Free-Range Pixar!

Hi tnizsnasbz
Folks! I loved this letter sent in by Emily Guy Birken, who describes herself as a stay-at-home-mom and a freelance writer in Lafayette, Indiana.  She blogs about her life with her rambunctious toddler at
Dear Free-Range Kids: Your post  about “How to Spot a Predator” reminded me of something I noticed recently when watching some of my son’s favorite movies with him.  It seems to me that Pixar has quite the Free-Range attitude.  The predator post reminded me of the moment in The Incredibles, when the mom tells her kids that there are bad guys who want to hurt them, and then she tells them exactly how to handle that situation, rather than lying to them or abandoning her plans to save her husband so she can protect her kids from those bad guys.  She trusted her kids to be smart and talented enough to handle something, should it happen.
Some other things I’ve noticed from Pixar:
Finding Nemo is pretty overtly free range, as Marlin loses Nemo in the first place because he’s too overprotective and Nemo wants to prove that he’s capable.  And Nemo and Marlin both learn how to be more self reliant and able to handle uncertainty through their adventures.
Wall*e is all about what happens to human beings when decisions are taken out of their hands.  All the humans on the Axiom have become fat and incapable of regular movement because they’ve allowed machines to do their thinking (and doing) for them.
Up features a little boy who seeks out the company of an older man, to both of their benefits.
Monsters, Inc. explains that a child’s laughter is more powerful than her screams–which to me means we should empower our children to enjoy their childhoods, and not be frightened of every possibility.
I don’t know if you have Pixar fans in your family [Lenore here: All 4 of us!], but with my little 3-D animation lover at home, I’ve been noticing that I not only enjoy the stories and animation in his favorite films, I also love the messages he’s soaking up when he watches them.
Just thought I’d share… EmilyI guess I AM a Free-Range

77 Responses to Free-Range Pixar!

  1. embrita May 10, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Pixar rules!

  2. Mark May 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    Speaking of “free range positive” shows for very young kids (ie toddlers), we’ve found the PBS Curious George show (streaming on Netflix) to be really fun. For all-purposes “George” is really a toddler in a monkey suit. However, in the show, the man with the yellow hat gives him 100% free mobility to explore the world and trusts George to do “the right thing”.

  3. Lynda M O May 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    I met a Pixar animator up in ski country several years ago–what a fun, friendly, creative individual with a fabulous family.

  4. vlindenmayer May 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    My favourite line from Finding Nemo: “If you want nothing to happen to him, nothing will ever happen to him.”

  5. Sofia's Ideas May 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Wow! I have never looked at those movies through that lens before! But, it seems so obvious now! Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Selby May 10, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    My favorite line from Nemo:
    “Kill the motor, dude…..let us see how Squirt does flying solo…..”

    Followed by this exchange:
    “He says it’s time to let go! Everything’s gonna be OK!”
    “How do you know? How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?!”
    “I don’t!!!”

  7. linvo May 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    I forgot about the free-range turtles in Nemo!

    My daughter watched Nemo for a whole year when she was 3 and I still like it. In fact, I still laugh at some of the lines that I have heard at least 100 times. Though I do remember that at that age she found the scene of Nemo getting separated from his dad almost unbearable at first.

    And Up… Wow, isn’t that old man the classic “predator”? Being a man. And old. And living alone. Though admittedly he doesn’t ask the boy (m)any questions. Dodgy, a man who doesn’t communicate. Classic predator. :p

  8. Lollipoplover May 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Finding Nemo is our favorite. Best line though is the seagulls “MIne, Mine, Mine”. Used it on the kids when they were little and a bit to possessive of their toys, worked every time.

  9. JanieMc May 10, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    What a wonderful post. I’m digging out all my Pizar DVD’s this weekend! Even more reasons to enjoy them!

  10. linvo May 10, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    And of course Marlin becoming so overprotective because of what happened to the mother is a classic scenario too. Though I had to skip that part usually. I am not one to sugar coat the facts of life but 3 was just too young to realise that even mums can die suddenly.

    But Nemo gets my vote for the ultimate free range movie.

