When my husband and I cooked up our offspring, the thing we most looked forward to was introducing them to the classic movies that had formed our childhood. How great is it going to be to see these movies again through their eyes, I thought to myself as I sat down to compile a list for their enjoyment? Mid-way through the making of the list, however, I began to notice a troubling trend: Never Cry Wolf, Bambi, Finding Nemo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sounder. Are you seeing it? How all are either animal or mother snuff film?
Ask 10 random people about the greatest popular-entertainment-related trauma of their childhoods, and you'll probably find it's an even split between the death of Bambi's mom and the death of Old Yeller. So let me ask you this: whence comes the tradition of heartrending children's classics in which a central character spends an entire book caring for and loving a very special animal, only to have it die in the end? The easy answer would be Disney but blaming them for anything is like shooting fish in a barrel. Sadly, most of these classic have been culled from literature where cherishing, nurturing and killing off an animal is as old as the form itself. Hello? Have you re-read The Yearling, lately? Brutal.
Which is why I decided to reverse the trend with my kids by coming up with a radical concept. For every film aimed at a young audience, I would throw in a documentary. It sounds crazy, I know, but if well chosen, a doc can introduce your kids to film making and life concepts that a fish looking for his mom mom simply cannot. And if you can avoid those docs that have extreme violence and sex as a core them (Duh.) - for which their are legion - you won't believe how enjoyable the experience can be.
Our latest in a long line of Should-We-Let-the-Kids Watch-This? - films is the documentary, Man on a Wire. Directed by James March, the film chronicles the events of the morning of Aug. 7, 1974, when a French daredevil named Philippe Petit stepped into the sky above Lower Manhattan and for almost 45 minutes ambled back and forth on a metal cable strung between the towers of the World Trade Centre. The movie starts with Petit talking about how he skirted security to get into the World Trade Centre in the first place, and then it works backward and forward until the story is complete—right through the nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring moment when Petit steps into the chasm and enchants the world. My son watched this as if he were in a trance and afterwards, we had as deep conversation as you can have with a ten-year-old about everything we had just seen. From the film's theme of pursuing your dreams despite the odds, to the importance of teamwork to why people want to do things like this in the first place. And as an added bonus: no animals were killed in the telling. Brilliant!
N.B. I also highly recommend Spellbound, a fantastic doc about kids participating in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and Sharkwater. Both excellent doc- primers!