My wife and I recently decided to reward our kids for their consistently good behavior over the course of a few days by taking them to the movies. As I’m sure is the case with most households containing two children under the age of six, Shrek is a huge celebrity in our home, so it was an easy choice for us when it came time to choose a movie for our outing. This post is not a review of the fourth Shrek movie, though I will say it is, for me, the weakest of the four yet still worth seeing. This post will instead be an attempt at showing non-parents what a trip to the movies is like with children.
I remember when going to the movies was a wonderful and relaxing way to spend an afternoon or evening. Whether it was a quiet night out with my wife or a group of friends going to see the latest gut-busting comedy, going to the movies was always one of my favorite outings, and it still is; it is just very, very different when you happen to bring the kids. Here are a few of the main differences I’ve noticed:
1. Movie selection- For me, the purpose of going to the movies was always to go watch a movie that I really want to see. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Occasionally, my wife will play her cards just right, and I end up sitting in a movie theatre watching some made-specifically-for-women movie that I could’ve happily lived my entire life without seeing, but this is usually balanced by movies that she doesn’t want to see but goes to with me anyway. In high school, my group of friends would take turns between the guys and girls picking which movie we watched, so sometimes I got to go see Office Space, but sometimes I had to suffer through Bring It On. Overall, though, my movie experience has always been that I hear about a movie, get excited about it, and finally get to go watch it.
With children, this all changes. Read carefully: DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN TO A MOVIE THAT YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH. That’s right, the entire purpose changes. When you get to the point that you are taking your children to the movies, it is no longer about you seeing a movie that you are interested in; it is about the kids having a good time and not getting kicked out of the theatre for life. It doesn’t matter if you like the movie or not anyway, because you aren’t going to get to watch at least half of it, which brings me to the next item on the list.
2. Refreshments- When going to the movies without children, refreshments are a pleasant little bonus feature of the whole experience. You buy some overpriced candy, a bucket of heart-attack inducing buttered popcorn, and a gallon of soda or slushy. After the initial decision making on which treats to buy, refreshments simply fade into the overall enjoyment of the experience.
With children, refreshments become one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the trip. To begin with, the decision-making process never goes smoothly when dealing with small children. If you decide to get the kids popcorn, they are going to want candy. If you decide to get them candy, they will fight over what kind of candy to get and then end up wanting popcorn anyway. As for drinks, we don’t let our kids have soda of any kind, so they are limited to a slushy or Hi-C, which makes this part a little easier. The big problem starts when we get into the theatre and distribute the treats. Even if we got both kids the exact same thing, they won’t be happy with which one they got until you switch it around so many times that they can’t even keep up the appearance of knowing the difference. The fun really begins once the movie starts and your two little angels are trying to juggle popcorn, Raisinets, and a cherry slushy in a dark movie theatre while sitting in a seat that is on the verge of folding up with them in it at any moment. The whole time the movie is playing, you are completely unaware of what is going on up on the screen because you are sitting there clutching two handfuls of napkins just waiting for the sugary Chernobyl that is sure to happen at any moment.
3. Bathroom breaks- My bathroom policy on a child-free trip to the movie theatre is that I will go to the bathroom as before the movie begins to make sure that gallon of beverage I drink during the feature will not force me to leave during the movie to relieve myself and possibly end up missing some crucial portion of the plot. I will sit and squirm in my seat during a two-plus hour movie just to make sure that I don’t have to miss anything I paid good money to see.
Once you make the decision to walk into a movie theatre with children, you have to realize that you are going to pay more money to see less movie. Children not only have small bladders, but I believe they also have situational bladders that are able to detect the moment at which you will be the most put-out by their need to urinate. Without fail, you will leave the movie theatre twice per child for bathroom breaks. Further, these breaks will come at the most important parts of the movie as best as you can tell from the few minutes you managed to take in between panic attacks over which theatre patron your child’s brightly colored drink might splash on when it hits the floor.
4. Seat choice- When I go to the movies with adults, I like to sit somewhere about three-quarters of the way from the front of the theatre and as close to the middle of the screen as possible. As you have probably gathered from the previous three items, your view of the screen is an absolute non-factor when choosing a seat with children. When you are picking a seat with children, you just need somewhere close to the exit. My suggestion, just sit in the lobby. You’ll know if the movie was any good by the looks on the faces of the non-child-bringing patrons leaving the theatre, which is exactly how you would know if the movie was any good if you had sat in the theatre with your kids anyway.
5. Showtime- When choosing a showtime with other adults, one usually simply picks a time that coordinates with a preferred dinner time. With kids, you have to consider nap times, meal times, snack times, and ultimately, bed time. From the research I’ve done, the movie theatre industry has intentionally programmed its showtimes to make it impossible for parents to have a good experience with their kids at the movies.
Early afternoon- Forget about it. The kids will either fall asleep because it is nap time and they are sitting still in a dark room watching a movie, or they will be cranky and horrible because they need a nap but don’t want to fall asleep while their favorite cartoon ogre is on-screen.
Late afternoon/Early evening- They just woke up from an invigorating nap, so they are wired for sound. Good luck getting them to sit still for a feature length movie.
Evening- Same basic problem as the early afternoon showtimes. Either the kids will fall asleep or be cranky because they aren’t asleep.
Why then, considering all of this, would my wife and I continue to take our kids to the movies? I honestly don’t know, but we do. I think it must be the same kind of thing that keeps me going back to the golf course. Sure, a majority of the balls I hit are never found, but there is always at least one good shot that makes me think there is hope. At some point on every trip to the theatre with my kids, there is a short period of time where the kids are quietly sitting on our laps or in their own seats, drinks and snacks secured and forgotten, and in the glow of screen, I can see the little smiles and looks of wonder on their faces as they experience something fun and exciting for the very first time.