  11. Eliza May 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Pixar was not the first to do this. Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island actually went on a ship with very shady characters to look for hidden treasure, and he came back fairly unscathed and a bit wealthier. And what about “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtney, about a boy who befriends adults, especially one old man who teaches the boy about geology (In todays society he would need a police check or be questioned why he would want to pass on all the knowledge he has gained in his long life to the younger generation). I think we can actually think of many more books, tv shows and movies where children are able to explore on thier own and in many occasions outsmart the adults. These types of adventure stories are what children want to read or watch and maybe more adults need to get the hint on what “kids really want’

  12. cheryl May 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    About the concept of children learning about loosing parents – I believe 2 & 3 yo’s is the perfect time to learn this. They won’t necessarily equate it with themselves, he is a fish after all, maybe it’s only fish that loose mom’s suddenly, which was my child’s reasoning. The child will see the info, it will stick with them for a minute and then the movie moves on, so will the message. Just like the myriad of other messages that come through this & other films.
    Let them have the information and see what they do with it – children may just surprise you, I know mine have me.
    A Free Range Mom w/ a Not So Free Range Dad
    and 2 – 17yo’s that have survived the both of us

  13. Linnea May 10, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Wow! I never noticed before, but this is spot on. No wonder these movies are favorites in our household!

  14. Robin May 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Children losing mothers: Snow White, Cinderella; Hansel & Gretel, Bambi, etc. I tell the kids that it’s because nothing bad will happen to a child with a mother there to defend him/her (and therefore the story would not be believable if the mother were there).

  15. Rachel M May 10, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    Yet another reason why Pixar is amazing… I’ve loved them since I saw Toy Story at 15, and now my kids love them too. We also enjoy Dinosaur Train… there was an awesome episode lately in which an over-protective mother dinosaur was portrayed as a bad thing.

  16. linvo May 10, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Apart from in Bambi, which is a terrible movie, you don’t see the mother get killed in other movies for young kids. I didn’t think the scene in Nemo was one my child at that age would have just moved on from quickly and didn’t want it to prevent her from enjoying the rest. And it was really just too scary to her. May still be now at 7 actually. She doesn’t like scary scenes and that is fine.

    There are lots of stories, movies and series featuring free range kids, but few (none?) that deal with the transition from helicopter to free range parent like Nemo does. It’s a movie all parents should watch too! 🙂

  17. Maribel Ibrahim May 10, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Pixar movies continue to be enduring favorites here at our house! In fact, Wall-E is the defacto choice when we are home feeling sicky. Two winters ago, I relished the thought of watching Wall-E every day for almost 2 weeks! There hasn’t been a bad Pixar movie in my estimation, although I did wait a while for my kids to watch UP. I left Toy Story 3 bawling in tears with the sentiment and I thought it was a wonderful way to grapple with changes, whether they are good or bad, in a wholesome way.

    In general, there is a hopefulness that every Pixar movie exudes. Instead of bubble gum positivity and blind faith, the protagonists expand, grow and triumph over realistic, tough situations.

    I even blogged about Wall-E here:

    We love, love, love Pixar!

  18. pentamom May 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    Treasure Island was based on a book written in the 19th century, though. I think the point about Pixar is that it’s 1) contemporary and 2) wildly popular, so it’s a really good medium for a free-range message in our current cultural situation. Nemo and Up are also different fairy tales in that Nemo shows the parent-child relationship developing from protective to free-range, which is different from omitting the parent child relationship entirely, and Up shows a contemporary kind of kid in a semi-realistic setting with a semi-realistic older man, rather than the fairy tale world which does not as effectively transmit the idea. In a world of fairy godmothers and dragons and magic spinning wheels, showing a certain kind of relationship between a man and a boy would not communicate as effectively as showing it in a world where the kid is a cub scout and the man uses a walker and so forth. (Besides, fairy tales are long ago and far away and we all know it’s a different world today. ;-)) Granted the flying house is unrealistic, but it’s not like the functioning of the whole world is a fantasy the way it is in a fairy tale.

    “Bambi, which is a terrible movie,” — yesssssss!!!!!!!!!

  19. Deb May 10, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    One of the other reasons I love Up is that it’s not as child-centric as a lot of other movies. I like kids, am even currently growing my own, but I also have childfree friends and it takes all kinds to make the world. When the couple find out that they’re infertile, it sucks and they’re understandably disappointed but they keep on trucking and making the best of their lives together without kids. It’s an important message to be heard, especially in an age where kids are considered to be so super special and choosing not to have them (or being unable to) is not only a taboo for many.

