I believe we can universally agree that people who talk in the sacred darkness of a movie theater are very, very bad people. (Unless it's the kind of showing like Troll 2 that begs for everyone to laugh and talk along.) But over the weekend, I decided there's one group of moviegoers that it's always awesome to overhear: small children.
I went to see How To Train Your Dragon for the second time, knowing that a lazy Saturday afternoon could make for an ugly screening. The signs weren't promising -- kids hyped up on sugar, overtired, running around. But then the movie trailers began, and they immediately went quiet. In fact I began wishing for a kid of my own because it would make for a great feature to record their reactions to the noisy, slapstick trailers that are aimed at them. Despicable Me? Some genuine laughs. Marmaduke? Hysterical chortling. (I know. Well, the dogs do dance. When you're three, that's probably the height of magic.) Furry Vengeance? Yawns. Megamind? "Fish tank! Fishtank!" (Sorry, Will Ferrell. No one likes your blue guy.) They even seem burnt out on Shrek. Way to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, DreamWorks. (That should be an after credits sequence in Shrek Forever After.)
Once Dragon began, the hysteria ceased and I had the benefit of seeing two shows at once since the little guy sitting next to us was as funny as the movie. He followed along far more closely than his tender years would suggest, and he immediately latched onto Hiccup's search for "the nightmare" and predicted how he could find it before gleefully pointing out "He thinks he's toothless!" to everyone nearby.
Spoilers follow, so read at your own risk
For a moment, I thought he'd seen the movie previously as he immediately announced Hiccup should "build a fake tail for the dragon", but he hadn't! It was the gadgety, creative thought of a preschooler. The kind we all think is dead thanks to video games, computers, and a grass-less existence.
Now, here I should probably stress that we were all seeing it in good, old-fashioned 2D. This is important because in the film, there's a scene where Toothless introduces Astrid and Hiccup to the ancient menace the dragons are required to feed. He's an enormous, hideous, frightening T-Rex looking monster. He pops out very unexpectedly. It's scary. And man, did that little guy leap back in his seat. His face crumpled. I really thought he was going to lose it.
But no. He crept back forward, whispering about the movie again. I can't remember all the things he said, but they were hilarious and sweetly insightful. Once the epic battle began, he gave up sitting and just stood, hands clasped together. It was the pitch perfect illustration of "edge of your seat," and when Hiccup and Toothless were safe and sound, he threw his hands up in the air. Genuine relief! This was a big moment for the first young audience I saw it with -- there were a few kids who didn't bother with inside voices: "Oh Mommy, he is DEAD. They think he is DEAD." The fear gave way to spontaneous clapping at the credits. It was wonderful.
There's something very exhilarating about the way kids enjoy a movie, even something as awful looking as Marmaduke. There's no pretense, there's no analysis, there's no trying to be cool. The dogs are dancing, and it's funny, and oh Mommy did you see that? I love that they're so excited by what's going on that they can't stay silent or seated, I stifle my laughter caused by their goofy little comments that state the obvious. But things like Toothless' cinder bed isn't obvious to them; it's novel and demands a loud declaration.
I don't consider myself a jaded moviegoer, but it's really refreshing to experience the film through young eyes. It makes me sigh for the movies that blew me away at that age. I can still remember walking out of E.T. (a re-release -- I must have been 3 or 4 years old) with my eyes swelled shut from the tears. I couldn't even breathe. It was the most real, awful, heart-wrenching ending I had ever seen. Seeing that little Dragon watcher raise his hands to the sky in praise brings that back. As adults, we always know the cute hero and his cute pet are going to be ok. Kids still have that awful, terrible doubt that it isn't. It's good to momentarily forget the usual story arc, and experience that tension, even if it's secondhand.
I would be angry if it was anyone over the age of 8, and I certainly think it's important for parents to encourage good movie watching behavior even in the smallest viewer. But I really enjoy hearing the stage-whispered thoughts of the young. I no longer dread afternoon showings, and families of small children. I find they haven't ruined the DreamWorks or PIXAR showings, but enhanced the experience. If you're feeling cranky, the contact high of spontaneous, enthusiastic "That was the best movie I've ever seen!" applause is a fine cure. Don't dread the kid chatter. Embrace it! It's a show as enjoyable as the movie itself.