When Jesus told His disciples to allow the little children to come to Him, He was, among other things, showing them respect. Rather than a burden, He saw them as full members of the kingdom of God.
If children were considered a nuisance in Jesus’ time, we’ve swung in the opposite direction in contemporary society. As any modern parent knows, every aspect of our lives seems to revolve around our kids – our eating habits, our schedules, our (or should I say their) music. They’re not tagging along on our lives, as kids did in previous generations. We’re tagging along on theirs.
For all of this, there is still one arena where kids are given little respect: the movie theater. The majority of family films are pandering junk – the likes of “Marmaduke” or “Furry Vengeance” – and yet parents shuffle into theaters with little more than a shrug and roll of the eyes.
The irony - and shame - of this is that we’re in a golden age of family filmmaking. Animation pioneers such as Henry Selick (“Coraline”) and Hayao Miyazaki (“Ponyo”), as well as live-action auteurs such as Spike Jonze (“Where the Wild Things Are”) and Wes Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”), are choosing to make “kid's flicks.”
And then there is Pixar. From 1995’s “Toy Story” to this summer’s triumphant sequel, “Toy Story 3,” the animation studio has delivered one feature after another that not only delights kids but also respects them.
Pixar movies are challenging. The plots are intricate, the humor is sophisticated, the themes and emotions are mature. And there is a dearth of flatulence gags designed to guarantee easy giggles. Yet kids respond. Ask any child what their favorite movies are and I can guarantee that “Toy Story” or “WALL-E” or “Finding Nemo” or “Up” will be on the list.
So why do we keep taking our kids to “Furry Vengeance” (as, I’ll admit, I did). Partly it’s a matter of programming – if it’s a rainy weekend and “Furry Vengeance” is all that’s playing, well there you go. Partly it’s because kids aren’t discriminating. They can appreciate “Toy Story 3,” but that doesn’t mean they’re going to pull their noses up at “Marmaduke.”
Maybe this doesn’t really matter. I enjoy a “good bad” movie now and then – shouldn’t kids have that right, too? Yet I wonder if lowering our standards when it comes to family films is another way of underestimating children, as the disciples did.