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In This Metaphor, the Movie Theater is the Frog

Brooke and I took our newly four-year-old daughter to see Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ recently – her first film. It got me thinking about my first film –1983’s ‘Return of the Jedi,’ when I was approximately three. In retrospect it’s a little hardcore for a three-year-old, and on later viewings as a kid I’d always have to leave the room during the Rancor scene. Not because I was scared of the Rancor, but because it always upset me when Luke kills it and the Rancor Keeper starts sobbing for his buddy. I was a weird, sensitive kid.

‘Jedi’ kicked off a lifetime of movie viewing for me that’s only been slowed in recent years by having kids. I always loved the idea of going to a theater, even if a film wasn’t great – just the idea that you’re sitting in a room, in a building even, that’s entirely devoted to entertaining you. I always enjoyed it. But lately, and I know I’m not the only person to be saying this, the nature of going to the movies has changed, and the cost/benefit analysis seems to be swinging against it. I can’t help but wonder if my daughter’s first film won’t lead to a lifetime of filmgoing like it did for me.

Or, it did for me for a while, at any rate. I’ve had my share of movies ruined by uncooperative audiences and compared the price of two movie tickets to the price of a DVD enough that I barely even miss going to the movies anymore. And I was, admittedly, a little nervous about bringing our daughter to the movies. Would the screening be hampered by screaming kids? Would our kid BE one of the screaming kids?

I needn’t have worried. Not only was the audience quiet and cooperative, my our daughter was a wonder. She sat quietly through the entire movie, and the look of wonder on her face just during the previews was worth the price of admission. It took my own princess (groan, ugh, sorry) to remind me that, under the right circumstances, there’s still something about sitting in a darkened theater with a giant screen that no TV, no matter how large nor high-def, can yet duplicate. And when we left, she was already asking to go see another.

As for the movie itself, I loved it. John Lasseter deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for bringing back 2-D animation at Disney, and giving it just a touch of that Pixar magic. When I need to feel inspired, I tend to watch one of the making-of documentaries on my Pixar DVDs. The way those guys talk about and approach storytelling always make me want to write, the way seeing a great band live makes me want to make music (only I can actually write and I’m a terrible musician).

Brooke was impressed with what a beautiful film it was, especially in the Bayou scenes, and it’s true. There’s an organic quality to 2-D animation that CGI still can’t capture. I was really impressed by the themes of the movie, which I found a lot more mature (in a good way) then typical Disney princess fare, which usually is about dreaming big or not judging a book by its cover or something to that effect. Basically, the two main characters are the hard-working New Orleans cook Tiana, who never has any fun because she’s too busy working towards a dream she’s had her entire life, and the shiftless Prince Naveen, who never takes any responsibility because he’s always been too fabulously wealthy and handsome and charming. And the film advocates a middle ground – Tiana has to learn how to enjoy herself, Naveen has to learn how to work hard and care about someone other than himself, and they both learn that no pursuit in life is worthwhile without someone to share it with. It’s not quite a message of “love conquers all,” but that love is the spice that makes a great dish perfect. That’s a message I can get behind.

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