It’s a time-honored right of passage in the modern age — a child’s first movie.
Dad’s got the booster seat and popcorn. Mom’s praying they’ll make it to the end credits without a meltdown. The kid is simultaneously awestruck, bored and overwhelmed by the need to pee. It’s a beautiful thing.
I have hazy but evocative memories of my early cinematic experiences — the horror of Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty,” the trauma of “Bambi,” unimpressed by “Annie,” bewildered and fascinated by the stop-motion monsters of “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”
My daughter is nearly 9 months old and far too young to go to the movies, let alone watch them in earnest at home. But this movie-loving mama is dreaming of the days when she’ll be old enough that I can share my favorite films with her.
In anticipation, I’ve penned this letter.
Dear Baby Girl,
You may think now that the world is a pretty wonderful place, but wait until you discover a little thing we like to call the movies. Your life will never be the same.
Here are the movies I can’t wait to show you, just as soon as you’re old enough.
The Original “Star Wars” Trilogy,” 1977-1983: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … there was “Star Wars,” and the Force was with it and it changed your mommy’s life. At the late-blooming age of 14, your mama saw “Episode IV — A New Hope.” It wasn’t even in the theater. It was on TV, but the spectacle of this galactic battle of good vs. evil sparked in your mother an enduring awareness of the power of the movies.
It’s gratifying to see that, all these years later, kids are still discovering and loving George Lucas’ little space opera. If I had my way, you’d never hear a word about those so-called “prequels,” but for better or worse, “Star Wars” lives on, and on, and on, and on … . There will soon be yet another “Star Wars” trilogy for your generation, my dear. I hope it’s worthy of you.
(And once you’ve met Han, Luke and Leia, there’s a certain fedora-wearing archaeologist I’m dying for you to meet.)
“Beauty and the Beast,” 1991: Child, let me tell you a story. You know how everyone feels about “Frozen”? How they can’t stop singing the songs, can’t stop talking about Anna and Elsa and Olaf, how they get excited every time they hear “Let It Go”?
Well, child, that is how your mama feels about “Beauty and the Beast.”
For some of us, it remains the quintessential Disney animated classic, having hit theaters at that pivotal point in our childhoods when we believed in magic and true love and happily ever afters. Gorgeously animated with unforgettable music — Idina Menzel’s got nuthin’ on Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson — and a peasant-turned-princess who is smart, compassionate and loves to read, this fairy tale can’t be topped.
I hope you adore it and want to be just like Belle. The end.
Except that’s not the end because there are dozens and dozens of other Disney classics I can’t wait for you to experience, from “Snow White” to “The Little Mermaid” to “Tangled.” And then there are the Pixar movies, and the Disney-Pixar movies, and the live-action Disney movies, like “Mary Poppins” and “Pete’s Dragon.” Thank Walt — these movies will bring you joy for a lifetime.
All the Miyazaki Movies, 1984-2013: Once you’ve seen the Disney movies, baby, it will be time to graduate to the beautiful, dreamlike world of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, films like “My Neighbor Tortoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”
Yes, these exquisitely hand-drawn marvels can be dark and strange, but it will be good for you to discover that there are different, more inventive ways to tell stories, that other cultures are full of delights to discover and that imagination is boundless and will transport you to new and exciting places.
The “Harry Potter” Movies, 2001-2011: You’ll read the books first, of course, and when you do it will be one of the definitive moments of your life. I’m a firm believer that J.K. Rowling’s epic series of heroism, magic and wonder is timeless, a classic any generation will respond to. Warner Bros.’ fine movie adaptations will help you relive the enchantment.
Unlike some parents, I don’t worry that you’ll pick up some witchcraft by watching them. I only hope you’ll learn what it means to be a friend, to be loyal and to choose the light over the darkness.
For that same reason, I can’t wait until you’re old enough to be spellbound by Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. These movies brought comfort to your mother and millions of others in dark times. I hope they’ll do the same for you.
“Casablanca,” 1942, and “Singin’ in the Rain,” 1952: When it comes to classic movies, honey, your fate has been pretty well sealed. It just so happens you were born to a mother who binges on Turner Classic Movies instead of soap operas or the CW.
There are so many old movies I want you to see — “Bringing Up Baby,” “Roman Holiday,” anything starring Fred and Ginger, everything by Hitchcock. I don’t want you to be one of those kids who automatically dismisses a film because it’s black and white or because it’s too “old-fashioned.”
I’ll start with “Casablanca” because I’d like you to know there is at least one perfect movie in this world. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
And I’ll finish with “Singin’ in the Rain” because it is one of the most exuberant, funny, irresistible musicals ever made. I hope you sing “Good Morning” and “Moses Supposes” to me until my ears bleed.
“Alien,” 1979: If I have anything to do with it, you won’t be seeing Ridley Scott’s supreme sci-fi thriller for many, many years. I don’t want you to have to go to therapy to get over the sight of one of the slimiest, nastiest, scariest movie monsters in cinema history.
But when you’re old enough, there will be a time to watch “Alien.” I want you to know that, like Sigourney Weaver’s tough, resourceful and determined Ripley, you can be the hero of your story.
And here are just a few more, because it’s so hard to narrow down this list:
“The Princess Bride,” 1987: Because someday when you’re no longer a child, this hilarious and sweet fairy tale will help you find that childlike joy again.
“Back to the Future,” 1985: If you don’t see Robert Zemeckis’ ultimate time travel romp, it will cause a rift in the space-time continuum and Marty McFly and Doc Brown will have to go back — or is that forward? — and fix it.
“The Goonies,” 1985: This ’80s classic will inspire you to seek your own adventures. And because the Truffle Shuffle. And Goonies never say die.
“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” 1982: At first, Steven Spielberg’s kid-pleasing gem will scare the living daylights out of you. E.T. is cute, but also creepy in a wrinkly sort of way. Once you overcome those fears — and a possible aversion to Reese’s Pieces — this kiddie classic will teach your little heart how to feel.
“Hugo,” 2011: This film is so lovely and whimsical and tells the story of the movies that mommy loves in a way I think you’ll understand. Besides, this is the only film by the great Martin Scorsese that I want you to see until you’re at least … I don’t know … 35?
All my love,
What movies were you most excited to share with the kids in your life? What movies are you looking forward to showing them?