Originally Posted by angelandmisha
I certainly appreciate all the responses. I'm most bothered by movies where there is a traumatic separation from the parents and from that became curious what it was all about and why I couldn't think of a single movie where that didn't happen. We really have only watched Cars, which he adores. And even in that movie there is separation. I guess the troubling aspect to me is the imposed separation, I think if the protagonist wants to set out on an adventure, that's fine, it's just the traumatic nature of the separation that I have found disturbing. And yes, maybe I'm thinking about it in terms of my young child and may not be so bothered by it as he is older, but I just can't shake the curiosity about why. And I totally understand the age-old, global nature of the theme- I have a degree in English and a minor in anthropology. But, perhaps because of that I know that fairy tales, folk tales, myths, etc. have a function in a society and are designed and retold to transmit some sort of information about the group. And I keep wondering, what are these stories saying to our children? I guess that's my real question. What message is being conveyed here? And before we just start watching and trusting movies to be entertainment I thought I'd explore this more. So I'm very happy to read so many responses!
And thank you for suggestions of stories which either feature parents more prominently or don't require a traumatic separation to get the story started. I'll check them out.
Ah, I get what you're saying now.
I think the traumatic thing is, quite honestly, sorta a lazy "hook" into the story. Most older stories don't really require that. Fairy tales without parents usually have a line int he beginning about "um, the mother died and, uh, something vague happened to the father... and now, down to business." With the newer Disney type movies I think it's become the formula to have a traumatic opening scene that captures your attention right away and keeps you at the edge of your seat. I thought that Finding Nemo was so overt about the seemingly endless 10 minute cycles of "swimming... OMG DANGER... resolution" that it kinda got boring after a while. Obviously a movie has to keep you interested, but in this particular case it seemed to really oscillate between extremes and it just came off as sort of lazy after a while.
Now my mind is wandering... it is 3am... I was listening to a radio program recently about the Grimm brothers, and they talked about how originally the published stories were supposed to be an anthropological study for adults to collect these old folk tales. But that adults weren't much interested, and they caught on as children's storybooks for middle class children. And these middle class parents were a little dubious about not only the gore (and I think we've all heard "but the original Grimm fairy tales are full of gore, so that's proof that children can take very scary things!" But those stories weren't really intended for children.) but also about the really negative light that many of the parents were portrayed in. So in the second edition and later editions, the Grimms (the two main brothers, and then a 3rd brother who sort of took over after a while) themselves took out a lot of the gore, and changed a lot of the family dynamics. They really played down the evil parents, and in stories where the evil parents were important they turned them into STEP-parents and just sort of threw something in about how the real parents were really nice but, alas, dead.
So it's interesting that I think your concern also isn't new
It sounds to me like the early 19th century concerns about the Grimm fairy tales! And a sort of invention-of-childhood age compression going on there too. The original stories for adults were toned down for the children who ended up being the audience. And now our society is now in a place where the original stories (in the form of books and movies) for older children probably do need to be toned down for the younger children who have ended up being the audience.
But back to the traumatic storylines. I do think that it is often lazy and formulaic and unnecessary. I think that the separation is necessary, but the traumatic separation is not. Sometimes, yes, it adds to the story: the line from The Secret Garden where Mary is told "there's no one left to come" and thus learns that her parents have died and everyone totally forgot about her is wrenching, but it's an essential part of setting up her character as both totally bratty but also very sympathetic. (And, slightly related, it's always been interesting to me that in the movie versions of A Little Princess, Sara's father is alive and they're reunited. I think it was the Shirley Temple version that started that, and I'm not aware of any other versions that don't have a living father at the end. So, sometimes, it seems like movies do try to un-traumatize things and whitewash them. The movie versions always take out the diamond mines, which are TOTALLY the best part). Other times, like in Finding Nemo, I think it's just part of a formula.