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Movies for kids? Ask a kindergarten teacher

Obsessed with everything from “High School Musical” to “Shrek” to “Star Wars,” these kids are ready to consume almost anything the studios put out there. By Paige Newman
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“How many of you want to go see ‘Ratatouille’?” kindergarten teacher Brooke Newman asks her class. “OK,” she reports back. “Every hand is raised.”

When trying to understand the cinematic tastes of your average 6-year-old, you can’t go wrong asking a kindergarten teacher. And Brooke, who’s been teaching for 15 years, just happens to be my sister — the person I saw movies with as a kid. She’s currently teaching at Marquez Charter School, which is in an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, and also happens to be the school that we both attended as kids.

Times have certainly changed. We came up during an era when animation was basically dormant; the time between the classic Disney films such as “Lady and the Tramp” and “Cinderella,” and the modern classics such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” Now, barely a weekend goes by where there isn’t a movie with animated talking animals learning lessons about life. And guess what? The kids go see them all.

“Anything with cute animals is very popular,” Brooke says. “When (the school year) started, it was the whole “Happy Feet” thing this year, but that’s gone to the wayside and “Shrek the Third” is definitely popular.”

Believe it or not, many 6-year-olds are going to see movies like the PG-13 rated “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

“I would say a third of my class has seen ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 3,’ ” Brooke says. “It’s surprising how many R-rated movies my kids go to. Their parents just take them.”

Everything from sneakers to foodAnd though the humor of “Pirates” may go over the kids’ heads, the marketing certainly doesn’t.

“I don’t think (they go) as much for the movie as for the stuff they can get,” Brooke explains. “Anything where they can collect stuff. They want the toys. They want to dress like a pirate. Everyone wants to be like Captain Jack — all my boys. They dress like him and then they say they’re a pirate.”

And it doesn’t stop with just a simple T-shirt. Brooke sees everything from backpacks to shoes to food with movie marketing. “I think that’s the strangest. When food changes over to be the characters of a movie. They eat ‘Shrek’ Go-Gurt.”

Her kindergartners aren’t just fans of the latest movies, they like classics too. “I have my ‘Star Wars’ fanatic kid who comes in here every day, talking about ‘Star Wars.’ He knows every single character.”

She has another student who’s obsessed with “Grease.” She says the girl’s mom turned her onto the film. “And the daughter started learning all the words. Kind of like we did,” Brooke says, reminiscing about our days of singing in the living room. “Then she recruits people on the yard to be Danny.”

One movie that’s extremely popular with the little girls in her class is “High School Musical.”

“I don’t know how much they understand of it,” Brooke says, “But they just like the singing and the dancing. They definitely don’t like the love story part. That’s all ‘eww.’ God forbid any character kissed another character in a movie, you wouldn’t hear the end of it.”     

Even Shrek and Fiona prove no exception to this rule. “There are side comments like, ‘That’s so gross’ or ‘How could they do that?’ I have this really sarcastic kid that said, ‘They had to go and ruin the movie, didn’t they?’ ”

Watch out for scary moviesSix years old is a little young to appreciate romance, but it’s definitely not too young for things to get scary.

“We even watched a filmed version of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ and they were scared,” says Brooke, “because the mean queen was coming after the prince. When someone’s being chased, they get a little worried. I mean, they were watching a (science film) about sea turtles today and they started to cry.  My kids are going to have nightmares tonight ... about sea turtles.”        

Kids can also be the ultimate critics — they’re not afraid to offend anyone by saying a movie stinks. “If I’m showing something older, like for instance, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s too girlie.’ ”

She also showed them “Aladdin,” which got a few “that’s boring” comments from the kids. As for movies they have liked, she definitely counts “The Land Before Time” and its straight-to-video sequels as favorites. Don Bluth directed the first film and is responsible for some other kids’ classics, such as “An American Tail” and “The Secret of NIMH.”

She also recommends “Duma,” a live-action film from 2005 about an orphaned cheetah. It’s from director Carroll Ballard, who also made the excellent films “The Black Stallion,” “Never Cry Wolf” and “Fly Away Home.”

“The kids were fascinated with this movie,” she says of “Duma.”           

If she had second graders, she would show them “King of Masks,” which is a Chinese film about an orphan boy who’s adopted by an old man who shows him the art of making theater masks.  “It was a surprising movie for kids, which wasn’t really marketed for kids,” she says. “It was fun to watch the man change this little boy’s life. And have him appreciate his craft. And all the masks were fun and the dancing was fun.”

She thinks about showing it to the kindergartners, but worries it wouldn’t hold their short attention spans long. “I’ve been at the movies with them,” she explains. “They don’t even sit at the movie theater. They constantly talk. They stand up. It’s hard to take a child to the movies.”

‘It was an event to go to the movies’Of course, it was no different when we were kids. “It was an event to go to the movies,” Brooke recalls. “You’d go in and everyone would be locked in the theater. Crazy, screaming kids, I can still picture it.” Her favorite movies from that era include the “H.R. Pufnstuf” movie, “Escape to Witch Mountain,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “The Shaggy D.A.” and any “Herbie the Love Bug”-related film.

“Anything Disney-based that was live action like that, I loved,” she says. “Everything that grandma would take us to go see.”

Of course, we didn’t have the multitude of animated movies that the kids have now. Brooke thinks there aren’t enough animated films directed at boys, thus their love for live action movies such as “Pirates” and the upcoming “Transformers” film, which they are all eager to see.

“If they had a movie about Yugioh, the boys would be so happy,” Brooke says. “They had a Pokemon movie, but Pokemon is out. Yugioh is the one to do. That should be the next one.” 

For now, school’s out, but next year you can be sure that there will be kids coming to class obsessed with the latest movie. Some will even dress up on days that are not Oct. 31.

“Having a couple kids come to class as Jack Sparrow was strange to me,” Brooke says. “Oh, and I had a couple of kids show up as Darth Vader.”

Just a day in the life of a kindergarten teacher.

Paige Newman remembers going to the movies with her sister and grandma — who would pop her own popcorn, bring water in old Milk of Magnesia bottles, and sneak it all into the theater in her oversized purse.