Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Up was such a downer

I'm back!

From where you ask? Haven't you been following? I'm back to the SF Bay Area after spending 3 months in India. Am slowly getting over the jet lag and back on to the social circuit.

On Sunday some friends & I went to see the much hyped animation 'Up' by Disney. Good story? Great graphics? Awesome movie? Sure. Buy why did it have to be so sad? The 3 other women I was with, all openly admitted to crying through the movie. The 2 guys were a bit more reticent, but did say that the movie was very sad. I mean, why did Ellie have to die? Why couldn't both the old people go for the adventure together? And, even if she did die, why keep reminding us of that by repeatedly showing her adventure book or her photo or her fave chair?!

This makes me wonder - why are kids movies, fairy tales, nursery rhymes always so violent, evil or depressing? Let's consider some all time favorites. Cinderella - evil step mom/sisters make her their slave. Rapunzel - locked up all alone in a high tower. Snow White - actually poisoned by her step-mother. And most scary of all - Hansel & Gretel - the evil witch tries to shove them in the oven and roast them alive. Could we get more gruesome than that?

And then there are the really sad stories. One of my earliest memories is of crying over the nursery rhyme 'Old Mother Hubbard'. For those of you who can't remember it, mother Hubbard's cupboard is bare, so she can't find a bone for her dog. I lay awake nights worrying about the poor hungry dog (somehow, it didn't seem to bother me much that presumably mom Hubbard was also going hungry).

Oh, and let's not forget the little Match Girl who dies of hunger and cold looking into houses where people are warm and well fed. Or the poor little Mermaid who sacrifices her identity as a mermaid for legs only to discover that the Prince doesn't love her after all. I could go on and on. At least Cinderella et al had happy endings!

So why is it that we feel it's ok to tell our children these nursery rhymes and put them to sleep by reading a favorite fairy tale (probably guaranteed to give them nightmares)? Maybe I was a particularly sensitive kid, and these things bothered me more than they did other children. Sometimes kids don't fully understand a situation. But surely, as adults, we shouldn't be allowing, or rather encouraging them to hear or see such stories and consider them perfectly acceptable.

One of the few kids' movies I've really enjoyed (and not cried through) has been 'Finding Nemo', but again, I wonder why the mother had to die...couldn't she just have sat in her nice fishy home and worried while daddy went and found Nemo?

I think if I want a nice happy story to read to my kids (as and when I have kids) I will simply have to go out there and write one myself!


  1. I think Carl Jung had a lot to say about the symbolism in fairy tales. The one you most identify with is the one to explore. For me it is the Little Mermaid. As a child I found this story hard to bear. She had to give up her voice to find her Love and every step she took was like walking on knives. It still gives me a frisson of pain even thinking about it.

    Is it good to be back?

  2. It's great to be back :)

    yeah, i have read abt the symbolism in fairy tales, but i have to wonder how much of this a child would understand.

    I believe nursery rhymes were also used with political motivation - an easy way to spread a msg through an innocuous looking medium. 'Baa baa blacksheep' for instance was a critique of the wool tax of 1275 in Great Britain, with the 'Master' being Plategenet King Edward I, the 'Dame' refering to the nobility and the 'little boy' of course being the common man.

    I have nothing against the use of rhymes or symbols to propogate msgs, but I wonder why we persist in teaching these to our children even today.

    Looking at 'the Little Mermaid' which, like Jo, I still can't bear to read, it is symbolic of the the plight of the 'sacred feminine'. She is considered an allegory for Mary Magdalene, the 'lost bride' of Jesus Christ'. Again, rly depressing stuff, and far beyond what a kid would or should understand.

  3. My husband and I have always said this about Disney movies!! Have you ever seen Lion King? My son loved it when he was a toddler and wanted to watch it over and over, but we had to fast-forward through certain scenes! I mean, the uncle kills the father - nice, huh?

    My kids really want to see Up! though, so we'll probably go see it.

    Welcome home!