When a Movie Scares Your Child

Posted on August 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

There’s a viral video this week of a couple of children who were upset by the new Disney film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green.  SPOILER ALERT: The title character does not die, but he moves on to another place and that is hard on the couple who were hoping to be his parents.  Some children enjoy the scary-funny zombies, ghosts, and witch in ParaNorman but others will be disturbed by the decaying bodies and the ghosts showing the way the characters died.

Dr. Michael Rich’s blog, Ask the Mediatrician, has some very sensible and reassuring advice for parents whose child was upset by a film.

Help your daughter process what she saw and how she feels about it. Most concerning content can be managed well by talking to your child about it and helping her process it. Try the following:

  • Listen to your child. Have her tell you about the scene as she saw it, and what about it scared her. Then affirm her feelings, saying, “It sounds like that was really frightening for you. I can understand why it would be hard to fall asleep.”
  • Answer your child’s questions. Topics like death—and particularly murder and suicide—can be very difficult for young children to understand. Offer simple explanations that will be meaningful to her.
  • Comfort your child. Reassure her that she’s safe, and that the people she loves are safe. Offer hugs and stuffed animals to hold, especially at bedtime.
  • Let her set the pace. It may take her some time to process, but she’ll ask questions when she’s ready to. For weeks after seeing The Artist, my boys would sometimes questions like, “Why would he want to kill himself? Why is anything so bad?” Answer your child’s questions when she has them, waiting for her guidance as to what she needs reassurance about.
  • Forgive yourself. Don’t continue to feel guilty over making a judgment call that backfired. Remember that there will always be situations outside of your control that may upset your daughter. Use this as a learning experience and try to improve the next time around. If your daughter is invited to another movie that you won’t be able to watch first, maybe do some research on it online, or ask a trusted friend who saw the film if she feels as though it is appropriate for your daughter.

 

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Who Scares the Scarers?

Posted on August 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm

The New York Times asked people who make scary movies about the movies that scared them in a piece called What Spooks the Masters of Horror?  The answer turns out to be pretty much the same things that scare the rest of us.  Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was mentioned by director Ti West (“The House of the Devil”) and Guillermo del Toro (“Blade” and this week’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”). The Exorcist terrified John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”) and Eric Red (“The Hitcher”).  Check out what else scared who and why in this goosebumpy survey.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Monster House

Posted on October 25, 2010 at 7:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.
Profanity: Some crude schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to stealing medication to drug the monster
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic peril, some characters injured or killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: October 30, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B000IFRT2Y

My DVD pick this week is one of my favorites for Halloween. “Honey, I’m home” takes on a cheerfully creepy new meaning in “Monster House,” a fresh, fun, and deliciously scary animated film produced by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) and Steven Spielberg (“Jurassic Park,” “Jaws”) and it is a great choice for a Halloween treat.
Every neighborhood has that house. You know, the one the little kids tiptoe past and the one where the bigger kids dare each other to touch the front door. In D.J’s neighborhood, it’s the house across the street, owned by mean Mr. Nebbercracker (voice of Steve Buscemi). He yells at any kids who come near the house or anyone who touches his lawn.

It’s just before Halloween, Mr. Nebbercracker is taken to the hospital, and D.J. (voice of Mitchel Musso) has been left with Zee (voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal), a teenage babysitter who pretends to be sweet and responsible in front of grown-ups, but who, once she knows D.J.’s parents have left, tells him to stay out of her way so she can hang out with her slacker boyfriend Bones (voice of Jason Lee).

D.J.’s best friend Chowder (voice of Sam Lerner) comes over, and they begin to observe the increasingly scary things happening at the Nebbercracker house. When Jenny (voice of Spencer Locke) comes to their neighborhood selling cookies and starts up the front walk to Mr. Nebbercracker’s house, D.J. and Chowder try to stop her. (She crisply informs them that if they are mentally challenged she is certified to teach them baseball.) But she discovers that the house is as dangerous as they say, and they decide to investigate.

