Posts Tagged ‘dad’

Everything Old Is New Again: Toy Story 3 Recycles Pop Culture

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

To celebrate Fathers Day this past Sunday, I took my three kids out to see Toy Story 3 on its opening weekend. Oddly enough, the film was creepily devoid of fathers or adult men of any sort. Which isn’t a major issue, since the stars were, of course, the toys.

I’ve been a Pixar fan since the first Toy Story movie, which I bought at full price when it came out on VHS. Unlike most Disney movies (Pixar wasn’t acquired by Disney until 2006) I’ve always found Pixar films to be entertaining for adults as well as children, with original stories that didn’t tarnish my memories of the source material (I’m not a big fan of what Disney did with Pooh, for example).

Probably the most entertaining part of the Toy Story franchise, from this adult’s perspective, has been seeing old friends from my youth reappear as (and played by) character actors. The little green soldiers (with their comical hop/walk because of the plastic base their feet are stuck to), the Slinky dog, the Mr. Microphone, the ubiquitous Barrel O’ Monkeys. And of course Mr. Potato Head, whose scene stealing is due as much to the comic possibilities of a character with interchangeable face parts and and a rear trap door as to Don Rickles’ deadpan delivery.

I have to say that Toy Story 3 was a bit less thrilling for me on this count. Maybe Disney didn’t want to pay a lot more in royalties, or maybe they’d already mined the most popular toys of the 60s and 70s, or maybe those of us who remember toys of that era are just too darned old to be taking their kids to the movies anymore. So while Ned Beatty’s ersatz Care Bear made for a great villain-disguised-as-a-kindly-old-man (a role very similar to that of the Prospector in TS2), I got more of a thrill from bit parts like the Fisher Price Chatter Telephone, and of course the cymbal-clapping monkey.

I did enjoy the way Pixar handled Ken. I felt Barbie, who didn’t appear until TS2 (I imagine Mattel execs were kicking themselves after seeing other toy sales jump following the original movie), was presented fairly respectfully… chirpy but not dumb, outgoing and helpful if a bit materialistic. Similarly, Ken (perfect painted hair and all) is a dandy who loves his clothes and his dream house but nevertheless has the hots for his soul mate Barbie, whose love turns him from the dark side. I guess I liked that they didn’t go for the cheap “Ken is so gay” laughs but instead imbued his character with some swishy nuance.

And while it was a very slender non-speaking role indeed, I was thrilled to see a stuffed Totoro, clearly an homage to the great Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, some of whose films have been distributed in the states by Disney (my favorite being Kiki’s Delivery Service).

While there may not have been a lot of new old toys on display, there was still plenty for the boomer and space age generations to enjoy. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the packed theater to laugh at the homages to old prison-break movies like Cool Hand Luke, with Buzz playing Boss Carr, and “the box” being the sand box (“I’m pretty sure those weren’t Lincoln Logs…”). I had to explain to my kids later on what that was about; they finally understood when I told them that Cool Hand Luke was the movie with the oft-parodied line “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

And I suspect anyone past the age of eight who’s ever had to part with a beloved toy that would never be played with again would be moved by the way the story ends.

About the only thing that didn’t work for me was the 3D. Oh, it didn’t hurt my eyes or give me a headache (I made sure to follow some advice I’d read to avoid trying to look at the out-of-focus parts of the image). But it also didn’t add anything to the story; midway through I’d actually forgotten I was watching a 3D movie. I doubt I’ll spring for the extra bucks again.

cross-posted at I Fry Mine In Butter

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

You know we’ll have a good time then

March 12, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes in my current pre-divorced state I find myself kicking the tires on single parenting: going it alone on shopping, meal preparation, laundry, getting kids out the door in the morning, checking on homework and all the other things that don’t sound nearly as important as going to the office and pushing out a report on the US Immigration Courts but nevertheless become my primary focus when my soon-to-be-former partner is out of town.

While on daddy-duty I tend to focus on the tasks at hand, and frequently feel too harried and put-upon to listen to a synopsis of the latest book in the Warriors series or a preview of the features expected in Portal 2. At times like this I wonder if I’m sounding a little too much like the dad in the Harry Chapin song who never had time for his kid.

But once in a while I manage to step out of what I’m doing and really pay attention. And then I wonder what life is going to be like when seeing them get up in the morning and go to bed at night is the exception and not the routine. Sometimes I admit I’m impatient for the day when I’m on a predictable schedule of responsibility. But there are some moments when the enormity of the coming change smacks me in the face and I get maudlin for the kind of idyllic suburban family life that I occasionally glimpsed but never really had.

This morning I had one of those pauses. The two younger boys had just gotten on their bus, which was mercifully only ten minutes late. It’s been as much as a half hour late, and when that happens I have to choose between leaving the kids sitting outside so I can get to my bus, or waiting and giving up on getting to work at anything close to my normal time.

So they got on their bus and I had twenty minutes for the thirteen minute walk to the bus stop. I like this time because it gets me exercise as well as time to think or even, if it’s not too snowy or rainy, do some reading (yes, I read while walking). I also get to watch the parade of yellow buses go by: besides the three public schools in the vicinity, there’s a private school just down the street, and I’m always amazed to see all the far-flung school districts represented by these students.

