So the kid went to a theater for her first, actual movie over the weekend: Horton Hears A Who. It totally freaked her out.
Technically, her first movie ever was John Cassavetes' Shadows, which she watched with me when she was three weeks old. And her first in-theater movie was Spiderman 2, which she slept through. She did totally fine at her first play, even though it was horrible [Twice Upon A Time, a senseless mashup of the Lorax and the Emperor's New Clothes, by the people who created the awful Seussical]. And the only problem she had with her first live ballet was when the Washington Ballet's Nutcracker varied from the Ballanchine version she has memorized.
So we figured, now she's four; her Grams is in town; it's a story she knows; it's time. Whether it was the dark or the noise or the sensory overload of the commercials--or the fact that she sensed there was a far superior TV version directed by Chuck Jones in 1970 that she wasn't seeing--she was apparently undone before the trailers even ended. Loud trailers for movies aimed at 10-year-olds. She spent the whole movie on my wife's lap, freaked out by the vulture and the mean kangaroo and the evil monkeys. And that left her a bit of a basket case for the rest of the day.
[I didn't go, but stayed home with the other kid, K2, to work. My wife relayed the details in periodic text messages.] When they came back after a long day out playing and shopping, the kid didn't mention being scared or cringing or crying at all. She just told me she liked the big field of pink flowers the best.
What's the deal? Are we sheltering our kid to such an extreme degree that she can't handle even the most kid-focused elements of pop culture? Is four still too young to see a movie in a theater? Are Movies These Days just over-amped sensory rollercoasters that see over-stimulation as the entertainment end in itself? [The wife and I finally watched Spiderman 3 the night before on cable; what a relentlessly plastic piece of crap. It makes Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin look like Syriana by comparison. There's no way I'd show that movie to my kid. And yet, when I ran the facepainting booth at the kid's preschool Halloween party, literally 2/3 of them wanted Spiderman. What kind of freak am I?]
Should I take the kid at her word and assume that getting overwhelmed and scared in a movie really no big deal? I remember being terrified of the dragon in Sleeping Beauty--wow, the re-release was in 1970? I was barely three years old. That makes it one of my earliest memories. What the hell were my parents thinking? [I guess I could ask when they get back from the Easter Egg Roll.] If the takeaway here that it's really alright, then why do I still feel the need to happy up the kid's world and shield her from so much stuff?
Related: The Horn Book's negative review makes me want to see it just to hear the line, "In my world, everyone’s a pony, and they eat rainbows and poop butterflies!” [hbook.com]