The other day Babyjaan and I sat down to watch Tangled, Disney’s 2010 take on the vintage kidnapping tale Rapunzel. As the movie unfolded, I shrank further and further into my seat. It didn’t help that Babyjaan kept looking at me worriedly and asking: “Where’s the mama, papa?”
Breathless after half an hour, I switched it off.
A curly-haired evil woman who I swear looked like an animated version of me (especially in the scenes where she had white streaks in her hair) kidnapped a baby in the first 5 minutes of the film, then locked her in a tower and made her believe she was her daughter. She did this because Rapunzel had the power to keep her young. Far away, her real mama and papa pined for her and filled up the sky with lanterns in remembrance of their lost child.
Have a heart, Disney. As an overly dramatic parent of an adopted daughter I promptly conjured up a future where Babyjaan would think of me as the evil witch who whisked her away from her biological parents to live in an ivory tower. Just like Rapunzel. Did I adopt Babyjaan the year I turned 40 because I too wanted to stay young forever? I seriously contemplated locking myself in a room and watching a bleak Lars Von Trier film to recover from the trauma of Tangled.
Babyjaan’s first movie, last year, was Ratatouille, not because we thought long and hard about how to introduce her to the movies, but because the DVD came free with an issue of a food magazine to which we subscribe. I have never understood why rodents must find a place in the movie-watching experience but for nine months, every alternate day or so, I watched a movie about a rat who cooks (thankfully, Babyjaan always wanted me to fast forward the early Tarantino-esque sequence where a gun-toting grandma shoots wildly at the rats that invade her house). I still haven’t understood why people thought it was a fun movie.
All the fairy tales our children watch—from Finding Nemo and The Lion King to Ratatouille—inevitably include some parental estrangement/separation/abandonment/death themes. What hope can there be in a world where even Bambi’s mother dies.
A movie addict recently helped me pick a bunch of films for Babyjaan, but she refuses to watch them. Sorry Tim Burton, Frankenweenie is too grey and thundery; Snow White has a bad queen, mama; Cars 3 hasn’t perked her interest yet (thank God, because I just found out about the garbage incinerator scene that makes it to any “Top 10 movie scenes to avoid with children” list).
Another off-centre friend who loves movies says his six-and-a-half-year-old enjoys watching Tales of Beatrix Potter, Charlie And Lola, The Gruffalo, Lost And Found and some feature films by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. He saw his first Wallace & Gromit short film last week (moral: when in doubt, go British).
All this angry animation makes me feel nostalgic for my 1970s childhood. My early movies were Mackenna’s Gold and Haathi Mere Saathi (the husband says he was most traumatized by this film and recalls turning away to face the rear seats every time the elephant and his human friend were separated). My first post-apocalyptic film was Damnation Alley—I remember it as being a film about giant man-eating cockroaches taking over the world, but that’s not exactly an accurate memory. The black and white feature on Doordarshan was my Sunday fix (but only if I ate my vegetables).
Meanwhile, until I buy a few black and white Raj Kapoor films for Babyjaan, I’m restricting her movie watching to The Sound of Music (cultural imperialism critiques be damned) and Mamma Mia!.