  20. RKT May 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    We love Pixar in our house! My husband and I consider the first 15 minutes of Up to be one of the best love stories ever put on film (and we thought it was very wonderful of Pixar to take on the issue of infertility). We’re taking our older daughter (4.5) to see Brave this summer, and I’ve basically been counting days since I saw the first trailer.

  21. Jenna May 10, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    @ Eliza (Love your name, btw, my 4-year-old is named Eliza)–I agree with you that there are tons of books and movies like this. In fact, I’ve been reading the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary to my kids and as I’m reading I’m thinking, “In today’s society, that wouldn’t happen.” like when Beezus and Ramona walk to the library by themselves when Beezus is nine and Ramona is four, Beezus just pops into the house, yells at her mom that she’s taking Ramona to the library and that was that. Or when Ramona walks to school alone and gets chased by a dog and she throws her shoe at him and goes to school without one shoe. In today’s world, somebody would have been at fault for her losing her shoe, probably the dog-owner or the parents for letting her walk to school by herself, completely alone, in the first grade. As I’m reading this, I think of all the other books out there, even newer ones, like Harry Potter, for instance, where kids aren’t governed by adults every second of every day and they manage to do pretty well on their own.

  22. Michelle May 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Finding Nemo isn’t just overtly Free-Range, it’s intentionally so. I saw an interview with someone involved in the making a while back (didn’t catch who he was, since I was in the middle of a photography session). He was talking about his own small child, and how he wants to protect him from everything, but can’t, and how it’s important to let kids have experiences. He even said that his hope for Finding Nemo was to encourage parents to loosen the reigns and let kids run free. (It’s been years since I saw this, so I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.)

  23. pentamom May 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Michelle, that’s interesting. Pixar does have a way of needling at the more unthinking cultural assumptions without being overtly political or ideological. Think “If everyone’s special, then no one is.” Or “leisure is the goal we’re all working for” (i.e., Wall-E.)

  24. Brenna May 10, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    I think the Dory quote about how “if nothing ever happens to him, then nothing will ever happen to him” is quite possibly my favorite movie quote, EVER. Sums up free-range parenting, perfectly, at least to me.

  25. pentamom May 10, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    RKT, you’ve probably seen this, but:

  26. Heila May 11, 2012 at 12:32 am #


  27. Lollipoplover May 11, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    Marlin-“It’s a fish we don’t know. If we ask it for directions, it could ingest us and spit out our bones.”
    Dory- “What is it with men asking for directions?”
    Marlin-“I don’t want to play the gender card. You want to play a card, let’s play the Let’s Not Die card.”

  28. Heather G May 11, 2012 at 2:50 am #

    I find that almost all of the children’s shows and movies we come across are pretty free range. Let’s be honest, a show about kids with parents always hovering would be BORING. The great thing about Pixar is that they do it extremely well. Managing to tackle societal assumptions without putting the audience on the defensive is a feat in itself, but to do that AND make it enjoyable for both parents and kids makes them incredible.

  29. Missi May 11, 2012 at 3:38 am #

    Just thinking of this because we watched it last night, but the movie The Cowboys with John Wayne is about as (literally) free-range as we can ask for. All his regular help has gone to chase after gold so he uses a bunch of local kids, ages 10-15, to be his cowhands. They learn a LOT of lessons. I remember thinking, “Wow, I don’t know a single parent today that would let their adolescent son go off for two months like that, knowing what they are facing.”

  30. Taradlion May 11, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    Love, love, love Pixar.

    What about the fact that Sully in Monsters Inc is a big blue monster, who isn’t a “monster” at all (see “How to Spot a Predator”)…

    The grouchy old angel fish, Gil, helps Nemo too…I am sure there are many more examples.

  31. pentamom May 11, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    I’ve always thought that Sully was one of Maurice Sendak’s “Wild Things.” But he’s a soft-hearted, average Joe — a fairly typical John Goodman character. It’s a cute irony.

  32. pentamom May 11, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    Missi, the Little Britches series is like that, and it’s a true story. Eleven-year-old boy’s father dies soon after buying a broken-down ranch, and the family has to survive. Eleven year old boy spends his first summer as a cowherd for the neighbors with no previous experience; the second summer, he goes and lives on a ranch with the cowboys for the entire summer and learns to rope and tame unbroken horses. His mother seemed to have doubts about the moral and social influence of the cowboys, but I don’t recall that she expressed any fears about his safety in the situation.

