I take it that children are not bound to be unhappy; they've plenty of time to learn that life is full of hardship and effort. So, they are given the opportunity to connect with many a pleasant tales, bed-time stories, films and theatre plays. Hostility and failure is sometimes a major element in entertainment material for innocent souls, but one thing is quintessential: one will always win in the end. Happy ending rules in children's films and we wouldn't like it any other way.
Given that the universe is dark and daunting, we've watched (us, adults) stuff that were so spooky, only to make us think what children were making out of them. Coraline (2009) for instance, based on Neil Gaiman's children's book is an animation film with marvellous scenery and funny characters. Then comes a tunnel to take you in a vacuum and bring you in your dreamy-creamy reality, only if you accept to replace your eyes with two buttons. Doesn't get freakier than that -I personally value my eyes, as paths to the soul as they are, loads-, but, yes, it does, mum is a big, bad spider, the garden is full of traps, souls of children are locked in the attic and so on so forth. Do not forget the luminous detail: blue-haired Coraline wins over her egoism and dissatisfaction that brought evil home in the first place. Coraline fights back and restores peace. Coraline wins. And they lived happily ever after.
Then comes Brave (2012), where princess Merida is once more a rebellious girl who wants things otherwise. Her mum is kind and sweet, but way too strict and serious. According to her will, the princess should marry to a quite random prince, the winner of an archery race she has chosen to try them. Bears come and go, metamorphosis, witches and spells, physical strain and pain, until princess Merida brings back clear skies. She convinces her mother and her court that she will follow her own path in life with no other than herself making choices that matter.
Brenda Chapman who wrote Brave, was also a contributing writer for Beauty and the Beast (1999), an all-time-favourite for little girls (and boys?). I've watched the film on Christmases and Easter time -much like the very first Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which I hardly recall visually, but I think it was the Bill Melendez version which was passing on public TV often when I was a kid on every Jesus-related festivity; only later I understood why: Aslan, the lion and his sacrifice was meant to be a symbol for Christ, at least when C.S.Lewis was writing it.
As you may have noticed, the notion of sacrifice also features largely in children movies. Belle in Beauty and the Beast trades herself to free her father, while the Lion (in every possible BBC or the latest Chronicles of Narnia version) gives his life to save Narnia from the White Witch. Why such a cruel inasmuch gentle notion ought to be embedded on a soft heart and mind from an early age? Why do we value sacrifice so much, especially at times that what we love the most is ourselves? I would be eager to find out. No matter how skilfully we try to teach our new-born and young hopes that life is harsh and things don't come easy, we do give them a happy ending nevertheless. But, how can you teach someone not to be impatient and stand still, stay calm and persevere till the happy ending comes? A lifetime is a big thing, compared to films and books that have a well-defined "The End" value right after the climax or a bit later?
Surely, these are adult thoughts. I now realise I never asked a child what was his understanding of a film we were watching together. I somehow drifted myself deep into those colourful, but manipulative images, without staying out of them and questioning the real audience for whom they were made. Sad films like Dolphin Tale, empty ones like Cars, hallucinating ones like Alice in Wonderland, tiny people stay always aghast, their eyes wide open, feeding on hidden meanings that are bound to change their lives. Or not; there's always the chance I got it wrong. Either way, I miss those films and those audiences on a hot Athenian summer day.