Something Good blog post

My Neighbor Totoro: How Children See Childhood


My Neighbor Totoro (in the film, the last word is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, "TOE-tuh-roh") is a wonderful film. What sets it apart from other family fare is its implied viewpoint. This is a film that views childhood from a child's perspective. Seeing it, I realized that most current Hollywood films view childhood from a grown-up perspective. Take the Toy Story trilogy, for example. Looking back, these films are about how we as adults remember childhood, and what it's like for parents to watch their children grow up. My Neighbor Totoro sees childhood from the inside out.



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The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Leave Your Brain at the Door

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

Before I unload on the sweet, beloved image that is Mickey Mouse, let me establish my background as regards Disney: I'm a big honkin' Disney fan. I especially love Walt Disney World, and have visited more times than I can count, including many trips as an adult without any children in tow, but I also love much of the classic animation from the studio. On top of that, I met my wife while we both worked at the local Disney store. Sixteen years of loving marriage and a wonderful daughter later, you can be sure that I look upon the name "Disney" with a big grin on my face.

This is why it pains me that so much of the programming on the Disney Channel (the corporate types would have me say "Disney Channel," without the "the," but I'm not on the payroll any more) is awful. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a prime offender.

Other than seeing recognizable characters that have built up enormous goodwill through decades of appearances in far better entertainment, the show has absolutely nothing to recommend it, besides some pretty catchy music over the opening and closing titles, courtesy of They Might Be Giants. No character ever does or says anything interesting, and indeed, they all seem rather drained of personality.

The show is also mind-numbingly boring, but the real problem is that the show is anti-educational. While the show ostensibly teaches children how to solve problems, it actually does the opposite. It teaches children to be stupid. It's one of the few shows that could actually lower the intelligence of the child watching it.

Let me provide a few examples as evidence:

  • Minnie Mouse is organizing a picnic for the clubhouse members and assorted friends. At the park site, the juice for the picnic is spilled on the ground. The characters wonder how they're going to clean up the juice. Just so we're clear here, the juice has been spilled on the ground. Cleanup will be automatically provided by God. But this doesn't occur to our cartoon friends, so they undertake to somehow remove the juice from the sod. You might think this is impossible, and you would be right, but Goofy and Pete manage to extract the juice through the use of an enormous sponge. If only we'd had these two geniuses working on the Deepwater Horizon spill!
  • Mickey and pals are helping Santa Claus -- never mind why. At some point they need to attach a harness full of reindeer to a sleigh. So you've got these bridle reins, which are, of course, nothing more than leather ropes. How in the world could we attach this to a sleigh? Could we tie them? No, in the wonderful world of Mickey, this is apparently impossible. Instead, they have to call upon "Toodles," who provides a giant ribbon bow. They tie the reins to the sleigh using the bow!
  • The gang goes camping. But they're having some trouble putting up their tents. One of the tents is inflatable, and they're having trouble inflating it. Okay, let's put aside how they inflate the tent, that's not important. But why are we teaching children about inflatable tents? I have to be clear about this. We're not talking about a tent with inflatable sides, like a Bounce House--or for our friends across the pond, a Bouncy Castle. I'm talking about a tent which is essentially one giant balloon. After you inflate such a tent, how exactly do you get inside without letting the air out? And once you're inside, how do you refrain from dying?

I could go on, but each new paragraph saddens me. This is the worst sort of children's programming. It purports to be educational, in a way, but the connection of cause to effect in this fantasy world is so arbitrary that a child watches this to his or her detriment. If the show was also funny, or engaging, perhaps I could overlook this fault, but this show is only slightly more interesting than what the television looks like when the power is off.

Rating: 1/4.



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Rating System

Here's my intended rating system:

1/4: Films and shows in this category should be kept away from children at all costs. These are terrible, brain-rotting pieces of garbage. It's important to note that the ratings have nothing to do with the perceived enjoyment of a child. Many children would enjoy squirting Cheez Whiz into their mouths until the can was dry, but that doesn't mean it should be allowed.

2/4: Child contact with entertainment in this category should be minimized, but is acceptable. Films and shows in this category are not terrible, and have some redeeming qualities, but just don't hold up to repeated viewing.

3/4: This is truly good children's entertainment, something you would be happy if your child embraced.

4/4: This is the highest state. A film or show in this category is not simply good children's entertainment, but good entertainment, period. This is something you would watch on your own.

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Something Good for the Children: First Post

Well, here goes my attempt at a review blog. Here's the deal. Nearly five years ago I became a father, and since then, I've watched a lot of family and "children's" programming, most of which is terrible. So I thought, why not start a review service to help other parents, especially new parents, separate the uncommon stuff of quality from the rest? On this blog, I'll be reviewing films and television shows that are current or nearly so, as well as revisiting some of the children's programming from my youth to see how it holds up.

Let me say straight away that I am mainly interested in whether the film or show is any good. Whether it shows quality, wit, humor, has characters one can believe in, whether it works. I see lots of websites that rate movies purely on the basis of adult content, naughty words or actions, that sort of thing. I'm not really interested in that. Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't show R-rated content to my daughter, but at the same time, I don't think the mere absence of something bad makes something good. I don't want to give my daughter boring junk just to keep her occupied. In the best scenario, it should be something we enjoy watching together. At worst, it should be something I can at least respect as an adult.

So here we go...feel free to comment. I'm especially interested in suggestions for future reviews.

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