Santa brought my 5 year old daughter a DVD copy of the old movie Benji, about a little dog who aids in the rescue of two little kids from a kidnapping.  I’m not sure if I saw it as a kid.  If I did, I must have blocked out the scene where one of the bad guys kicks a dog (Benji’s girlfriend) and causes her to bleed.  Plus the kids got shoved around and there were a couple of scary gun scenes.  Lilith handled it fine, but I spoke to a friend of mine tonight who said that her kids were very upset by the scene.

I don’t know that it’s such a big deal.  It’s real, and many kids see similar or worse acts in real life.  The film makes it clear that the action is way out of line and suggests that if people work together, justice can be done and repeat performances averted.  I tend to think we assume our kids are so fragile that we not only underestimate them, but we do them a disservice.  It’s a sweet movie, and managed to depict kids and dogs without making them too cute and/or bratty; just cute and bratty enough.  The harshness of the story is brief, and I doubt anybody who watches it as a kid is in therapy for the experience.

That being said, I do have to wonder about some kids movies.  It’s true that children’s fables used to be much harder edged.  For instance, Grandma and Little Red actually didn’t survive being eaten in the original fable.  You took what comfort you could find in the fact that the woodcutter gave the wolf his just desserts at the end of the story.  And even into modernity, we teach our kids songs about babies falling out of trees and even mass death due to the Black Plague (All fall down!).

And we had overt racism in Dumbo, but it was a product of the times and it has plenty of redeeming qualities.  Mom was shot and killed in Bambi, and Dad was killed in the Lion King, but these were integral to very good stories and most kids could handle it.  Some of the other kids’ movies were scary, like Snow White and Jack and the Bean Stalk, but only just enough.  I don’t have too many complaints of movies made before I was born or shortly thereafter (with a couple of exceptions noted below).

The seventies were a little bit loose in some respects.  The all-child cast of Bugsy Malone softened the violent gangster themes by replacing bullets with whipped cream.

But there was a bit of an outcry over the fact that 14 year old girls played this scene.

Parents did assert some control over television.  To the major disappointment of comic book reading kids the fights between the Superfriends and the Legion of Doom were ridiculously tame.  Nobody ever threw a punch or did anything violent.  There were rays emitted from weapons which sort of put a rival to sleep, or otherwise immobilized him/her – nothing which could result in bruising.

Now compare that with the more recent rendition of the Justice League.  Here Wonder Woman’s mind is controlled by the bad guys and she’s forced to fight four of her fellow female team members in some sort of arena.  Plenty of suggestion of bruises even for super powered women, and the scene climaxes with one of the heroins actually threatening the life of a bad guy.  Granted, this latter cartoon is intended for older kids.

While the media won’t have the racy scenes of children in films like Bugsy Malone or The Blue Lagoon, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of restraint when it comes to violence.  At least they don’t show the blood.  Yet.

But even setting aside overt violence, sexual innuendo, and other themes arguably questionable for child entertainment – there are kid movies which creeped me out as a kid, or would have had I seen them at the time.  I think about them now wondering what the writers and/or directors were thinking.  A few examples are discussed below the fold.

Pinnochio. Okay, at least the watered down Disney version left out the part in which the would-be boy kills, yes…. kills Jiminy Cricket and is then haunted by the bug for the rest of his life.  Yes, the cricket was supposed to be a ghost.

But the movie does include a scene where the evil fox sells Pinocchio into slavery where he and other kids are turned into donkeys as the kids scream for their mothers.  The kids become donkeys because of their own moral shortcomings, so you can take comfort in the suggestion of at least one commentator that the scene is an allegory for Hell, and that kids being born to original sin and failing to take the necessary steps towards salvation will face eternal torment should they die sans the requisite grace.  Hence, though Pinocchio himself escapes, the story contains no rescue for his friends.

But the movie is merciful in sparing us the scene where the donkey ears and tail are eaten from his body by piranhas.  You have to read the novel for that.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Did this guy not give you nightmares?

Return to Oz. No singing or dancing.  Loosely based upon the sequel novel The Land of Oz, the story has Dorothy return to Oz destroyed with weird creatures trying to kill her.  The villainess is Mombi, who has a body which can change heads and she’s got like 20 of them to choose from.  So in this scene Dorothy tries to steal some magic powder and 20 heads wake up in time to screech at her as the headless body chases her through the room. A giggle a minute for a five year old.

The Never Ending Story. Lots of fun here too.  Grotesque monsters chasing the kid throughout the movie, but the real upper is this scene where his beloved horse Artax dies a slow tear-jerking death in, yes, the Swamp of Sadness.

The Dark Crystal. Innovative, but just… creepy.

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The recent version was bizarre, but too boring and awkward to really scare a kid.  Parents who followed the Michael Jackson stories maybe, but not kids.  But the old version was a great movie, except for this scene.  I never understood why it was included.

Watership Down.  I know it’s really not for kids, but it was marketed that way.  Lots of bloody bunnies – fun for the whole family!

Any others come to mind?

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