There are many myths about children and childhood, most of which relate to a misconception about the notion of innocence. We talk about kids as though they are friendly, effervescent bubbles of untainted purity, as yet uncorrupted by the difficulties and evils of the world. This is, of course, untrue. Anybody who has been a child should know that they are more like Freud’s little demonic ids, as yet unrestrained by the development of a moral thought process.
A mature adult, when confronted with a person who is overweight, ugly, unintelligent, disabled or laden with any other form of misfortune, is generally likely to go out of their way to avoid addressing this trait, or even to discuss any subject that might in some way relate back to the unfortunate person’s condition. But as I’m sure we all recall from our distant memories of the schoolyard, a child is quite likely to do just the opposite. I’m unaware of any instance in which an overweight child was able to avoid being reminded daily, if not hourly of their physical condition. I’m unable to deny that I was any different – I participated as much as the next person. In fact, I can’t recall any childhood friends or enemies who could claim innocence.
So what’s the point? The point is that the modern tendency to protect children from the horrors of the real world by exposing them only to the most naff, sentimental and unworldly of cinema is redundant at best, and misleading at worst. I’m not saying kids should be forced to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the age of six, I’m just saying that children should not be entirely shielded from the harsh realities of the world. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that children grew up being told countless fairy tales designed specifically to introduce them to the real world.
And so, here is a list of ten films that provided this simple blogger with a window into the shadier side of life.
Jim Henson’s rather dark reinvention of The Wizard of Oz follows a young Jennifer Connolly as she moves deeper and deeper into the bowels of a massive labyrinth in search of her baby brother, recently kidnapped by the Goblin King (David Bowie). Ignoring the uncomfortable implications of Bowie’s apparent physical attraction to the teenage Connolly, this film beautifully captures the angst of a young girl entering into adulthood.
Who framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
This modern noir reinvents 1940s Los Angeles into a city cohabited by real people and cartoons. In this reality, cartoons are a disenfranchised minority, a situation clearly meant to sit analogically with African American subjugation. When Bob Hoskins (playing an alcoholic private investigator) is hired by the famous Roger Rabbit to investigate claims that his animated femme-fatal wife is cheating, he must overcome his prejudice against toons. Aside from gently touching upon the topic of racism, this film perfectly balances the demands of younger and older viewers. Even now I find it hard to watch one scene in particular, featuring the tragic demise of a single animated shoe. Powerful stuff.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
To the adult eye this films seems like a disjointed and unsatisfying production (a surprise from Das Boot director, Wolfgang Peterson), constructed more like a series of incoherent vignettes than a proper film. However, to my younger self this was an incredibly powerful journey into a fantasy world that seemed to threaten the boundaries between fiction and reality. This deceptively simple tale follows Bastian, a young boy struggling to deal with the recent death of his mother. Bastian is fond of escaping into the world of fiction, but when he comes across a magical book that brings the literary world to life everything begins to change. There is an incredible moment when one of the characters of this book reveals to Bastian that he himself is living in a fictional world and being observed by you the viewer. Complex stuff for a six year old – Plato for toddlers!
The Witches (1990)
This perfect adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book (directed by the very adult Nicholas Roeg) follows a young boy as he finds himself trapped in a hotel with a coven of witches. Roeg pulls no punches in this rather disturbing children’s film. Nothing beats the side story of the young girl who becomes trapped in a painting by a witch – then grows old and dies. Sleep tight!
Charlotte’s Web (1973)
The old school version, not that Oprah rubbish! The original loveable pig movie – it’s the tale of a young pig attempting to escape their destiny – the slaughterhouse. With the help of Charlotte, the world’s most loveable spider, Wilbur manages to escape death, only to have the circle of life stick it in and break it off. Love hurts!
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)
Pretty simple really. They were a bunch of dirty puppets that countered the cuteness of the Cabbage Patch kids. Each armed with a special “skill”, they spent much of the movie spraying things with various bodily substances. Immature – yes. An early lesson in satire – absolutely.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
I watched this again just a month ago and I’m still not sure what it’s about. The ancient turtle dudes share a crystal with the huge vulture beasts, and then the elfling guy must travel west to meet Yoda’s sister and… who knows. But Jim Henson’s nightmare world of puppetry is about as gorgeous (and scary) as it gets.
Despite it’s less than hard-hitting image, Disney has produced many truly powerful films that don’t shy away from the brutality of the real world. Dumbo, The Lion King and Bambi are just a few examples of movies that leave kids a little more hardened than they started out. Nothing puts hair on your chest faster than childhood trauma.
Not a kid’s film you say? I’m not entirely convinced that Burton has ever made a film with enough chutzpah to justify adult viewing, but the early ones were great for kids! Keaton’s portrayal of a raunchy poltergeist might not take more than 20 minutes screen time, but the character’s combination of the comedic and horrifying will sear itself into the confused minds of children for decades to come. Life is complicated.
DEFINITELY not a kid’s film? Pah! Time to take off the training wheels. Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian vision of a future Detroit controlled and corrupted by the forces of capitalism (embodied by OCP, the resident evil corporation). Kids may not pick up on the social satire straight away, but they’ll learn something about pathos when officer Alex Murphy is shot to pieces in an agonising display of violence, only to be resurrected as Robocop, a disturbing mix of hero, slave, and commodity. Sometimes kids, you’ve gotta work for the man.