  33. mighthavejoy May 11, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I’ve thought for a while now that it would be fun to create a free-range movie and book list. It would include stories in which kids are capable and independent as a normal part of life (e.g. Ramona, Little House, Box Car Children) or in which the experience of parents letting go and allowing their children to learn, grow, meet a challenge, and/or be successful is a major theme (e.g., Nemo).

    I think such stories can be a positive influence in kids and parents as they see successfully free-range role models and gauge what normal kids are capable of.

  34. Kate C May 11, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    Could I suggest the Little House on the Prairie books for that list? Also Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming (though the initial desertion by the mother is pretty confronting, the four kids manage to survive a cross-country trek and end up finding sanctuary). They do find themselves in danger, but they do survive. Terrific book.

  35. Maureen (@moeyknight) May 11, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Just keep swimming,
    Just keep swimming,
    Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!

  36. Jespren May 11, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Might I (strongly) suggest all the free-range minded find and read the book “Sign of the Beaver”. It’s written to about the 9-13 year old age group so it will be a quick read but, oh boy, what a good one! It’s historical fiction, historically accurate but not a true story. Really wake you up to what ‘free-range’ *used* to mean and to what children (admittedly the boy in the story is a bit older) are capable of.

    (Oh, and The Cowboys is an awesome movie!)

  37. Jenn May 11, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    My husband grew up reading the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton (I read them as a kid but since they weren’t readily available at my local library, I only read the few that they had). He’s been reading them to our kids for a few years now and they keep asking when they can have an adventure where they can capture robbers and find a pirate’s treasure. They’ve recruited a few of their neighbourhood friends but unfortunately for them, no robbers nor pirates have turned up! I know that a German version of the books came out as a movie this year and we really hope that it is released in North America (or an English version).

  38. CrazyCatLady May 11, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Old Yeller. Nancy Drew (that girl was allowed to do everything!) Julie of the Wolves. Pippi Longstockings.

    Oh, and relating to old men and children, Heidi. Nothing bad happens to her. Grandpa takes care of her. Great story.

    Going against the grain of safety for older kids and young adults, Kon Tiki. Real life story of taking a balsa raft across the Pacific in the the 1950’s. Everyone thought they would drown, they made it fine. Only lost the parrot.

  39. CrazyCatLady May 11, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    “Linnea in Monet’s Garden.” I think she goes with a neighbor, out of the country, to visit Monet’s garden.

  40. linvo May 11, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Frankly, I don’t know many if any movies or kids’ series that show helicopter parenting? Even in recent movies kids are always having adventures on their own.

  41. Hal 10000 (@Hal_RTFLC) May 11, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    I really noticed this as I’ve been introducing my daughter to Pixar movies. There’s a great moment in Finding Nemo when Crush (the turtle) is training his son, Squirt. Squirt falls out of the jet stream and Marlin panics. Crush tells him to wait, see how Squirt does. And his son does fine.

    You’ll also see this in the films of Miyazaki and, really, a lot of Disney films in general.

    Pixar is very subversive in a lot of ways. When you crack open their movies, you see a lot of pointed barbs at the more ridiculous aspects of our culture.

  42. Cynthia May 11, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    I like Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away by Elizabeth Enright. Kids out on their own, and befriending old people.

  43. backroadsem May 11, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    More recently I thought of “Tangled” as having free-range ideas. Rapunzel spends her life fearing “ruffians and thugs” only to find them to be quite pleasant people.

    As for Pixar, Nemo and the Incredibles are such classic examples.

  44. Jennifer May 11, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    There’s a GREAT series of books called “The Magic Treehouse” in which a brother and sister go (alone) on dozens of adventures across time and geography and meet all sorts of historical characters. We’re about 16 books in, and my 5yr old loves it.

  45. backroadsem May 11, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    I don’t think I have ever read a really good children’s book or seen a really good children’s movie where Child was surrounded by protective parents 100% of the time.

  46. CrazyCatLady May 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    My Neighbor Totoro is a great movie for little kids. No bad guys (which Pixar does pretty well) and kids who at young age have adventures on their own, including getting to see their mom who is in the hospital. And Totoro is soooo cute!

