The first movie my husband and I saw after the birth of our oldest child was Alvin and the Chipmunks. We used to love going to movies. Throughout our friendship and throughout our dating days, we saw many movies. This continued when we got married. One day of the pregnancy, we saw three movies in a row. Now, of course, we never see movies. And that first stretch of no movies following the birth of our child was rough.
At the end of that stretch, we were in Colorado visiting my parents and siblings. A large, all-ages group from their church had decided to go see a movie. We signed on as well. And then we found out we were going to see Alvin and the Chipmunks. Desperate for any filmgoing experience, we soldiered through. It was horrible. My husband was groaning in pain watching David Cross humiliate himself in this manner. As we left the theater, complaining about how awful it was, we noticed that the other parents were saying things like “Not so bad” and “Pretty good.” Not so bad? Pretty good? No. No. No.
OK, so cut to four years later. My husband and I took our kids to see The Muppets. In the 45 minutes of pre-movie entertainment we endured (at the end of which my youngest asked if the movie was over), we saw a preview for Chipwrecked. And as we sat there, our youngest laughed so hard that she was doubled over. Our reaction was that we’d simply have to take her to see the movie. Because that’s what parents do. They cater to their child’s every whim, right? She thought it was funny. We exist, near as I can tell, simply to keep her from screaming 20 hours out of the day. Which would be her natural state. If she liked fast-talking chipmunks, we’d give her fast-talking chipmunks. Got it?
But a funny thing happened in the intervening weeks. As I prepared to take them to see David Cross beclowning himself again, I couldn’t do it. For one thing, I don’t want to support such drivel. One of the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, which records that only 13% of reviews have been favorable, said “The movie is a way to kill 90 minutes if you have small children to amuse, but those 90 minutes could also be spent with them at the library, maybe, or at a swimming pool.”
Exactly. If I wanted to kill 90 minutes with my children, I could put this stuff into their brain. But as Roger Ebert eloquently pointed out this week, movie revenues are plummeting in part because movies and refreshments are priced too high. If we’re going to blow $40 on something, I have a million better ideas than go see chipmunks in a forgettable movie.
But more than anything, I want my children to have good taste in art. I am not snooty about this. We listen to silly music as much as we listen to classical. They have the Muppets songs memorized as well as nursery rhymes and dozens of hymns. When they learned all the words to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” song, I didn’t freak out. I did what any other mother would do in the same circumstance. I made them learn all the dance moves to Janella Monae’s “Tightrope.”
The thing I’ve come to realize is this: There’s quite the industry dedicated to making sure that you can plop your kid down in front of a screen of one sort or another 24/7. Whatever the offering, you can generally count on the fact that they’ll be entertained enough they won’t bother you while they’re watching. But what I want to know is are they also being edified while they’re being entertained? A quick romp through, say, the Disney Channel’s offerings will tell you the answer is rarely “yes.”
I want them to develop their own tastes and preferences, but whatever those tastes and preferences are, I hope they value their own time and money more than Chipwrecked.