Both of my children, blessed or cursed with vivid imaginations, struggled with movies in their preschool years. They’d fall into the movie, totally immersed in the story and its outcome. Any dubious outcome stressed them out, so I searched high and low to find low-suspense movies for them in those years.
With Little A. a newborn and Big A. traveling for work again, I really, really needed three-year-old S. to watch the occasional video. Don’t judge me. Dinner and a movie for her meant I could feed Little A. and eat my own dinner, too. Win-win-win.
So I tried her on all the lightweight Disney films I could think of—I mean, Cinderella has no bad guys, really. Right? It’s not the legendary source of endless children’s traumas, like Snow White or Bambi. Nope. She wouldn’t go for Cinderella. I tried movie after movie. Finally, she asked to see the Dumbo video we’d inherited from a friend. I had never seen the film, so I just gave thanks for my good fortune and popped in the cassette.
Well, if you have seen Dumbo, then I don’t need to say anymore. If you haven’t, well…it’s not my favorite movie of all time. So many aspects of that movie, while perhaps standard when it was made, are just…profoundly troubling to me. On top of ALL kinds of bullying, including “adults” bullying a child, this stunning children’s film includes an imprisoned mother, nefarious scheming, surreptitious drinking, hallucinations, racial stereotypes, and a disturbing look into the treatment of circus workers and animals in the past.
And my determined three-year-old daughter picked THIS movie to love over all others. She asked for THIS movie every time Big A. traveled for work…which was about once a week that year. And so I watched it far more times than I ever wanted. And she watched it far more times that I wanted her to, which worried me. What would she make of all that…stuff?
And yet, nearly nine years later, it occurs to me that maybe I owe Dumbo after all.
My daughter’s confidence leaves me in awe. Her amazing personal integrity gives her a rare natural acceptance of others. She’s literally so comfortable with herself (in most ways; no one’s perfect) that she just appreciates other people as they come. Okay, I hope some of that comes from her parents’ unending and unconditional love. I know her first school overtly encouraged students to love and appreciate each other in all their differences. And I give credit to her current school, where peer pressure reinforces individuality.
But, you know, Dumbo gets seriously dumped on from the moment of his birth. Yet the movie makes it clear that he, his mother, and Timothy have the right idea—Dumbo’s awesome. He rocks, no matter what anyone else says or does.
Best of all, Dumbo doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone but himself to succeed. Without even speaking a word, he finds his “wings” and soars. His unique abilities have value; he learns that without devaluing anyone else.
Maybe that’s not such a bad message to be exposed to over and over in your formative years.