Pal’s stop-motion animation Tulips Shall Grow is a hopeful allegory about the forces of good overcoming evil. In the opening of the film we Jan, watch a wooden-shoed boy, gaily marching through the tulip fields of what looks like Holland playing an upbeat tune on his accordion. He’s off to the windmill (because people in Holland only live in iconic windmills) of his sweetheart Janette. They spend several minutes courting each other, mostly with cake and music, before they are interrupted by an invading army, the Screwballs. Jan and Janette watch in horror as their church and neighbors are bombed. They try to outrun the tanks, but are separated. Eventually Jan prays for help in the ruined church and God answers his prayers with a convenient rainstorm that rusts all of the Screwballs’ machinery of war. If that sounds convenient, remember it’s only a cartoon and, let’s be honest, it worked for H.G. Wells in War of the Worlds.

This film isn’t about the heavy lifting of fighting fascism; kids wouldn’t understand that anyway. This is about assuring kids (and their parents) that no matter how dark things may have been in 1942, they would triumph. And if your resolve begins to waiver, if you think we might as well just cut out losses and surrender to Herr Hitler, remember Jan and Janette. They won’t be saved by a rain storm (unlike the Screwballs, the Nazis were smart enough to waterproof their machines of war), but they can be saved by us.

Sure it’s propaganda, but it’s effective and, more importantly, it’s sweet. Don’t worry, kids, Jan and Janette (as stand ins for all the occupied peoples ofEurope) will be fine. The Screwballs can’t last. What they are made up of is hate and fear and greed, which, like the water-sensitive Screwballs, can’t last. The Nazis will also wither away, leaving time for the tulips to grow again.

It isn’t often that I can post the entire film that I’ve written about, but at only seven minutes, here it is:

 

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The Countdown Continues…

All right folks, the Yearly Countdowns will be coming out of hiatus this weekend when I begin the list of the best of 1942. I’ve been itching to get going again, but time constraints have forced me to slow down on blogging. Life has smoothed out a little bit and blogging can continue. So for all of you who have been huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth for the past several months because you don’t know what movies from 1942 you should be watching, you can stop popping anti-depressants and calling suicide watch hotlines. The countdown is officially back!

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