Favorite movies of our past reflect the culture of our youth, find value, lessons

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Somewhere in our basement, there is a box of VHS tapes. Relics from the days when our kids loved “The Aristocats,” “Toy Story,” “Spot” and “Barney.” Their sticky little hands could pop those clunky tapes into the TV/VCR combo without needing Mom’s help.

If we let them, they’d watch one after the other—“Pocahontas,” “The Great Mouse Detective,” “Sesame Street Sing-a-long,” and “Babe”—leaving the tapes lying about unwound and out of their crunched video jackets. But we limited the kids’ TV time, only allowing movie marathons when they were sick.

Even so, it was alarming how much the kids memorized. Anna could perform a perfectly accurate but off-key version of “A Whole New World,” and Lilly spoke flawless Swahili when belting out “Hakuna Matata.” And our oldest, Hayden, who was diagnosed with autism, could repeat entire 30 minute Arthur scripts even though he had a severe language delay.

These movies had even seeped into our adult psyches, at times rendering us babbling fools instead of responsible parents. We would catch ourselves singing “… Barney can be your friend too if you just make believe him!” in the shower, or mumbling “Dora, Dora, Dora the explorer …” while waiting in the car pool line.

By the time Hayden reached fifth grade, the VHS tapes had been watched dozens and dozens of times. The words and tunes were forever burned into our brains, and our VCR was nearly burned out.

It was time for us to move on.

We decided to introduce our kids to real movies. Movies with real people and real stories that would teach them real life lessons.

One rainy afternoon, we found all the 80s classics from our childhood in a discount DVD bin at the mall. “Karate Kid,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Footloose,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “The Breakfast Club.”

At home, we lined the kids up on the couch: Hayden, 12, who was frankly still happy watching Jimmy Neutron; Anna, who was ten going on 25; and Lilly who at eight, was still too distracted by her Polly Pockets to care.

As if we were passing down the ancient wisdom of their elders, we explained why the 80s movies they were about to see weren’t just entertainment, they were a visual manifesto for teen angst and adolescent rebellion.

Without computers and internet access, we were trapped in the bubble of our high schools and hometowns. Music, television and movies were our only escape. Seeing our frustrations and dreams played out by actors like Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald, and Ralph Macchio was liberating and connected us to teenagers across our nation, and the world …

“I’m hungry!” Hayden whined.

“I wanna watch the one with the cute boy on the front,” Anna demanded.

We were losing them, so we quickly loaded “The Breakfast Club” into the DVD player.

Having not seen the film in a while, we forgot some minor details. We certainly remembered the inspiring story of five stereotypical high school students who entered detention with nothing in common, and left eight hours later with a new understanding of themselves and each other.

But we completely forgot about those same kids smoking pot together, cussing, making out in the janitor’s closet, and admitting to drinking alcohol, compulsive lying, and nymphomania. Oh, and the “R” rating.


Thankfully, Hayden had fallen asleep and Lilly was on the floor with her dolls. Only Anna had watched the whole movie, and she had her head buried deep in the couch cushions.

After prying Anna from the couch and drying her tears, we learned that, despite her insistence that she was “not a little girl anymore,” her innocent brain was not ready for teenage reality.

We went back to our tattered VHS tapes for the next few years, repeating the same lines and humming the tunes we knew so well. Anna eventually gave “The Breakfast Club” another try. And now as a senior in high school it is, ironically, her all-time favorite flick.

Whether a movie wins an Oscar or ends up in the bargain bin at the mall, it’s our life experiences that connect us to the characters and allow us to appreciate their stories. There’s no need to go to the box office, because
the “Best Picture” may just be in a box in the basement. n