  47. linvo May 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    I must say that one thing that does sometimes bother me about the old books is that – even though the children get way more freedom than most kids these days – they often lie to their parents or carers about what they are doing. The Cat in the Hat is a classic example. I really struggled heaps with the kids lying to their mother about their day presumably because they thought they would get in trouble, even though what had happened was totally beyond their control. I had lots of conversations about this with my young daughter.

    And the kids in the Wishing Chair sneaking out at night to go of on adventures and then lying to their parents in the morning: not good!

    The overt sexism in those books does give me chuckles sometimes and I’ve had lots of interesting conversations about that with my daughter too.

  48. Katrin Geisler May 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Of course films/books for children are freerange, or could you tell an an exciting story about a bubble wrap kid, who is allowed to do nothing on his/her own?

  49. Lola May 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Yeah! I remember seeing the light with the turtle scene in Nemo (my eldest was not yet 2 then). You know, when he says something like “you can’t know when they (the kids) are ready. But when they know, you know”. That has been my motto ever since.

  50. Selby May 11, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    “The Cat in the Hat is a classic example. I really struggled heaps with the kids lying to their mother about their day presumably because they thought they would get in trouble, even though what had happened was totally beyond their control”

    Honey, I don’t think even Dr. Seuss dug that deep into the story….

  51. backroadsem May 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    So I wound up watching Nemo last night after reading this entry. What I find interesting is that the “worst-case scenario” DOES in fact happen, and instead of everyone being traumatized by it, all parties learn and grown.

  52. linvo May 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    @Selby, well maybe he ought to have before he made the last sentence of his book “What would you do, if your mother asked you?” and encourage them to lie. I don’t usually over-analyse books or movies but it is exactly the opposite of what parents should be teaching their kids to proof them against abuse so I think it definitely deserves an explanation. As in basic “If anyone ever makes you do something against your will, I would never, ever get angry with you if you tell me” stuff.

  53. EricS May 11, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    I’m glad the writers of Pixar have not succumbed to the paranoia. They are smart to include lessons and inspirations to EVERYONE watching the movies. As for the old books, like Cat In The Hat, many of them don’t seem to be entirely “appropriate” for children, with dark images, misadventures, dangers even, and yes fibbing. But I don’t believe that was the intent. As with all those old books, when read to us, there was always that bit at the end…”and the moral to this story…” That is when we teach our children what happened, why it happend, how it happened, and how to deal and learn from those things. Just like the media, we all read and watch the same thigns, but we don’t all see them the same way. There is a positive to every negative. People just have to learn to see it, and use it. And it starts with common sense.

  54. pentamom May 11, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    linvo — asking the question isn’t encouraging them to lie. It’s asking the question. He may in fact have put that in there as an opportunity for the kids to think about it whether it applies to real life, rather than swallow the events of the story as a good guide to real life.

    If your kids can be led into lying by a story about a magical cat that brings in Thing 1 and Thing 2 to wreck everything, and then fixes everything with a magical cleanup machine, I’d suggest they need a little more work on learning not to lie in real life. But more likely, they can’t be so easily led into lying, because they realize the difference between the absurd world of The Cat in the Hat where nothing works the way it works in real life (including it being funny to trick your mom), and real life, where you need to own up to your misbehavior.

  55. Library Momma May 12, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    Perhaps its the librarian in me, but I like to look at this phenomenon as it appears in literature. Literature throughout the ages (including books written today) promotes many instances of independent characters. The series “Half Magic” by Edward Eager is a wonderful series with kids whose parents barely appear in any of the books. Also, the Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, is a great series. And in the often-forgotten Mushroom Planet series, the adults barely blink when their children build their own rocket and then fly it to an undiscovered planet. Even the more recent MagicTreehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne offers two very independent children who go on time travel adventures. Often times, the children possess more insight and common sense than the adults. Going back to the early 20th century, E. Nesbit’s books offer these types of characters too. So, it’s not a new or uncommon theme but one we forget about in today’s hyper-vigilant parenting age.

  56. mighthavejoy May 12, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    “Frankly, I don’t know many if any movies or kids’ series that show helicopter parenting? Even in recent movies kids are always having adventures on their own.”

