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Kid Stuff

Ta-metru_defender

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Essays, Not Rants! 214: Kid Stuff

 

You ever go back and check out a story you liked as a kid? Sometimes this means realizing how insufferable some cartoons were, but other times you end up rereading Prisoner of Azkaban and realize that holy ###### that’s a special book.

 

Which brings up an important thing about children’s stories. Namely, what is a story for kids? Is Star Wars a children’s story? It was one of my favorite stories as a kid and that seems like a decent barometer for what counts as a kid’s movie. My favorite kid’s show now is Phineas and Ferb, but in many ways that show’s more about playing with the idea of story than telling stories themselves. So let’s find a better example.

 

Batman.

 

More specifically, Justice League. I did watch The Animated Series too, but I remember Justice League better. Regardless, both shows are very much Saturday morning cartoons, superheroes fighting bad guys, cool stuff happening. Straightforward enough, you get the idea.

 

Some friends of mine and I recently revisited Justice League, owing to some severe disappointment with a certain recent movie with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Now, I remember this show being awesome, but a lot of things you think are awesome as a kid doesn’t always hold up when you’re an adult (see: [example]).

 

But Justice League holds up.

 

Yes, the superhero action is certainly still a big (and cool) draw, but, thematically, it’s still interesting to watch as an adult. Take the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue,” which serves as a, fittingly, epilogue to the Batman Beyond series. Anyway, the episode centers around Terry McGuinnes (new Batman) finding out the truth about his relation to Bruce Wayne (original Batman), namely that by some form of Future Science, Terry is genetically Bruce’s son. What follows is a fascinating question of identity: Is Terry a good Batman because of his genes? Or is there something more? It’s a big nature-versus-nurture question that’s wrapped up in an identity crisis for Terry.

 

What’s so cool about this is that the episode (and by extension, the show) doesn’t talk down to its audience. It’s easy for a kid’s story to treat its audience as if they’re idiots, but Justice League is willing to treat its audience with respect. Which also means willing to go dark; not only does Terry find out he’s the subject of some genetic manipulation, but there was also a plan to kill his parents. By people who weren’t the bad guys, for the record. Not sugarcoating gives a younger audience the feeling of being involved in something grownup, especially since the show doesn’t make light of it either.

 

I don’t think stories have to be dark to be good (see that severely disappointing movie I mentioned earlier); but I don’t think that kids’ stories should shy away from it. ‘cuz there’s a message inherent to stories like these that no matter how lousy things get, good ends up winning. The climax of “Epilogue” is that it was Batman’s compassion that made him such a good hero, and that’s what Bruce sees in Terry. After some really intense revelations, Terry recommits to the greater good. It’s a hefty story, but one that rings true nonetheless.

 

There’s a wonderful CS Lewis quote about how a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children really isn’t any good at all. Looking back on the stuff I liked as a kid and the stuff I like now, yeah, that’s true. I liked being frightened, I liked stories making references to some of the harder books I’d read in school, I liked it when stories treated me as a competent audience. Stories like these; think Justice League and Harry Potter, are the sort of ones that stick with ya. And that you can enjoy as a grownup, which, hey, what’s being an adult if not being able to watch superhero cartoons at 1am on a Sunday night with a glass of wine and bowl of ice cream?

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AAVATAR. (The TV show, not the movie. Or the other movie.) I watched that show when I was young and went back and watched it a few years ago and parts of it are cheesy it's mostly really good. I make an effort to watch the final episodes every so often.

 

I haven't reread any books that I liked as a child, but I've heard it's worth doing for The Series of Unfortunate Events. I should reread Pendragon...

 

Transformers Animated is enjoyable as well... Especially considering the source material they had to work with....

 

I'll admit I haven't seen the shows you mentioned and it's been a really long time since I've read Harry Potter...

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Prisoner of Azkaban is the best book and the best movie in the series.

 

I mean for the movies that honestly isn't saying that much, but still.

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Obscure, but: The School Story, The Starplace, and the Land of Elyon books still hold up for me. I easily could write full blog entries on each one TMD style, but shall refrain. (Frankly anything by Andrew Clements is solid reading for adults anyway.)

 

To summarize: strong female protagonists, and frankly a bit of a different take on the world. When I was younger, the "overcoming adversity" theme was really big for me, and in all three stories, it was the young girls who won and carried the day, despite all of the other characters and adults. The School Story is economic, The Starplace is social divisions (race, but also talent/personality), and The Land of Elyon is the unknown/unbelief in strange and exciting things (classic, but unlike doomsday tales of it not being retained as we get older, the series suggests that we can retain it as adults).

 

The School Story also suggests that female characters have more power than they realize in ordinary situations, even as it relates to adults. The story pulls back to focus on a female secretary at one point and honor her role in advancing the plot, shows the nervousness of a female schoolteacher as she does something for the girls, and relishes the moment of an intimidated female editor as she overcomes the fear of her boss. It's a feminist masterwork without having to claim itself as one, and a fine piece of excellent storytelling without having to blow itself up with detail. Every time I read it, I notice something new. 

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You know what is weird, is that I recently looked up Terry McGinnis and was fascinated by this part of his biography, and now here I am having just read about someone else's appreciation of it.

 

 

 

To try and answer the question, 'childish' stuff that influenced me as a kid that still holds up are early Pixar movies, Bionicle, The Giver, Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series, The Lion King, Emperor's New Groove, Narnia, Avatar: The Last Aribender, and the good stories in my childhood country music songs.

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I remember I used to be into Gary Paulson books when I was a kid. I also liked reading Beverly Cleary books, though I don't really remember most of them.

 

One story that I remember is Secret of NIMH. Then there was The Big Friendly Giant that our third grade teacher read to us.

 

I also remember a book involving time travel where kids went to the future and there were these badges that made people fly. So then one of the kids orders three badges and a slice of pizza, and the badges were like $0.50 and the pizza cost around $200. I don't remember the name of the book though. XD

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AAVATAR. (The TV show, not the movie. Or the other movie.) I watched that show when I was young and went back and watched it a few years ago and parts of it are cheesy it's mostly really good. I make an effort to watch the final episodes every so often.

I didn't watch Avatar until I was 21, so I only know it from being a grown up.

 

One story that I remember is Secret of NIMH. Then there was The Big Friendly Giant that our third grade teacher read to us.

BFG! Roald Dahl is futzing aces, man. 

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Okay, so I'm not familiar with the term "futzing aces" so I consulted google. Futzing meaning along the lines of wasting time or busying oneself aimlessly. Aces is either referring to cards or dealing with being the best.

 

So this either means Roald Dahl is "wasting time with cards" or "wasting time with being the best" and I am still kinda confused. =P

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One story that I remember is Secret of NIMH. Then there was The Big Friendly Giant that our third grade teacher read to us.

BFG! Roald Dahl is futzing aces, man. 

 

I forgot about the BFG! I love that movie, even call myself that sometimes. I hope the upcoming new movie is good.

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Okay, so I'm not familiar with the term "futzing aces" so I consulted google. Futzing meaning along the lines of wasting time or busying oneself aimlessly. Aces is either referring to cards or dealing with being the best.

 

So this either means Roald Dahl is "wasting time with cards" or "wasting time with being the best" and I am still kinda confused. =P

Haha, Roald Dahl's been one of my favorites for an incredibly long time. So closer to the latter.

I still think that Matilda is Ronald Dahl's masterwork. :P

I think Danny, Champion of the World wins it for me. Though I do really like Great Glass Elevator. Some of his adult stories are quite good as well; it's his penchant for the weird and creepifying on a different level.

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