Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Watching "kids' stuff"

Everyone who reads here knows of my fondness for My Little Pony (well, at least the current generation; the earlier generations, which didn't seem to try to appeal as much to the kids' intelligence, aren't nearly as entertaining).

But in general, I prefer kids' stuff (or, for that matter, the stuff dubbed "family friendly") to stuff aimed ostensibly at grown-ups. Many of the regular sit-coms today have jokes that make me side eye them and mutter "You can say that on television now?"

And a lot of the movies aimed ostensibly at grown ups just are not that interesting to me (almost every rom-com, ever). But I like kids' movies.

I watched most of "Wreck-It Ralph" last night (Most, because it seems I always come on to these things after they've already started). I knew the basic story so I was able to pick up in the middle (though I guess I missed the scene with Ralph at Bad-Anon). It's an entertaining movie, and like so many of the kids' movies, there's this underlying theme of "be yourself, because that's kind of all you can be" (And yeah, I suppose if "yourself" is really awful, that's a problem. But how many of us who are not "really awful" walk around every day wishing we were different - less nerdy, or more fun, or whatever?) That's a theme some of the episodes of MLP take - that what you are, even though you might sometimes wish to be something else, is valuable, because you have strengths that others don't have....that we all have gifts.

I also have to admit, I like the settings of kids' movies. Some imaginative never-never land is more fun and interesting than a prettied-up version of present-day Manhattan. Or Chicago. Or Ann Arbor, wherever. And yeah, most of the cities in movies (which are rarely the ACTUAL city, more likely it's some section of Toronto), at least in romantic comedies and the like, are nicer and prettier than the real city. A movie set in Ann Arbor, if it were a rom-com, I can guarantee you, would not have the main character getting aggressively panhandled as often as I did when I lived there (Maybe it's changed, I don't know, but that was one thing I found really uncomfortable). Or they wouldn't have leafleteers sticking things in their face as they walked down the street.

Anyway. I find it easier to suspend disbelief in a BIG way than in a little way - I find it easier, somehow, to accept that, sure, there's a deposed princess (slight spoiler alert) living in a soda-bottle volcano inside a video game than I am able to accept that a woman lives alone in an apartment in a city-center and never feels uncomfortable or afraid out walking to places, and that she meets a guy randomly - in the laundromat, at the grocery - and he's the PERFECT guy for her, not some creepy stalker or troubled man looking for someone to mother him.

So I watch mostly kids' movies. (My dvd collection is split - probably 40% British stuff like the Campion mysteries and Call the Midwife and Poirot, 10% silly comedies or "classic" movies, and 50% kids' stuff)

I also like cartoons, as you all know. After Wreck-It Ralph was over, I switched over to the OTHER Disney channel (I get three: regular Disney, Disney XD - which used to be Toon Disney, and the Disney-for-little-tiny-kids) to see the new episode of Gravity Falls.

And you know? I dare say that there's more clever writing these days in cartoons than in many programs for adults. I laughed for several minutes over the fact that Dipper was settling in to watch a "Ghost Harassers" marathon on the "Used to be History Channel" (and they even had a logo that looked kind of like the History Channel logo. As I have big, big issues with channels that used to carry somewhat educational programming shifting and going for the dumbest common denominator, it made me happy that apparently at least some of the Gravity Falls writers feel the same way). Also, I wonder if writers can get away with stuff like that - I mean, the little bit of commentary stuff - in cartoons they might not in a live-action show. I know Jim Henson once said he could have Kermit the Frog say things that he himself would never be able to get away with saying - because people think, "Oh, it's just a funny puppet" and aren't so taken aback by the social commentary coming out of the puppet's mouth.

I think the secret is that a lot of these shows - MLP, and Gravity Falls, and perhaps to a lesser extend Wander over Yonder - are not written SOLELY for children - there's some attempt to keep the parents interested enough to watch with the kids. And also, I suspect, a lot of the writers for the shows are just big geeks, and I mean that in the best way, and that they naturally gravitate to that kind of work. And so there are lots of geeky adults out there - like me - who watch the shows and feel slightly as if we have found our tribe.

I also mentioned "family friendly" shows. Another channel I get is INSP ("Inspiration"), which shows a lot of old westerns and also re-runs things like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (though of late, I find myself playing "pick out the historical inaccuracies" when I watch that one, which is sad). And they re-run The Waltons.

I KNOW my family watched that one when I was a kid but I don't remember many of the stories. And I'm struck by a couple things, re-watching the show: first, a lot of episodes attack what are really pretty morally complex problems, and they tend to do it in a way that seems to me to be more intelligent than the way some modern shows go about it....it doesn't come across as as heavy-handed to me, or something. And second, they slipped in a lot of "Ma and Pa are really deeply in love and have a pretty active 'marital' life, if you get my drift (well, otherwise, where would the seven children come from)" but it's done in a way that would have flown totally over my head when I was six....and it's not gross the way I find the sex jokes on, say, Two Broke Girls, gross. (Maybe it's because Ma and Pa are married, but it's not JUST that). And third, the show is very open about the fact that the family is religious (Ma more than Pa, and the funny thing is that in real life, Ralph Waite was a Presbyterian minister) and God things are discussed in a way that might not be in a show made today....and I also like that.

And yeah, I admit, I do a tiny bit of the "wait, that Red Cross advertisement looks too modern for the early days of WWII" type of thing when I watch the show - it's a bad habit from years helping a family member with a side business doing antique auctions and from hanging out in antique shops.

But it's just a nice show. It's soothing to watch, partly because it's set in a time and place different enough from the one I inhabit - and it's one where the main type of love is family love. (That may also be part of my fondness for kids' shows, actually: the main type of love expressed is either friendship-love or family-love; I get tired of shows where chasing after a "relationship" seems to be the sole goal of the protagonists, and they do dumb and sometimes even venial things to obtain that relationship. And honestly? At this point in my life I'd rather have a good, close friendship than a romantic relationship. I realize that in an ideal world one gets both in the same person, but this world is far from ideal.....so I'd take the good friend who will be there for me and is like a family member).