Sunday, October 3, 2010

12 Movies/Books that Every Kid Should Watch/Read No Matter How Many Nightmares They May Cause

It’s no secret that the movie rating system has changed much over the course of time. Back when Psycho was made, the Hitchcock classic was rated R, even though not a single curse word is uttered and the infamous shower scene is pretty tame compared to murder scenes in today’s TV shows. If Psycho were made today, it would probably be rated PG. Kids’ movies, on the other hand, have become so censored that I’m amazed their plots have any conflict in them at all. Back when I was a kid, we were all drawn to the most violent and horrific movies we could get away with watching. More often than not, those violent and horrific movies were actually made for children; which leads me to my point that kids today are total wusses! Here are some movies (and a book) that kids should watch (and read) if their overprotective parents would let them. (Warning: There are spoilers mentioned for these movies/books.)

#12 Where the Red Fern Grows
The cry-your-eyes-out novel by Wilson Rawls was adapted into a cry-your-eyes-out movie that teaches kids about loyalty and loss. But the sadness of the movie only partially overshadows the imagery of a kid falling on top of his own axe and a dog being disemboweled by a mountain lion. I remember watching the movie in 2nd grade, and by the time it was over, we had run out of Kleenex. My 2nd grade teacher had a habit of showing our class thought provoking and emotionally stirring movies as you will see later on.

#11 Horton Hears a Who!
That’s right, kiddies; try to save the lives of an entire civilization and you’ll be locked in a cage and treated like a freak. This is another movie I watched in 2nd grade, and while it’s not exactly nightmare fuel, this Dr. Seuss classic will definitely give children something to think about. The book and its film adaption teach kids three things. (1) Life is not fair. Sometimes doing the right thing can put you in a very bad situation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. This may be confusing to kids who are used to being rewarded for good deeds, and not looked down upon for doing something that, although right, is socially unacceptable. (2) Being open-minded is important. The universe doesn't revolve around you, and the more you open yourself up to others' ideas, the more you're able to see the world in ways that you never would've thought possible. (3) Just because someone doesn’t make a wake wherever they go, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and it certainly doesn’t make them any less of a person. Too often, kids forget this and tend to treat smaller, weaker, or quieter kids like they’re lower than dirt. Just remember, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

The hell is a beezlenut?

#10 Bambi
The Austrian novel Bambi. Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde (Translation: Bambi. A Life in the Woods) written by Felix Salten was banned – I’m sorry, I meant burned – in Nazi Germany because the Nazis felt the book was a political statement about the treatment of Jews. Many people believe that this novel and the Disney movie based on it teach kids about death. I think that they teach kids about empathy. When the hunters show up, you see the terror and confusion of the animals as they desperately try to make snap-decisions to stay alive. Your emotions are with the animals, not the humans killing them. You see the “sport” of hunting through a new perspective. Teaching kids to put themselves in other people’s shoes is one of the most valuable life lessons they can ever learn.

This scene terrified me as a kid.

#9 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I don’t know if this book has ever been turned into a movie; for the books sake, I hope it hasn’t. My mother read The Little Prince to me as a bedtime story when I was young. I found it very sad - especially the end, in which the prince pulls a Cleopatra and kills himself with a snake. Yet this is also a happy event because the prince is leaving his body behind so his soul can go home. While it didn’t give me nightmares, it certainly kept me awake pondering the idea that death isn’t the end and physical life isn’t what matters. (Kind of ironic that a bedtime story kept me awake.)

#8 FernGully: The Last Rainforest
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m a hippie tree-hugger; move on, already! Long before “Lost”, there was another smoke monster giving people the creeps and threatening to destroy the planet. His name was Hexxus, and like many animated villains, he was voiced by Tim Curry. I was 6 years old when I first watched FernGully, and I had never heard of acid rain before. But let me tell ya, the thought of acid raining down from the sky scared the ever-loving s#it out of me. I cringed every time I saw a black cloud overhead and immediately ran for cover just in case it wasn’t water that was about to pour down. You always hear environmentalists say (sometimes shout) that pollution and deforestation are bad, but you don’t quite realize how bad until someone shows you the horrific devastation they can cause.

You can see how this would freak a kid out, can't you? No? What about this?:
Good freaking Hell!

#7 The Brave Little Toaster
Based on the novel by Thomas M. Disch, Disney’s rendition of The Brave Little Toaster was an animated movie with nightmarish sequences involving evil clowns (i.e. the scariest things on the planet) and the deaths of appliances and automobiles. The trippy style may freak out kids nowadays, but it was pretty normal in the ‘80s. So why should kids see this movie? To learn that if you try hard enough, you can accomplish the unthinkable...even though the appliances aren’t reunited with the Master in the novel.

I think I know where my fear of clowns stems from.

#6 Labyrinth
Labyrinth teaches kids about growing up and accepting the responsibilities that come with just does it in the creepiest way possible. Don’t get me wrong; I loved this movie when I was a kid. In fact, it was my favorite movie. But let’s face it, David Bowie has a certain amount of creepiness to him even when he isn’t portraying a goblin king, and Jim Henson’s muppet goblins look more realistic than any computer-generated creature used in movies nowadays.