    Last summer, my son was reading through the book list for the Oregon Battle of the Books. My least favorite book on the list was “Earthquake Terror” by Peg Kehret. Two children, a 12-year-old boy and his 6-year-old physically disabled sister are separated from their parents when an earthquake hits their campground. Besides getting basic earthquake facts completely wrong (redwood trees do NOT fall down in earthquakes), the boy treats her sister like she is completely unable to function. I guess the point is that his concern for her trumps his own fear, but come on! Six-year-olds, even six-year-olds who have trouble walking, are pretty smart and resilient. But rather she is seen as more helpless and fragile than two-year-old Boots in the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, which we had read together not long before.

    (I do see some helicopterness creeping into some of the picture books at the library, but I try to avoid those.)

  57. linvo May 12, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Look, if I’m reading my child a book, I am conscious of the content and the underlying messages and I won’t let an opportunity go by to turn it into a teachable moment. All I was saying was that books reflect the culture of their time in varying degrees. When Seuss wrote The Cat it was perfectly normal for kids to be left at home all day (with a list of chores often!) and there was no hysteria about sexual predators lurking on every street corner. But let’s be fair, it wasn’t a fairy tale world either back then. Child abuse did happen – probaby at the same rate as now – but probably more often went unnoticed. We are lucky in that we now live in a time when it is possible to talk about the best ways to protect our kids and here we all know that the most important thing is to ensure that your kids will come to you when something untoward has happened or is about to happen, even if a (potential) abuser puts them under pressure to lie.

    I don’t expect children’s authors to consider every sentence they write to make sure it has educational value or is 100% PC or anything like that. But I hope most of them now are aware of the importance of teaching kids protective behaviours and would not consciously write anything that goes directly against that.

  58. gap.runner May 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Some great free range literature includes:
    * Tom Sawyer
    * Huckleberry Finn. Would people today automatically think that Jim is a pedophile because he’s alone with Huck?
    * Escape from Warsaw (now called The Silver Sword). Three siblings, one only 3 years old, make their way from Poland to Switzerland during World War 2.
    * The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. The Hardy Brothers and Nancy are older teens, but they still solved crimes with a minimum of adult intervention.

  59. Robin May 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    “A book is a mirror” said J. Michael Straczynski (TV writer, Babylon 5). Why would “What would you do, if it happened to you?” be seen as encouragement to lie? I think it would be a wonderful jumping point for a discussion of lying. Why would you be tempted? When would it be a bad idea? Would it ever be a good idea? (Does “lie” really differ from “be tactful”?)

    So Seuss presents a situation where “I’ll get caught and get in trouble” probably doesn’t exist, because everything is put back. That would be the simplest “Why you shouldn’t lie to your parents” answer, and certainly worthwhile to a small child. But that does set up for hypothetical future trouble. Perhaps this is also an example of “Free Range” to challenge your children mentally and morally, and let them grow.

  60. pentamom May 13, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    linvo, I’m still not quite grasping what negative thing you think it could teach your child. That if a six foot tall talking cat in a weird hat comes to your door, it’s okay to let him in? Somehow I’m just not that worried about them picking up that message, nor do I think it undermines the message that if an *actual human being you don’t know* comes to your door in real life, you shouldn’t let him in. If you’re already teaching them the right things, there is no way an impossible fantastic situation is going to communicate the wrong things. If children didn’t understand that The Cat in the Hat was pure absurdity, they wouldn’t think it was funny in the first place.

    But maybe there really are kids growing up in fear of leaving someone off the guest list lest their child be cursed to death at age 16. I guess it could happen.

  61. bmommyx2 May 13, 2012 at 4:47 am #

    Love this & those movies

  62. linvo May 13, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    The Cat in the Hat comes in, makes a huge mess, cleans it up eventually and leaves before mum comes home. Mum asks kids what they have been up to and they say they’ve just been playing. That just quite easily translates into ‘Child gets inappropriately touched by an adult who says they will get in trouble if they tell their parents. Mum asks what they’ve been up to and they say they’ve just been playing.”

    This IS just my interpretation of that line. But I found it warranted a long talk to my daughter about how she would never get into trouble for something that someone else did and she had no control over.

    It really isn’t worth having such a long discussion over. I did not avoid the book because I thought it ended with an inappropriate message. I used it as an opportunity to talk to my child about an important and difficult issue.

