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Hey, kids, let’s go to the movies!

Small kids plus a movie theater can equal joy or disaster. By R.S. Griffith
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I love this time of year. No, really I do. The holiday movies release slate is unloading its product at flank speed and there’s no shortage of good, kick-back-and-suspend-reality cinema to feast on over the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

Being the movie lover in my household is a dubious honor, though, as it usually means I’m also the one who’s tapped for duty when it comes time to take the small fry to the megaplex. Not that I’m really complaining, especially when looking back over all the great movies I’ve packed my five- and three-year-old boys off to (son number three, who’s almost two, will no doubt be tailing along soon as well) over the past couple years. We’ve seen flicks like “Finding Nemo,” “Shrek 2,” “Harry Potter 1-3” and, most recently, “The Incredibles” that, on an entertainment value level, put to shame the majority of so-called “grown-up films” released over that same span.

All these outings have been great fun and, even more important, a wouldn’t-want-to-miss opportunity just to hang out for a couple hours with my kids. OK, so it happens to be hanging out in utter silence and darkness, but hey, quality time is quality time, no matter how or where you slice it. Besides, getting the kids to actually sit still and clam up for 90 minutes or two hours is sometimes a blessing not to be taken lightly.

Coming attraction feverAt any rate, for all the good times, there are also those moments when you wish the kids could understand the value (and the mercy they’d be showing their parents) of renting a current release when it comes out on DVD or tape at a preferably much later date. Unlike we oh-so wise and discriminating adults who try (often vainly) to distinguish the watchable from the painfully bad, kids either don’t know how or simply don’t care.

“Daddy, it’s new and it looks really funny.”

Oh, really…you could tell that from the positively inane (and seemingly never-ending) preview just now?

“Yep…so can we see it? Puh-leeeeze?”

It’s at this point you roll out your well-practiced, non-committal nod and quickly change the subject. So, how was work today, son? Oh right, you’re only three. This is a particularly perilous exercise with my five-year-old, whose retention for movie release dates is infallible — and not a little scary. I can elude him for only so long before he corners me, his eyes glimmering with equal parts innocence and cunning, and shames his poor Dad into taking him to see such movie mishaps as “Haunted Mansion” and — you’ll have to excuse me, the memory is still fresh — “Around the World in 80 Days (That’d be the one with Jackie Chan, not David Niven.)

Painful to be sure, but the old man has a few tricks of his own he’s honed over time. Actually, it’s more a strategy of self-preservation: Fight the battles you can win. Because for every “Cat in the Hat,” there’s always something guaranteed to be far worse. Like, say, “Garfield.” For every “Polar Express,” there’s sure to be a “Surviving Christmas,” and so on. You get the idea.

The siren call of the lobby arcadeHere’s another tip: Do whatever it takes to keep the little ones out of the lobby video arcade. Use every ounce of subterfuge you can muster: arrive right as the coming attractions come on or arrive mid-film. Take forever to find that “perfect” parking spot (not all that difficult to do in L.A. these days). I’m serious — I’ll sacrifice half a movie just to avoid running the video game gauntlet. And it’s not that I have anything against the games themselves. But get sucked in, and your two-hour, $20 outing has soon turned into a three-hour, ATM-draining nightmare.

Don’t even get me started on those utterly shameless — and worse, totally inescapable — souvenir stands set up smack in the middle of theatre lobbies for such mega-releases as “Harry Potter” or “Finding Nemo.” I mean, how many golden snitches or stuffed clownfish does a kid need?

The bathroom shuffleOne last thing, and this is arguably the toughest of them all, is getting the kids to hit the head before the movie starts. Granted, making it through an hour-and-half, two-hour film after putting away a quart of soda is hardship on even the adult bladder. Still, there hasn’t been a movie yet where one of my boys hasn’t piped up, mid-film:

“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“OK, in a second…right after this part.”

“Daddy…I have to go now!”

No big deal, right? Well, it wouldn’t be if both kids had to go at the same time. Trouble is, one usually doesn’t and he, of course, wants to stay. Alone. In a big, dark theatre. Sorry, buddy, ain’t gonna happen. Meanwhile, Son-Who-Has-to-Pee is turning purple doing the Squirm Dance while Son-Who-Wants-to-Stay isn’t budging. Not a pretty picture, especially in a crowded theater, and worse still if the tears or other things start flowing.

Take what you will, Moms and Dads, from the above. As with all things involving kids, no rule or piece of advice enjoys a very long shelf life, let alone a standardized application to the myriad grommet-types trolling the world’s multiplexes.

Do note, however, how invaluable an ounce of preparation, and an even greater dose of deception, can be in making sure both kids and parents not only survive a trip to the bijou, but live to talk — and laugh — about it later.