I mentioned that David Bowie was creepy, but did I also mention that he was hot?

#5 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Based on the book Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, who is well known for writing somewhat creepy kids stories, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a classic movie with one notoriously frightening scene. In the blink of an eye, a pleasant boat ride through the Wonka Factory turns into the worst acid trip of all time. Everything is nice and peaceful until they go into the tunnel where freaky and disturbing images that you wouldn’t even see in a fun house are flashed on the walls, scaring the characters and probably you too. The one image that sticks with me to this day is the chicken getting its head cut off. Was it at all necessary to show that? What purpose did it have in the movie? Overall, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a pretty good movie that children always seem to get a kick out of. If it weren’t for that one scene...

WTF? At least the characters are aware of how trippy it is.
(Note: The sound is a little funny, but this is the best version I could find.)

Holy s#it!
#4 James and the Giant Peach
Another movie based on a book by Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach is one of the more bizarre children’s movies. Aside from the fact that it is both live-action and stop-motion animation, the overall story is just odd (although very enjoyable). The ominous rhino in the storm was definitely freaky, but James stood up to him and won against his greatest fear. That’s an inspiring message to send to kids. But the most disturbing part of the movie was that huge-ass, mechanized disgrace that chops off the heads of poor, unsuspecting fish. Yes, I am talking about the “shark”; although, I would much rather have seen a real shark tearing off fish’s heads than see that metallic monster serve them up on platter while their little mouths are still opening and closing. To this day, it makes me want to scream, “Don’t you realize you’re dead?! That damn thing killed you! Stop moving! JUST STOP!!!” I would prove to you that I'm not overreacting, but I was unable to find the video for this one.

#3 The Secret of NIMH
Based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, The Secret of NIMH is creepy for several reasons. (1) It deals with secret experiments performed on rats to test out a longevity and intelligence drug. Testing on animals is horrible enough, but NIMH was running borderline eugenics experiments, which is very Nazi-ish. (2) A plow is threatening to destroy the mice’s homes. There is something inherently scary about a large machine of destruction, especially when the protagonist that you relate to is so small and vulnerable to it. It’s a David and Goliath type of struggle that seems impossible for our hero to win. (3) The owl. (4) The owl. (5) The frikkin' owl! I mean, look at that thing! Whatever happened to the wise, geeky-looking owls that would go around teaching other animals things, like in So Dear to My Heart? But this owl looks as menacing as a loupgarou salivating as he stares down a child that wandered too far into the swamp! It’s actually very clever of the movie-makers to portray him in such a creepy way; after all, owls are natural predators of mice, and we are viewing everything from the perspective of Mrs. Frisby (Brisby in the film). Like Bambi, this movie encourages empathy. After watching it, you may think twice before setting out a mousetrap.

 "Um...How many licks does it take to - Aw, screw it! I'm outta here!"

#2 The Witches
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl (yep, him again), The Witches has got to be the eeriest movie ever made for children. The witches are much like the traditional Old Norse spell-casting hags. Their evil deeds consist of trapping a girl in a painting, where she remains for several decades until she dies, pushing an occupied baby-stroller down a flight of stone steps, and turning children into mice. I’m sure they did more than that, but that’s all I know about because my mother made me turn it off when the baby-stroller was pushed down the stairs. I guess she thought it was too scary for me to watch. After all these years, I have never gotten around to watching the whole movie. Hmm, I think I should make a trip to Blockbuster.

A good make-up job will cover even the most hideous disfigurements.

#1 Watership Down
Based on the novel by Richard Adams, Watership Down is the goriest animated movie I have ever seen. Somehow it is rated G, even though there is cursing and graphic violence throughout the movie. I first saw Watership Down when I was 7 years old when my 2nd grade teacher showed it to our class. Really, I don't think she knew what it was; I think she just rented the first cartoon she could find at Blockbuster assuming that it would be okay for little kids. Well, it scared the crap out of us. It made us cry. And most importantly, it made us think. We were used to bunnies being cute and cuddly and now we had to wrap our brains around the possibility that they could be vicious killers. I'm glad my teacher made us watch it, even if she did get it by mistake, because that day we all learned to look for the deeper meanings of things instead of just taking everything at face value. It was the first time a movie challenged us to understand its true meaning - made us interpret the symbolism and apply it to everyday life - instead of spoon-feeding us everything. As far as I'm concerned, it was well worth the nightmares (and yes, there were most certainly nightmares). I will forever have the memory of a rabbit struggling in a hunter’s snare embedded in my mind. There’s no erasing it, and I don’t want it erased. Watership Down was the most intriguing movie that I’ve ever seen, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

That's right - some of the villains are fascist bunnies! Weird that there are spoilers in the trailer...

EDIT: These videos all worked when I first wrote this entry, but apparently some have been taken down from the video host sites since that time. Sorry about the links to non-existent clips.

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