    So I don’t get why some of you find it necessary to try convince me my interpretation is wrong? I don’t really care. I dealt with it the way I saw fit and am very glad that there was a trigger to have that conversation with my child at an early age.

    It’s not very different to us having conversations about female emancipation based on the sexism in Enid Blyton’s books.

  63. pentamom May 13, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    linvo, I do see what you’re saying. It’s just that I’ve never bought the idea that children judge reality by the standards of things they read in obvious fantasy, even though it’s a commonly held belief. I honestly don’t believe a child who’s been properly instructed about how to deal with real life stuff is suddenly going to forget that because they read a totally unrealistic story in which nothing else has any application to real life because it is all totally incredible. But a lot of people don’t agree with me on that point.

  64. Freedom for kids May 13, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but I’d like to add my suggestion of a wonderful free-range story that I dearly loved as a child: My Side Of The Mountain, by Jean Craighead George (I hope I have her name right). Read it! You will love it!

  65. Jenn May 13, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Pentamom- to you it may be obviously fantasy but to a child who is still trying to figure out how the world works, it’s not so obvious. Why do you think children think there are monsters under their beds or have imaginary friends? They have a fantastical imagination which makes it difficult for them to differentiate between reality and imagination. Maybe your children are geniuses but we’re talking about a being that didn’t even recognize it’s own hands not so long ago!

  66. RObin May 14, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    I read Struwelpeter, and didn’t believe my father’s threats to let me starve if I didn’t eat vegetables. If a child can make that distinction, “The Cat in the Hat” is no problem.

  67. AW13 May 14, 2012 at 7:08 am #

    @Freedom for Kids – You do have her name right.

    As I’ve read the Cat in the Hat, its always seemed to me that the cat (and thing 1 and thing 2) are figments of the kids’ imagination – its about the unchecked expression of their ids during imaginative play, and when their ids get out of hand, their egos step in to put everything back in check. Anyway, feel free to accuse me of putting waaaay too much thought into that – my friends irl already have, haha! 🙂

  68. pentamom May 14, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Jenn, it has nothing to do with anyone being “geniuses.” But I’ll leave it at that.

  69. pentamom May 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    AW13 — I hope this doesn’t come across as snarky, but anything based in Freudian ideas is as fantastic as The Cat in the Hat. I mean, Freud just made everything up in the first place — he wasn’t exactly doing anything evidence-based. In my mind, using Freudian concepts to explain anything is kind of like asking, “How would Jack Sparrow understand this situation?” 😉

  70. Jenn May 15, 2012 at 4:59 am #

    Pentamom- Freud didn’t make up everything. Read “How Shakespeare Changed Everything” and you’ll see just one influence of Freud’s thinking. He’s not the only doctor to base theories on Shakespeare. Mary Pipher’s “Reviving Ophelia” is an example that comes to mind. And before you say that Shakespeare wrote fiction so how can psychoanalytical theories be based on that, keep in mind that Shakespeare based his writings on real life, (again read “How Shakespeare Changed Everything”).

    AW13- I’ve read the same about Cat in the Hat. Many of Dr.Seuss’ books are based on his readings of Freud. Seuss struggled with his own mental illness so it was a topic that he explored in many texts (his texts can all be read on a different level that explore many of the issues of his day). I thought you might like this:,r:0,s:0,i:69&tx=104&ty=26

  71. H. Wingfield May 15, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    More “Free-Range Friendly” films are “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Ponyo” by Hayao Miyazaki!

  72. AW13 May 17, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    @Jenn: Thanks for the link! I enjoyed that 🙂

  73. Jen May 22, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    I introduced my daughter to “Finding Nemo” when she was about 2 1/2. My husband was out of town for business. When the boat drove away with Nemo and Marlin was chasing behind it, my little girl started screaming “Daddy!” at the top of her lungs. Since I wasn’t able to produce her daddy to show her that it was just a movie, it was rather traumatic. 🙁 Oops.

    In general I agree about the Pixar movies, though. I think they have very healthy messages, and I’m sure it’s on purpose.

  74. Carmelite July 30, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    “My side of the Mountain” was my favorite book for years growing up. It’s about a boy who runs away from home to live alone in the woods. He’s not abused or anything, and loves his family, but he just really loves nature and wants to put his survival skills to use. A child after my own heart. The book has neat diagrams of the traps he made to catch rabbits, etc.


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