Like many others, I grew up on Disney movies. My family had an extensive collection of VHS tapes, from Snow White & the Seven Dwarves to The Lion King. And when we weren’t watching the movies themselves, we also had the singalong tapes to annoy my parents.
My sisters and I loved those movies as children: we were the primary audience for these movies. We watched, rewound, rewatched, and skipped to our favorite parts over and over again without tiring. That pure joy was what I now consider the first stage of watching family movies.
Getting a little older
By middle school, I started to realize that there was more to these family movies than just songs and the main sotory. Although Shrek was ostensibly supposed to be for children, I caught the reference to The Matrix when Fiona jumped up and did a full bullet time kick like Trinity.
Of course, many other (quite inappropriate) jokes in the movie completely went over my head. However, I slowly realized that many family movies had another level of content and understanding intended for older audiences as well. Despite the pleas of their children, parents are generally still the financial decision-makers in the family. What better way for studios to sell movies than to offer direct appeal to parents, too?
Over time, I got more and more of the second level of content in movies, which also corresponds to the second stage of watching family movies. Up until a few weeks ago, I thought that was it. Then I watched Turning Red.
Watching Turning Red
(Obligatory spoiler warning if you haven’t seen Turning Red yet)
I can’t say my childhood was exactly Turning Red, but it was pretty dang close. I am also Chinese-Canadian and was born around the same time as Meilin Lee in Toronto. Notable differences are that my family moved away from Toronto when I was growing up, and I never personally had to deal with menstruation.
There were so many things to identify with. I recognized the TTC streetcars. I remember the Tamagotchi (and also noted that the fad was over by 2002). I remember the first time the Backstreet Boys came to Toronto. As I watched, I kept thinking to myself, “This was my life.”
Maybe this sentiment is more common than I suggest. I think in many movies, the audience is intended to identify with the protagonist, and in family movies, that’s often a child or adolescent. We are all supposed to be rooting for Mei.
About halfway through the movie, though, I realized I wasn’t taking Mei’s perspective. I was actually thinking about Mei’s journey from the perspective of Ming and Jin, her parents.
My current form
My parents weren’t tiger parents: they were absolutely instrumental to my academic career, but they never really stressed me out by it. As such, I’m pretty sure I won’t be a tiger parent, either.
And yet, I could sympathize with Mei’s parents’ concerns. What was going on with Mei’s friends? How would I handle if my daughter seemed to be distancing herself from me?
As such, I think I have entered the third stage of watching family movies where it’s less about the protagonist’s journey: it’s about how the parents deal with their child’s journey and also grow from the experience.
I’m not sure what changed in the last few months. Julie and I watched Luca after our daughter was born, and I was all-in on Luca’s story. Something about the story and themes of Turning Red just struck me differently.
I almost titled the previous section “my final form.” However, that seemed presumptuous since I didn’t know about the third stage until it happened.
My experience will change once my daughter is watching movies. We’re pretty strict about screen time now, but even if she could watch, she wouldn’t really understand yet. I imagine I’ll have to deal with the repetition, but I don’t think that will be a full stage in my understanding of these movies.
However, past that, I’m guessing that I’ll hit a fourth stage of memories. Perhaps when my children are grown up, I’ll watch these family movies and remember when my family went through similar experiences.
But that’s so far away. Now is the time to make those memories and enjoy watching the family movies together. With my family.