One of those buses turned out to be the very one my kids boarded a few minutes earlier. I looked up to see my eleven year old flashing a toothy, goofy grin while he waved at me. The bus stopped at a light and I caught up with it, creating another waving opportunity. It passed me again, only to stop at the intersection to make a left turn. As I walked by a final time, I turned and caught one more wave from my youngest and that’s when it hit me that I’d probably have a lot fewer of these wonderful silly interludes. Of course I’m already having fewer as the kids get older. Even if I weren’t moving out, I’ve always made it clear that I expected them to.

But what I’m realizing in these countdown days is that while I shouldn’t idealize my parenting experiences — there have been plenty of frustrations all around — I nevertheless want to cherish my kids and the good times we have while I’m still part of their daily lives. Whether it’s cooking something like broccoli quiche that they like so much they’re too busy stuffing their faces to tell me so, or trying to appreciate the various kinds of music they create or consume, or watching with satisfaction as they make friends and little by little go about the task of replacing their parents as their principle avenues of companionship and support. Basically trying to Be Here Now. And of course, avoiding those “Cats in the Cradle” moments.

Categories: Essays Tags: , , ,

On Pancakes and Fatherhood

February 13, 2010 2 comments

Dad at the grill, circa 1971*

I was 24 years old when my father died on Valentine’s Day in 1982. He was 56, only five years older than I am now. I think that’s when I first started to consider myself a grownup — I’m still considering it, but over the years I’ve come to accept some of the trappings of adulthood. Like driving, which I only learned after my father’s death — mildly unexpected for the son of an auto mechanic. I decided I needed my license after figuring out I wasn’t likely to make any more progress toward a PhD and so needed one of those job thingies, which were generally not located within walking or bicycling distance of my off-campus apartment. I inherited his living-room-sized pale blue ’77 Chevy Impala, and promptly dented all four corners of his last baby the week I took ownership.

I’m also disinclined toward household repair projects — though I have, with great effort, fixed a bathroom subfloor and installed flooring that’s nearly even if you don’t look too closely. On the plus side, I don’t eat red meat nor do I smoke two packs a day of unfiltered Camels — or any quantity of any cigarette for that matter — so the chances are good that I’ll live a bit longer than he did.

But one place where I think I compare favorably with my paragon of adult masculinity is in the kitchen. My dad liked to cook. Once he recovered from his first major heart attack at 49, he started to take over the grocery shopping and dinner preparation which had previously been my mom’s job. But even while he was working and all the kids still lived at home, there were two meal-related tasks that were his purview exclusively: barbecue and pancakes.

I may not be much for grilling dead animals, but I do a pretty good job with breakfast, and so was thinking about my dad this morning while preparing the breakfast that was the final event of my middle son’s fourteenth birthday party sleepover. After making some fresh strong coffee to get myself motivated, I put together my weekend special which I call “IHOP at home” — orange juice, pancakes, hash browns, eggs, bacon. I made veggie bacon for me and my youngest son — who is a stricter vegetarian than I am — but also regular pork bacon because I’m that kind of good dad. Besides, nothing associated with fatherhood disgusts me anymore since getting through the bottom-wiping stage.

Sure, I cut a few corners. I used frozen hash brown patties, partly to save effort but mostly because I have never made hash browns that didn’t end up a soggy oily mess. And I used a pancake mix — my favorite, New Hope Mills Buckwheat — but then I’m really honoring my dad in this respect, since he always used a mix. Granted his mix of choice was Bisquick, which I don’t ever recall being used for anything but pancakes — but I’m sure he would have loved these too.

Thinking about Dad’s meticulous attention to detail — getting all the lumps out of the batter, precisely adjusting the temperature under the griddle, making sure the pancakes turned out perfectly round and lightly brown — I recognize the source of my own OCD. Which was probably as helpful in his career as it is in mine, though probably also making neither of us the kind of guy you’d want to share a kitchen with.

I don’t know if he did much cooking before he got married, but at about the same age as he was when he got busy in the kitchen — though for very different reasons — I find myself taking pleasure in fixing my favorites again. I make a mean cheddar and broccoli quiche that my kids as well as my partner consume with enthusiasm, and which only needs a salad or some raw carrots to be called a meal. I can nail an eggplant parmigiana with varying degrees of difficulty — everywhere from slicing and breading and frying the eggplant to buying it pre-sliced, pre-breaded and frozen — and am nearly always happy with the results. I’ve devoted an entire post to my banana bread, and I think maybe writing about cooking is how I share my pleasure with those of you I may never even meet. Dad may not have been much for writing, but he sure did love to feed his friends and family.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad.

*My dad graciously posed in the chef’s outfit which, including the bellows, was a gag gift someone gave him on his birthday. This was in the Catskills where we spent summers while I was growing up. He rarely smiled as much as he did when he was there. On the drive up, once we got off the highway, he’d roll down the windows and exclaim “Smell! Smell!” It sure did smell a lot better than Brooklyn back in the day when most apartment buildings burned trash in residential incinerators.