I was four years old the first time I saw a movie in theaters. My older cousins took my two year old brother and me to see “The Lion King”. I only four, but I can still remember the first time I heard this.
I remember being completely in awe of the story that was unfolding in front of me on screen. That opening sequence still gets me every time. It made such an impression on me that the Sibling-Creature and I used to play Lion King in our room with the dimmer switch. One of us would sing the chant as best we could—it usually came out sounding like “AHHHHHHHHH TIBETAN-YA, BABAGEE BABAYAH”—while the other would turn the knob and watch as the ceiling light slowly became brighter and brighter. When we got chicken pox soon afterwards, my brother insisted on being called Scar. And even though I was too young to find the spiritual themes and references to Hamlet that I recognize for now, I got the central theme: We are all a part of the Circle of Life.
Now, when I watch movies I loved as a kid, I enjoy them just as much, and sometimes more. All the feelings I had when I was little come right back to me. It’s fun to feel five for 90 minutes. Especially on the days when I spend time with actual five year olds and they remind me during the birthday game that I’m going to be twenty. (Deep gasps of air here. It’s eight months away, and it still freaks me out.) It’s the escape factor. I go to college, and I have a job, and I’m supposed to think about things like GPAs and student loans. But when I watch a Disney movie, or really any movie I loved as a child, or read one of the myriad of childhood favorites hanging around my room, I don’t have to be the responsible, almost twenty-year old, pseudo-adult version of myself. I can giggle and sigh and cry as much as I want while promising myself that my wedding dress will look exactly like Cinderella’s.
Ah, Cinderella. By far my favorite of the Disney Princess movies. When I was sixteen, my parents gave me the six disc Collector’s Edition DVD. Remastered. With additional storyboards and about eighteen different commentaries and viewing options. Best present ever. Every girl I know is all about Belle and Ariel, but I’m a Cinderella girl. She’s so sweet. And the mice are the best Disney sidekicks. I just love it. It warms my heart just thinking about it. Also, her Prince Charming is the handsomest. Just saying.
And I don’t just re-watch old movies. I’ve seen every Pixar movie at least twice. “Finding Nemo” is my favorite, “A Bug’s Life” doesn’t even register. I was five when “Toy Story” was released. I’d always had a secret suspicion my toys led double lives, but this confirmed it. This scene makes me laugh every time. “Toy Story” is not quite as visually sophisticated as “Up”, but it doesn’t matter. It captures the essence of childhood. It addresses a topic that is significant for children of all ages. Pretty much all Pixar movies concentrate on ideas that are pertinent for kids. Except “Ratatouille”. I loved it because I love France, but the average five year old won’t get half of it. “Finding Nemo” makes me cry. I’m still not sure how I feel about a “Toy Story 3”. But Pixar has preserved childhood. Their movies are still sweet and genuinely funny and engaging. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Childhood movies, books, toys, games—still relevant. Why? Because they influenced us in subconscious ways. They are a part of our history. The fact that I even remember the first movie I saw in theaters shows that it somehow made an impact. It’s fun to watch the movies and read the books and relive the days of innocence, imagination and fun. I went to so many worlds, more than one in a day, simply because I used my imagination. I can’t say I’ve been to Africa simply because I’ve seen a movie set there, but “The Lion King” guided me towards simply thinking about it. Around the age of six, I had an obsession with Madagascar. I even wrote a letter to the State Department asking for information or Madagascar money or something. I have no idea where this came from, but the point is that I thought about it. Something I had read or learned or seen inspired me to learn everything I could about lemurs.
I’m all about the warm fuzzies. I like to feel safe. I like to feel comforted. I like to remember. It’s not that I want to return to a more innocent time. I just want to remember those feelings of pure happiness, safety and joy so I can hug them close to me when I’m having trouble being a grown-up. When I was little, mice could sing. Toys went on recon missions. I knew that I could do anything, be anything. I still think I’ve got the world on a string, but I’m much more cautious. The thing that scares me the most is losing all those feelings and growing into “the Age of Not Believing”, from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I resist it so much that I’ve never read the last chapter of Peter Pan. Wendy grows up. She still believes but she cannot fly. And truly, what’s the point of believing if you can’t fly? I’m afraid of heights, but I’d still like to have the option. Peter Pan is youth, he is joy. He’s going to always be a little boy and have fun. There are so many unknowns in life that it’s extremely tempting to stockpile chocolate chip cookies and grapes in my closet and hole myself up in there with all my childhood books. But that’s the easy way out. The harder way is to do as the Bible says and “put away childish things.” But then I wonder—can’t there be a happy medium? Isn’t there a way that I can grow up and still fly?
I look at the rows of books in my closet—the Betsy-Tacy series, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables. I remember the little girl who read them over and over again. I can recall every detail of their plots. I remember reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle when I was sick, A View from Saturday when I was a dreamy seventh-grader. I still consider A Wrinkle in Time to be science fiction. I know I am the person I am today because of that little girl. She read everything she could get her hands on twice and told plenty of her own stories about how she would climb the Alpine Path, and make herself known to the world. She never had any doubt that she could fly. And fly she did. I’m proud of that little girl. I’m proud of my past, and my present. I know I’ll be proud of my future. It is simply a matter of taking what I’ve learned from Cinderella and Anne and Charlotte and the Souls and Rafiki and Buzz Lightyear and believing in the beauty of my dreams. It’s simply a matter of capturing the power of flight and thinking lovely thoughts. Like ice cream. And Santa Claus.
Up, up and away,
We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it. ~George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss