Follow us on

Horta's View From the Stalls: First Time at the Movies with Toddlers

April 15th, 2003

Having not been to the theaters in quite some time, and not having found a babysitter last Friday, I had so wanted this article to be, How To Take Your Toddlers To See Rob Zombie's House Of 1,000 Corpses. However, the wife staunchly vetoed, so now I will instead present to you Introducing Your Toddlers To The Movies: a guide to presenting young children to the movie going experience while making it as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved.

With 2 wonderful kiddies of my own, a 2 year old, and a soon to be 4 year old, I can certainly appreciate the desire to go on an outing with the family that doesn’t require you spend at least $30 a head, or force you to be on your feet for hours on end. A venture that doesn’t necessitate perfect weather, and that doesn’t require the dedication of an entire day...

Going to the movies is a perfect example of just such a pursuit.

What Is An Appropriate Age To Start Taking My Kids To The Movies?

Technically, you can bring a child to the movies at any age. Then again, technically you can get your cat down from a tree with a 9 millimeter. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that it is OK, or that it should be done. Read carefully, because I use words like child and toddler, not baby or infant. Any movie, whether Disney- or Rob Zombie-made, is too much commotion and volume for infants and babies. On top of that children don’t even develop adult like vision until the age of 4, though my own personal experiences and various supportive texts will tell you that at around the age of 2 your child’s vision has matured enough to appreciate the movement and color of a movie on the large screen. But to make it simple, if your baby can’t even walk yet he or she probably isn’t ready for the cinema. Even if you think your child would sleep through the experience, it's better for everyone if you simply leave him or her at home.

I really stress this fact no matter what the movie, but outright demand it in regards to mature movies. If you can’t find a baby sitter, stay at home and wait it out. That action movie or horror flick will still be there two or three weeks from now, and if it isn’t, then it wasn’t worth 9 bucks a head and you're better off having waited for it to come to video.

Now, age is just a precursor in distinguishing whether or not your child is ready for a movie trip. No matter the age, if he or she doesn’t seem interested in staying still to watch children’s television at home in any form, or is very active, don’t waste your time on taking them to a movie. You’ll just be setting yourself up for a disappointment.

How Do I Know If A Movie Is Age Appropriate For My Child?

Production companies are increasingly making and releasing children’s movies into the theaters. Realizing the real money that can be brought in by these low budget animations or slap-stick comedies, we can find films geared toward young children being released almost on a monthly basis. But remember, animation isn’t just for children any more. More sophisticated animation is a progressing phenomenon that has even brought us an Oscar winner in the form of the Japanese created Spirited Away. Other memorable and adult geared movies include Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Beavis And Butt-head Do America, and my favorite, South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. I saw the latter in the theaters on opening day and I saw two very disturbing things. First, I witnessed young children in the theater; VERY YOUNG, with their parents, who didn’t realize it was an adult themed movie until after the opening song and dance sequence “Uncle F_ _ _ _ _ _, Mother F _ _ _ _ _”. But, at least they left. Even more disturbing were the parents who stayed with their children and watched the entire thing, despite that song, and mind you the movie only went down hill from there. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t assume because it’s animated that its OK for all children.

A good way to distinguish adult from children geared movies is by the rating it received. Start with G movies - animated or not, and work your way from there. Yes, I know that more recent releases like The Wild Thornberrys, and Kangaroo Jack seemed appropriate, though they both received a PG rating. However you would be surprised by how scary some of the scenes can be, and how adult some of the humor is in both flicks.

After you have treaded your way through the plethora of possible children's films, you have to find a movie that will appeal to your child. If your kids prefer Sesame Street, Bob The Builder, or Gullah Gullah Island (live action or puppet type shows), over Winnie The Pooh, Dora the Explorer, or Clifford the Big Red Dog (all animated), look into taking them to live action children's movies. If animation is a draw to your child (No pun intended), you again have to make sure it will appeal to him or her, no matter the rating. Pokemon 4Ever, from the Pokemon series of cartoons, earned a G rating, but the script was too involved, and the action too abstract and slow, to keep young children under the age of 5 or 6 interested through the entire movie. So you can’t assume just because it has a G rating that it will appeal to all children. Essentially, you have to really take your time when looking for the right movie for you child. The goal being that he or she will sit through it and enjoy themselves the entire time.

My Child Is Ready For His/Her First Movie, So Now What?

After you find the right movie, some preparation is necessary. Just last week, I wanted to take my son and daughter to see Piglet's Big Movie. It had a G rating, and I am already familiar with Winnie the Pooh. I knew the softly drawn art, bouncy characters, and swinging melodies/songs were attention keepers. Also, with a running time of an hour and fifteen minutes, the movie wasn’t too long for little legs and arms to keep still. I do a bit of research and use The Numbers to decide on a good date and day for our trip. Here is an itinerary of how the day went, along with some tips:

Sunday, April 12th

11:00am

An early lunch/late breakfast is served to the kids at home. Going to the theaters on a full stomach will help keep them immobilized in the theater as their food digests, and it may even make them a little sleepy. Caution: If your child gets cranky when they miss a nap, let them do so before the movie or you’ll have problems as they force their eyelids open to watch the movie.

11:30am

The kids eat quickly, and have started running around a bit as we get them ready (All the better to get it out of their system). We get out an old knit purse that we sometimes use as a diaper bag. For our 2-year-old daughter, we pack a few diapers, some wipes in a Ziploc, and 2 milk bottles that she won’t even see until we get into the theater. For our 4-year-old son, we just bring a wash cloth and hand sanitizer. We take our time and load them both up into the mini-van. Always take your time and don’t worry about making your movie time. There will always be a later showing, and it’s always better to move at your children’s pace on outings like this.

11:55am

The wife drops me off in front of a grocery store. I’m here to pick up some candy for us because as we all know, candy is expensive in the theaters. I purchase some Raisinettes, Gummi-Worms, Twizzlers, Goobers, and some Fig Newtons. I only spend a little over $9; it would have cost twice that amount (for half the quantity) in-house, which is a big plus. Another highlight of doing your candy/snack shopping in the store as opposed to in the theaters is that you’re not limited to sweets and sugar snacks for the kids. You can always opt for some fruit, or cheese and crackers, or some other healthy alternatives should you see fit. We go with the candy because our kids don’t get a lot of it and its fun for them!

12:39PM

We are situated and have the candy neatly tucked away into the diaper bag, diapers on top. Not that it’s necessarily a good thing, but I haven’t seen a cinema that checks bags even after September 11th. I guess the only bombs they let into the place are the ones starring Vin Diesel or Chris Rock.

We go up to the counter and buy our tickets. Most theaters don’t charge children under a certain age and my daughter is 2, so she gets in for free. We are in for the 1:30pm showing of Piglet's Big Movie which is the second showing of the day. It has been out for a little over 3 weeks and it’s lifecycle is quickly winding down. The earlier on a Saturday or Sunday we can go see a movie that has been out that long, the more of the theater that we will have to ourselves. Coupled with the fact that we choose showing dates based on either other large movie opening weekends or other large local area events, and we usually do really well. Today there's an Easter Egg hunt just next door and a local radio station is hosting. I imagine only 9 or 10 families will be joining us today.

12:50pm

The tickets are in pocket and we allow my son and daughter to walk around. We play a few video games and have lots of fun. We are orientating them to the environment, and getting them ready to use their inside voice. Between now and the time we settle in to the theater, we are simply getting the kids comfortable and pre-situated. Bathroom breaks are mandatory, whether they think they have to go or not. Jackets and coats come off, and diapers are changed as required. We finally get on line for popcorn and drinks; we pay more at the concession stand then we did for the tickets! We scoop up some booster seats and we're on our way. We aren’t rushing in, we're taking our time. The wife and I are already in the mindset that we only stay for as long as the kids want to stay. Don’t force your children to watch a movie they aren’t into. Remember, these early experiences will dictate future behaviors and views on outings. The more they go, the more they will learn good movie manners.

1:30pm

I only see 4 or 5 families including my own, as we take our seats in this small theater (Better then we thought). We take up residence in our own row that dead-ends into a wall, and place our two kids between us. Perfect should any one of them decide they need to stretch their legs with a good aisle walk. Previews have started, and so has the munchie munching. The kids are still full from the healthy brunch they had, so they aren’t stuffing their faces until they get sick. We made sure they went to the bathroom just beforehand, so they sit through the entire movie quietly. Note: We brought a diaper and wipes with us just in case the daughter needed it, but we changed her beforehand so it wasn’t necessary. Remember, it can be OK to change a diaper in the theater unless your kids diaper might set of the smoke alarm; be courteous of the people around you!

2:10pm

The movie trip went off with out a hitch. My 2-year-old daughter got up to take a walk down the aisle for just a few minutes toward the end, but she was quiet about it. Plus, with the wall blocking off her only avenue, she didn’t get far and she appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to chase after her during the brief stroll. My son was mouth-full-of-treats eyes-front the entire time, so no problem there. It was a great trip, and we all loved the movie. We dispose of our rubbish, and I walk them near the screen so that they can get a closer look. It’s still a bright and sunny day when we finally exit the building. Enough of a day is left to work off those hollow calories, and we didn’t feel like we wasted a whole day. There was still time to enjoy the weather, visit with the grandparents, and to BBQ. We all slept well that evening.

Enjoying Yourself

Another successful movie trip for the family and I’m already looking forward to the next. Young children will really love that time they spend with mommy and or daddy and it is a simple trip to plan. As the kids get older, movies geared toward the kids who aren’t quite pre-teen, and who aren’t toddlers are more abundant. The Spy Kids movies, Rugrats movies, anything staring Cuba Gooding Junior or a talking mammal, and other similar films aimed at the older kids are released regularly. But the time that you have with them as babies - the 5, 6 and under age - is really special and is a great time to introduce them to their first movies. Sitting in stadium seating, in front of that huge screen, with their own bag of popcorn and soda, wide eyed and smiling as their favorite characters dance across the screen... it's right then that you realize that your favorite movies to see are the ones that make your kids smile the most.

George W. Horta III