Sunday, October 24, 2010

Growth Spurt

In the case you don't have any spawn yourself, or in the case you're one of those exemplary moms or dads that show up (with great regularity) in the "parenting" section of the local newspaper (Portland being Portland) extolling the college admission potential of their progeny that will result from the severe restrictions the parent(s) have placed on their vidiocy, or in the case that you are entirely too grown up to find value in visual storytelling intended for children, then this post is not for you.

I started this post when I was home sick last week, battling the nasty head cold gifted me by my bride (I love you, dear!) and after waking around 1pm I was unable to sit still and look at the humanitarian relief destination that is our house and decided to tidy up. I was refiling the littles' DVDs when I got to thinking - I haven't really talked about the kiddos and their taste in entertainment for some time.

I did a comprehensive review of the KidVid more than three years ago, just pre-Missy and at the time when the Peep was still in preschool. Those seem as distant as the dark ages now, and for those of you whose small people are still not yet at the point where they are demanding video entertainment by genre or title I thought I'd repeat the review of the nondriving portion of the family's current favorites.

Although I should state for the record that one thing hasn't changed; we ALL still enjoy the hell out of Disney "The Jungle Book", Disneyfied as it is and all.And after repeated re-re-viewings, I hold to my original premise: Kaa is still Pooh.

Of course, the biggest difference between three years ago and today is that we now have two little vidiots in the house, and their tastes are very different. So the only way I can do justice to both of them is to give you a summation of their faves by kid. And since youth and beauty trumps age and cunning, let's start with Little Miss.

MISSY Age: "four and a half" or "a big girl" Quote: "Some kids in daycare some day called me bossy and I don't like it because it makes me sad."Missy, like a lot of three- and four-year-olds, is very much at a tipping point, sometimes little girl, sometimes older toddler, and sometimes even quite babyish. Her video needs are less well developed than her brother. She will ask to see some particular favorites - the "Barbie" videos (more on which in a moment) being perhaps the most often requested - but not always and not even very often. She will also watch whatever her brother is watching and (usually) enjoy it. That said, she does have some particular favorites.

About a year ago she stumbled across one of the "Barbie" movies. If you haven't been exposed to one of these you should consider yourself as fortunate as a 14th Century villager left alive after the Black Death swept through her or his hamlet. The crude production values are part of the general awfulness, although perhaps you can excuse a fraction of it because the star of the show is a fucking plastic doll and the idea might be to have her move and act like one.But the plots are usually idiotic and what passes for dialogue is usually worse. But something in these injection-molded atrocities is aimed right for the tender little hearts of three- and four-year-old girls and it hits their center-of-mass like Simo Häyhä and Lyudmila Pavlichenko in a head-to-head 7.62 national match quality bake-off. I don't have to like it, but I have to acknowledge it. The Barbie people are as cunning as vipers.

There is only one mitigating circumstance to Barbie.Bibble.

This little clip from the otherwise eye-searing "Barbie/Fairytopia/Mermadia" (don't ask - the titles are as irritating as the rest of the Barbie farrago) is a good example of the welcome relief from the styrene disaster that is a typical Barbie film that the pastel "puffball" represents. The moment where he suddenly becomes Isaac Hayes - you HAVE to watch the clip, I'm serious - still makes me laugh and I've seen this bastard, like, 20 times.

It's not funny enough, mind you, to make watching the rest of the film tolerable for adults. But it does help a little.

Another current Missy favorite is this damn Tinkerbelle movie "The Great Fairy Rescue".

Now let me digress for a moment.In my opinion Tinkerbelle is one of the most despicable Disney characters in the entire canon. If you watch the original "Peter Pan" she spends about 9/10s of the film acting like a snippy, nasty, whiny, pouty little bee-yotch. And that's before she flat-out betrays her lord and master to his oldest enemy.

Given her actions you'd think she was insane from being all ate up with sexual jealousy over the Pan's interest in Wendy Darling, that is if you a) didn't know that Peter is obviously (obvious even to a crazy-mad jealous cartoon fairy) mentally about ten and wants the older girl as a mother, not a lover, and b) couldn't imagine the vile sprite balking at carnal relations with someone who, even as an adolescent boy, would have reproductive hardware about 4/5ths the size of her entire freaking body.


I loathe Tinkerbelle, the original Disney Tinkerbelle - she is the worst of the sort of thing that happens to a literary character when it is Disneyfied. At least the fairy in the original story throws herself on a grenade to save her love, rather than to redeem her own treason.

But as rotten as the is, at least the 1953 Tinkerbelle is true to her rotten little self.

The Tinkerbelle of this "Fairy Rescue" is an adorable sprite who loves kiddies (the macguffin of the flick is that she forms a "special bond" with the little girl who traps her) and later hangs her fairy ass out to help the girl and her daddy.

Now call me curmudgeonly but if you set a trap for me and catch me in it the only "special relationship" that's gonna result is going to be between my boot and your ass. And the classic spiteful little vixen Tink of the original would have done something pretty nasty to the girl just to feel good about it. But this Tink? Gah. She's like watching a happy Dracula or Cruella de Ville as Captain Kangaroo. It's just wrong, and nothing I can do will convince my little girl of that, so I sit and bite my tongue.Tinkerbelle. Rrrrr.

