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Until yesterday Alfie had never watched a film. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but he seems to have inherited his father’s attention span so we would cutch up on the sofa only to be abandoned by the end of the opening credits in favour of some obnoxious toy.

Yesterday was a Sunday, the weather was autumnal, and I happened upon a child friendly film just as it was about to start, so I thought I would take a punt and see how the little man got on.

I genuinely thought that the film in question was innocuous enough - possibly because I am 33 years old and was brought up with old school cartoon violence – but clearly I had underestimated both the ability of a child that age to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and also the impact even milk carton violence would have on him.

The “oh NO!”s started just after the opening credits, and progressed in volume and pitch until there were times when only the dog could hear him. There were even a few times when he turned around on my lap and clung onto me for dear life. He was so vocal in fact, that Keith would look down the corridor from the kitchen to laugh at the melodrama being played out on the sofa.

The primary cause of the hysteria?

For those of you thinking “well of course he was scared of a bloody great tusked predator” yeah I know, I should have caught that one. Except it wasn’t just Ice Age that caused a problem, I had an IM from Keith today with a film related update:
Stuck Toy Story 3 on while I made pancakes.calls of 'Oh NO!' came from the loungeI came to see what was upit was the bit where the kids enter the nursery and start misplaying with all the toysoh if only he knew the irony of his remark!!

Irony indeed my boy, irony indeed.

So now I’m caught in something of a parenting quandary.

There has been a progressive shift in children’s films in the last few decades to move towards a genre that appeals to both children and adults, but I wonder if that has meant that very small children are now left at a disadvantage? I’m not talking about violence, because even from the advent of the genre Bambie’s mother was shot and that bloody scary evil step mother witchy person poisoned Snow White. I’m talking about the pace and intensity of the films which, when combined with violence is just too much for a toddler like Alfie.

I’m not sure I want to desensitise my son to violence by dressing it up in a cartoon wrapper, but then neither do I want to pretend that violence doesn’t exist. Does “age appropriate” come from keeping him in a space where he is already comfortable, or does it come from showing him the outer edges of that space and encouraging him to expand his view of the world?

And isn't it curious that I find the question of films harder to answer than whether I should allow my son to see a dead cat?

I think the difference for me is about the window dressing that comes with any cartoon. I am absolutely set in my mind that Alfie not be prevented from knowing the truth that all living things die, and that he should be allowed to see them when appropriate. Real life isn't like a cartoon though, there is no dramatic music, no schmaltz or personification or emotional blackmail deliberately designed to raise our emotion to a fever pitch.

When Alfie saw that dead cat he was sad for all the intuitive and natural reasons that one should be sad at the passing of an animal – he showed natural compassion. He didn't need to see a flashback to missus cat and all the kittens at home waiting for papa cat to return, he wasn't under the impression that the cat had died doing anything heroic, and there was no dramatic music designed to make him shed a tear.

I feel more comfortable with that somehow.

When Alfie shrinks in horror at personified toys being ripped apart by cartoon toddlers I wonder if it might be a good way for him to appreciate the viewpoint of something that has no voice and yet that in itself is completely ridiculous: I want Alfie to stop throwing his toys around because he doesn't want them to get broken, or to hurt anyone around him, not because he thinks he might be causing them pain!!

But that’s the thing about Disney, people like me who have grown up with it from a very young age have no qualms in accepting that a car can learn how to be a “good winner” or that toys can create a strong community. I have witnessed a lifetime of fantasy portrayed as reality and my mind is completely comfortable with that weird duality where I simultaneously know something is complete fantasy but yet happily suspend reality to immerse myself in the story.

I’m sure as a vaguely sane adult that does me no harm at all – I’m just not so sure I can say the same for my son. 

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