I read this piece at a Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts event at Maitland Public Library hosted by Tim Rumsey and Jeff Rembert around the theme of movies on April 4, 2016.
When I was a kid there wasn’t much that could go wrong on a family outing to the movies, therefore movie-going became a frequent activity for my sister, my parents, and me. I don’t even recall what the first movie I ever saw was, but grew up hearing that babysitters and family members putting a movie on to relax me into sleeping always had the opposite effect. I would be alert, awake, and captivated by the stories on screen. Meanwhile my gramas would be dozing, or worse snoring.
My sister would cry and cry and cry when Dumbo was separated from his mother and yet we would beg our parents to rent the VHS over and over. They did so reluctantly and endured our inevitable sob fests.
Once we moved from Upstate New York to Winter Springs, Florida we would often pile in the car and head to the old Litchfield Theatre on 17-92. One day our intended showtime was sold out— this was the early ‘90s pre-Fandago and you had to look up the movie times and descriptions in the newspaper. Missing the showing meant my parents were left with the options of leaving and convincing us into a different, sub-par, activity or staying at the theater for the next show.
My dad asked the girl at the ticket counterwhat the next movie playing was. It was a new release none of us had read about in the paper and my dad asked if it was suitable to take his young daughters to. She said it was PG-13 but that it would be fine since we were with our parents.
Our family then purchased four tickets to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Recollecting this story my dad would note the exact moment he knew he failed as a parent, when upon exiting the theater my sister declared, “That was the best movie I’ve ever seen!”
Memory is a fickle thing, but I’m pretty positive my dad actually slapped his forehead in dismay. My parents couldn’t have know how the foul language, crude humor, anti-mental health, and trans-phobic plot was viewed by their 8 and 9 year olds. Bugs Bunny often disguised himself as a female and Pepé Le Pew impersonated a cat (or was it a skunk? I’m not sure). Pepé may have been trans for all I know! But both then and now I know, love is love, guys. My parents couldn’t have know when we sat in the theater unable to fast forward over Jim Carrey and Courtney Cox character’s love scene that not only did it go way over my head, but I was actually paying more attention to the fact that “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was the soundtrack. Just like the Lion King! Man, I love that song!
What my parents couldn’t deny was my sister and my new found obsession with Ace Ventura quotes and impressions. 1994 was a fun year in the Toukatly house.
But back then taking your impressionable children to a wildly inappropriate movie was about the worst thing that could happen at the movies. A decade later 50% of my family would agree that picking The Aviator as our Christmas Day movie outing was the worst thing, but for the record the correct 50% of my family found no fault in 170 minutes of Leonardo di Caprio.
On a recent trip to the movies I realized how different the movie going experience has become since I was a kid. On a recent rainy afternoon I invited my mom to join me to see Zooptopia the new animated feature from Pixar. I had seen a spot from Business Insider praising the advancement of animation technology and the creators of the film developing 4 different types of animal hair, hundreds of unique characters, and every ecosystem under the sun.
Not knowing much more about the film I sat down in the darkening movie theatre sharing a popcorn with my mom in preparation to view a decidedly more family friendly animal tale than Ace Ventura and Dan Marino’s search for missing Miami Dolphin, Snowflake. Maybe it was the early showtime, maybe just the PG rating, but we were surrounded by young families enjoying the movies together. The previews ended and the difference in these children’s movie outing and mine when I was there age really struck me.
We were asked to silence our cell phones. Cellphones didn’t even exist outside the fictional filmscapes onscreen when I was young. Only James Bond and future fantasy heroes could call from their car. Even OJ’s Bronco had a carphone with a cord. We were asked to note our nearest exit. As a kid this was our parents job, so they could swiftly march us out of the theatre when we had to go to the bathroom or if we were misbehaving.
Then came the announcement that illuminated the difference between kids today and life when I was their age. We were asked to inform a member of staff if we saw anything suspicious. That was never mentioned when I was growing up, because the worst thing that could happen at the movies was seeing a bad movie.