The third great love of little Missy's video life is another Disney, but this is "The Princess and the Frog". I can handle TP&TF. The titular princess is a spunky minx, the frog-prince is a idle libertine, and while the whole romance is hokey it isn't really in the Disney tradition of the princess riding off to become an ornament in the prince's castle.The supporting characters are tolerable, there is some genuine Dixieland jazz around the place, although the songs - did I mention it's a musical? The Disney formula dies hard - are the generic Disney/Broadway musical numbers.

And it has smitten the Little Girl with a great and consuming love for Daddy's gumbo, so I count that a point in its favor.

Other than that she still occasionally flirts with her daemon lover, Caillou. Everything I once said about Caillou still stands, BTW, so its fortunate for me that she doesn't often ask for him.She has also lost whatever interest she had in the KidVid she used to love; she will watch Dora when I turn it on but won't ask for it, she shows no interest in Kai-lan, or Yo Gabba Gabba, or Wonder Pets, or ponies, or...well, just about anything typically kiddish and televised circa 2010. I suspect that this is a good thing, but I am still waiting for the other preschooler shoe to drop. There's got to be something cunningly hidden in that sleek little head, some exquisitely painful juvenile atrocity like the gadawful "Berenstain Bears" that she'll turn out to luuuuurve.

But I sure hope not.

Now for the older kid.

THE PEEP Age: "Almost eight" (actually seven-and-a-half) Quote: "I don't care, and you can't make me care."

The Boy is all about one thing and that thing is Star Wars.

His current infatuation is with the Cartoon Network "Clone Wars" animation, which combines tolerable stories and really quite decent (for the small screen) digital animation with one really huge, insoluble problem:
Yeah, that.

Because we already know that Anakin Skywalker is going to become Darth Vader, possibly the most magnificent villain in modern movies, it's hard for an adult to watch these little dramas and not keep thinking "Gee, I wonder when so-and-so gets it? What terrible fate is in store for him/her?"

The new series has introduced a little stable of characters around the original doomed friends-turned-enemies Anakin/Vader and Obi-Wan. And assuming that Lucas does not intend to mess with his film canon we know that most of them, like Anakin's padawan Ahsoka and his loyal clone Captain, Rex, will be gone by the time the events of the "Revenge of the Sith" occur and their buddy Anakin turns into the Meanest Daddy of All Time.

None of this phases the Peep, who just enjoys the blam-kapow space battles and the coolness of the Jedi, the badass-ness of gunships and blasters and the trappings of sci-fi wars.

The only thing I do try and divert him from is his second-grade righteous wrath at the fictional clone soldiers when they obey their orders and shot down their fictional Jedi masters.

"I HATE the clone troopers!" Peep declared after watching the "Order 66" segment of RotS.Because for a seven-year-old there can only be Good and Bad; and since the Jedi were Good (because he had been told they were Good) then the men in the story who "killed" them had to be Bad. I explained that soldiers were men under orders, that sometimes orders were wrong but that the men did them anyway, either because they were mislead or because the orders seemed right at the time. I'm not sure he understood. But at least he likes to play clone trooper now, sometimes, too.

We manage to get through repeated viewings of the Lucas ouvre'. His film idea of "tactics" still irritates me, clone trooper-of-sorts that I am, though I can now resist shouting "Spread out and find cover, you fucking spastic, grabasstic pieces of monkey shit!" when the troopers stand up and walk forward shooting. And I have learned to appreciate the more ridiculous bits of Lucas dialogue. The current Peep Star Wars fascination shows no sign of waning, though, so we'll see how well we manage to get through another year of it.

The other Peep kidvid fave - actually, it's becoming a mutual attraction - is the cartoon "Avatar".I can't say enough good about this show. It is well-written, well-plotted, and the visual style, a mixture of traditional animation and some of the cleverer anime' conventions, is pleasing to the eye. I like the fact that the setting is unapolgetically Asian. I like that the show's creators treat their creations with respect, allowing the characters to struggle with real problems of life, death, love, hate, loyalty, and betrayal. It's a damn good show.Avatar ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon, between 2005 and 2008. It's in random repeat on Nick now, and both the kiddos are always ready to watch an episode, each one containing enough broad humor and cartoon adventure for them to enjoy while containing stories and characters within are complex enough for a parent to enjoy.

I'll even admit to being personally rather fond of Zuko, the volatile prince of the Fire Nation, and his goth girlfriend Mai. He's a tortured guy whose internal struggle from exiled prince to redemptive king makes for damn good storytelling, and he and Mai have lovely twisted little relationship. His process of growing up over the three seasons is as well-crafted as any adult television. And Mai is everything but the standard-issue cartoon girlfriend; she has all sorts of issues of her own, only some of which revolve around the guy with the funny eye-scar. Whatever else the two are, they're never dull.I'd say that goes for the whole show, possibly the best kidvid my little ones have discovered to date. Hopefully their Avatar phase will outlast the Barbie-and-Jedi infatuations - possibly extending into another year and letting their dad get a look at the new "Avatar" incarnation, the "Legend of Korra". But it's well to remember that the only constant with children is that there is no constant.

So I imagine that I will have to do this over in another couple of years.

We're a vidiocy sort of family, so if you have any questions just drop me a line. From Scooby to Boobah, we've seen it all and done it all.

We can set your feet on the right path, young padawan. All you have to remember is that the Truth that draws you on like the lodestone to the Pole Star is that Velma is Teh Hot.See you around the couch, then..?

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