Movie Night With the Kids

This forum is nearly identical to the previous forum. The difference? Discussions about comedy from the SOUND era.
Gary Johnson
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Movie Night With the Kids

Postby Gary Johnson » Thu Feb 18, 2010 6:35 pm

I volunteered to sit with my brother's kids on Valentine's night so he could go out on a date. Since I wasn't able to attend Niles that weekend I created my own hodgepodge of cartoons and shorts for movie night. His kids are (at last count) 12, 10 and 5. The oldest is the boy and he has two sisters. Now, they are not novices to older films. After all, they've been around me their entire existence but I don't live with them and they are definitely children of their generation. They were raised on Nickelodeon TV and computer games but they also read books, play sports and are quite aware that the Bush Administration was the devil. Good Midwestern core values.

Since there has been talk on these various film boards about initiating the young to our film culture I thought you might be interested in their reactions. As soon as their dad was out the door the two girls were on the computer playing games. The boy was on the couch with his IPod. Nevertheless, I plowed on ahead. I told them that everything I was going to show had to do with Valentines Day.

I started out with Chuck Jone's "The Dover Boys" - (1942) . This got laughs throughout but especially the running gag of the old man in the turn of the century bathing suit. Every time he broke into the action they reacted.
Next up was the appropriate Our Gang'er "Hearts Are Thumps - (1937). The Gang has always gotten their attention whenever I play them and this was no different (Even if they are in black & white). The looks between Spanky & Buckwheat after they sabotage Alfalfa's lunch kept getting chuckles from the kids but when the bubbles started appearing out of Alfalfa the two oldest started yelling how phoney it looked. But they also were laughing at it. I told them effects needn't be state of the art to be funny.
I next chose Woody Woodpecker's "Chew-Chew Baby" - (1945) for not only does Woody do the standard 'dressing in drag' bit but his love of food in this short is rampant. By now the boy was on the computer and the little one was in my lap. She adores "The Simpsons" and "SpongeBob" but she also appreciates full animation whenever I show it to her. She loved this and the older kids were indifferent.
It was time for the big guns so I played one of my favorite Laurel & Hardy 'wives' comedies "Come Clean" - (1931). The little one returned to her computer game as the other two kept turning to the TV whenever the action got loud and raucous (such as Ollie's dive off of the pier) but I will admit that at this stage the computer was winning the attentions of my nephew and nieces.
The Pink Panther's first theatrical short "The Pink Phink - (1964) was next. This is a great cartoon. The little one was back in my lap and I'll be honest - I'm not sure what the other two kids thought of it. I was too busy enjoying it myself. When it ended the boy asked me what that had to do with Valentine's Day. I told him it was about the Panther's love of his own skin color. See how easy it is to use this day as a theme.
Since I had indulged myself with the Panther short I continued that trend with two silent shorts I haven't watched in some time, Sennett's "Be Reasonable" - (1921) and Christie's "Call The Wagon" - (1923). Indulge is right. I believe I was watching these alone. The kids were in the midst of one of their frequent battles with each other. I'm a rather laxed authority figure. I just kept comparing their yelling at each other to the frantic action on the screen. They were not amused.
Slowly, a turning point arrived. The middle girl became bored with the computer and joined me as I played Disney's "Motor Mania" - (1950). This short has very vivid animation when Goofy's character gets behind the wheel and turns into Mr. Wheeler. The boy loved the gag of how to merge onto a freeway where everyone is going 90 mph (....by going 120 mph!).
I wasn't having much luck with silent comedy but I wanted them to see silent stars even if it was in talkies so I played Keaton's "Pest From the West" - (1939). This began getting a good reception as soon as Keaton appeared with the middle girl the main cheerleader. Once again it was the running gag that grabbed their attention. Each time Keaton sprinted back to the boat our girl would start talking to the screen - 'not again!' The boy kept commenting on the outlandish costume changes of Buster throughout while the baby joined us during the serenade scene. By the time it ended I had all of my kids on the couch and paying attention.
So I once again went with the big guns. No...not Stan & Ollie. When it comes to 40's animation their weak spot was always Tom & Jerry. We watched "Springtime For Thomas" - (1946) to everyone's delight and I was able to hold their attention - FINALLY - with a silent comedy. It was Charley Chase's "Too Many Mamas" - (1924). I'm proud to report that the classic moment that has always grabbed film critics and historians, when Charley and his boss play a choreographed game of head bobbing with the women at their table, registered big time with my young brood. It continued with Tex Avery's "Homesteader Droopy - (1954) (love of land, if you're wondering...) which went over big and then I changed the pace by playing an excerpt from "Carefree" - (1938) where Astaire performs "Since They Turned Loch Lomond Into Swing" and tries to win Ginger's heart with his golfing prowess. Since the kids loved the Keaton talkie I turned to one of his silent classics "Cops" - (1922) which I intro'd by calling it the greatest Valentine movie ever made....(he did it all for love!) This short created a lot of chatter throughout (they wanted to know why he was signaling his turns with his arm and how do you explain goat glands to 21st century kids?) Once the chase began the questions ebbed but of all of Keaton's great stunts in this short the one that they howled over the most was the ladder on the fence bit. Personally I am always in awe when Buster casually reaches out to a passing car and is yanked away. If I tried that I would of been left standing there without my arm socket. We wrapped up with a couple of more toons, Bugs Bunny's "Rabbit Seasoning" - (1951) (which got more laughs from the baby and I with all of the beak blastings) and Donald Duck in "Sea Salts" - (1949). I was in the process of cuing up Arbuckle's "Love" - (1919) when my bro came home and we decided that 3 hours was enough for movie night.
So the classic animation was a big hit, which may not be a big surprise to our generation but you have to remember that these kids were not weened on Looney Tunes the same way we all were. The boy had assumed that he had seen "The Dover Boys" when it started because he was familiar with the opening fanfare. Silent comedy also still works but it's not so much as what is shown as what is the kids mindset at the time of the showing. During the first hour they didn't even look up when I played a silent because they were immersed in their games and there was no visible noise to distract them from it. Later when I had their attention they had no problem with the two silents I slipped in and I'm sure the Arbuckle short would of went over fine what with all of the falls into the well and Roscoe's little go cart in the opening. I'll show it to them next time. But no doubt the big winner of the evening was Keaton's talkie. I also had the Stooge's short "In The Sweet Pie & Pie" - (1941) in the queue and I would of liked to of seen if it got the same reception from the kids as the other Columbia short. Now if they start preferring Columbia comedies over Roach then we are going to have a problem in the Johnson household.

Gary J.

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