This follows in the grand tradition of adventure stories with middle-school-aged heroes (and heroines), the big, scary world of the story standing in as a metaphor for the big, scary world of adolescence and adulthood. Jenny, D.J., and Chowder get no help from parents or the babysitter, not even from the police (voices of Kevin James and Nick Cannon). They have to learn to rely on skills they did not know they had. They show themselves and each other that they have the wisdom, curiosity, determination, loyalty, and courage to take on whatever lies beyond home, family, and all that is familiar.

The clever and involving script, the fluid and realistic movement of the characters (using the same rotoscope-style techniques developed for The Polar Express), and the unaffected and appealing voice talents of the young actors keep us on the side of the young adventurers. The house itself is imaginatively anthropomorphic. And the mystery is solved with a satisfying resolution that is sad and even a little scary but less spooky and more reassuring than the usual thriller.

Parents should know that this movie is intense, especially in its 3-D format, and may be overwhelming for young kids or those who are easily scared. Even though most of the frightening stuff is in the “boo!” or fun-scary category, it still may be overpowering for some audience members, even though by the end of the story almost everyone comes out of it as well as possible. There are some graphic images and some jump-out-at-you shocks. A character steals medication to sedate the monster. The resolution of the mystery may be reassuring to many in the audience but may be disturbing to others. Spoiler alert: the source of the house’s destructive power comes from an overweight woman whose cruel treatment led to madness and death. Parents should also know there is brief crude humor and potty jokes that should appeal to kids and a sweet kiss.
Families who see this movie should talk about how bullying and teasing can have profoundly damaging consequences. They should also talk about things that they once found scary and then discovered not to be so scary after all.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy scary comedies like “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” More mature fans of scary movies will enjoy “Poltergeist.” Classic movies that beautifully evoke a child’s point of view on creepy neighborhood houses include “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Older audience members might appreciate the way producer Zemeckis made the same house look both inviting and terrifying in the otherwise unimpressive thriller “What Lies Beneath.”

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List: Halloween Movie Tricks and Treats!

Posted on October 27, 2009 at 10:00 am

Halloween gives kids a thrilling opportunity to act out their dreams and pretend to be characters with great power. But it can also be scary and even overwhelming for the littlest trick-or-treaters. An introduction to the holiday with videos from trusted friends can help make them feel comfortable and excited about even the spookier aspects of the holiday.

Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Party, with a visit to the pumpkin farm, some ideas for Halloween party games and for making Halloween decorations at home, and some safety tips for trick-or-treating at night. They will also get a kick out of Richard Scarry’s The First Halloween Ever, which is Scarry, but not at all scary! Witches in Stitches, is about witches who find it very funny when they turn their sister into a jack o’lantern. And speaking of jack o’lanterns, Spookley the Square Pumpkin is sort of the Rudolph of pumpkins. The round pumpkins make fun of him for being different until a big storm comes and his unusual shape turns out to have some benefits.

Kids from 7-11 will enjoy the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the silly fun of What’s New Scooby-Doo, Vol. 3 – Halloween Boos and Clues. Try The Worst Witch and its sequel, about a young witch in training who keeps getting everything wrong. Kids will also enjoy Halloween Tree, an animated version of a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury about four kids who are trying to save the life of their friend. Leonard Nimoy (Dr. Spock on the original “Star Trek”) provides the voice of the mysterious resident of a haunted house, who explains the origins of Halloween and challenges them to think about how they can help their sick friend. The loyalty and courage of the kids is very touching.

Older children will appreciate The Witches, based on the popular book by Roald Dahl and Hocus Pocus, with children battling three witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. And of course there is the deliciously ghoulish double feature The Addams Family and Addams Family Values based on the cartoons by Charles Addams.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has gorgeous music from Danny Elfman and stunningly imaginative visuals from Tim Burton in a story about a Halloween character who wonders what it would be like to be part of a happy holiday like Christmas. And don’t forget some old classics like “The Cat and the Canary” (a classic of horror/comedy) and the omnibus ghost story films “Dead of Night” (recommended by the New York Times’ A.O. Scott), and “The House that Dripped Blood.”

Happy Halloween!

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