As a male moviegoer in his mid-30s, there’s one movie I’m really looking forward to this summer — and it’s not “Prince of Persia,” “Get Him to the Greek,” or one of the others being heavily marketed to me on ESPN.
Forget the superheroes, action stars and dumb comedies — give me Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” with old friends like Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, not to mention the new characters like an ascot-wearing Ken doll.
That’s because I’m more than a film fan — I’m the father of two young children who are old enough to love the idea of going to the movies but far too young to be trusted to sit through a film by themselves. With preschool just about done for the year, odds are close to 100 percent that I’ll be taking them to a movie or two, and I’m hoping to get more out the experience than the air conditioning and popcorn.
There are always kid-friendly movies to choose from. The studios recognize that suckers like me will pick anything rated G or PG just to get the kids out of the house on a thunderstorm-filled day. Add the ever-present movie tie-ins, and I’m sure there will be a ton of films looking to get me to buy tickets, Happy Meals, action figures and Lego sets.
But as any parent knows, entertaining a child is hard work. It’s easy for a movie to be too scary for little kids, or else be unable to hold their attention, requiring numerous trips to the snack bar (and then the bathroom).
There’s a big difference between a film that essentially just babysits the children for a couple of hours, and one that’s worth my time as well. So when a franchise that's earned my trust has another offering ready to go, I’m more confident than I would be shelling out the cash for some random cartoon.
Here’s what I know I’ll get when I buy my tickets for this one:
Buzz and Woody are more than the characters on my son’s overnight Pull-Ups, they’re a cowboy and astronaut with personalities that seem more than cartoonish. My kids relate to them in a way they have not been able to relate to other film characters (looking at you, Despereaux).
Good behavior models
I’m not saying that I want the kids to dream of growing up to be toy cowboys and astronauts, and the characters here can be as petty and selfish as any child. I’m sure that the middle of “Toy Story 3” will feature some people making bad choices, which the kids and I will talk about on the ride home. But ultimately, they do the right thing for the right reasons, and even their mistakes are justifiable.
Dialogue that suits everyone
I don’t envy those in charge of writing scripts for children’s movies when one of the goals is to entertain the adults as well. That’s a hard balance to reach, but the first two films in the series have done it very well. I’m laughing at different things than the kids are, but both of us are cracking up whenever we stick one of the first two films in the DVD player.
Online teaser videos
By which I mean, I can go to YouTube right now and see a ton of clips from the movie, meaning I can show them to the kids and prepare them for what they are about to see, as well as get them excited for the characters. That can avoid some of the “who is that?” and “what’s happening?” questions that always arise.
Of course, I know there will be scary bits. My kids will be sad when it appears like the toys will be separated from Andy forever, since that’s what happened over the first two movies in the series, and I’m sure I will be asked a lot of questions in loud whispers, like “Daddy, why is Barbie's friend being a jerk?”
But I also know that this is more than a vehicle to sell me tie-ins, or take advantage of my need for air-conditioned entertainment. It’s a film that engages kids as well as adults, which is why it’s No. 1 on my summer film list.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington.