Becoming a father changed me. Some changes were incremental and small. Others were instantaneous and big. I’ve been a father for 20+ years and I continue to notice changes as my role evolves. My boys are 20, 18, and 13. Writing those ages sort of blows my mind. I find it very hard to believe I’ve been a dad for that long and that my boys are mostly grown.
One area I never believed I would change would be in the movies I watch and enjoy. I have always prided myself on my ability to stay true to my opinions when it comes to movies. (Or any artform for that matter.) I’ve been around married couples who are pretty much in lockstep regarding every movie. If one of them loves a movie, they both love that movie. If one of them hates it, they both hate it. I find that sort of thing annoying and illogical. Couples are allowed to have differing tastes and likes. And it’s okay to have different interests.
With that said, there have been a few times that my opinion on certain movies has changed due to how my boys responded to them. In some cases, I have grown to appreciate a film I once thought was fairly average. In other cases, I’ve come to absolutely love a film that I previously enjoyed. Enough preamble. Let’s get to the list!
Captain America: The First Avenger
The first time I watched Captain America: The First Avenger, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t hate the movie but it didn’t really move the needle for me. It lacked the style and swagger of either Iron Man film that pre-dated it. It didn’t have the heart or the sense of awe and wonder of the first Thor film. And while it was better than The Incredible Hulk, that just didn’t feel good enough to me.
All that changed when my boys finally watched it. Seeing the film through their eyes, I found so much more to appreciate. For one, Steve Rogers quickly became one of my favorite heroes in modern cinema. He was brave, humble, and self-sacrificing. All qualities I want to see in myself and in my boys. What had previously felt too vanilla and colorless, soon felt grounded, solid, and trustworthy.
While I wouldn’t rank the first Captain America movie near the top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I enjoy it more every time I watch it and I have my boys to thank for that.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Hi. My name is Phill Lytle and I like Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I know. I probably should be embarrassed, but I’m not. I will admit that I probably wouldn’t enjoy this movie to this degree if my oldest son didn’t love it as much as he does. He discovered it a few years ago – late in his high school life – and introduced it to the rest of the family. The movie is dumb but it’s the right kind of dumb. Plus, it’s pretty quotable, which is always a big win for a comedy.
Paul Blart won’t win any awards but that’s just fine by us. We laugh when we watch it and that’s about all you can ask from a comedy starring Kevin James.
P.S. In case you are wondering, my oldest son has a pretty eclectic taste when it comes to movies. He loves Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, anything Christopher Nolan touches, and plenty of other stuff. Don’t judge him too harshly for his love of Mr. Blart.
My boys are all unique, each gifted in different ways and each with their own particular interests and loves. My youngest is an oddball in the best sort of way. Since he was young, he has always enjoyed movies that are a bit off-the-wall. He has never gravitated towards the most popular things, no matter what his friends or classmates think.
Rango is the perfect example of this. Ostensibly, Rango is an animated family film featuring the vocal talents of Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina, Isla Fisher, and many more. In reality, it is a weird mixture of comedy and western with ruminations about life, identity, and true heroism. The humor ranges from dark comedy to slapstick. The protagonist, Rango, is a ridiculous chameleon who believes he is an actor who then gets caught up in a dangerous world of outlaws and the wild west.
My son loves every second of it. I had only seen bits and pieces of it, but my youngest raved about it and was constantly asking to watch it with me, so I sat down one day to experience Rango with him. I loved every second as well. Listening to him giggle and quote various lines or watching him strut around the room trying to walk like Rango made me love the movie even more.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
My middle son loves military movies. My oldest son is a big John Krasinski fan. So, after a few months of them asking to watch this, I finally relented. I had seen it before and enjoyed it; this wasn’t a I-hated-it-then-loved-it experience. But after watching it with them and seeing how strongly they responded to it, I came away with a newfound love for the film.
If you are unfamiliar with the movie, 13 Hours is based on the true story of the raid of the consulate in Benghazi and the brave military contractors who risked their lives to protect American diplomats. It’s intense, violent, and hard to watch at times. It does a great job of showing audiences how dangerous the world can be and the sacrifices brave soldiers have to make to keep us safe.
(A word of caution to parents: This is not a children’s movie. Not in the least. My two oldest boys were in their late teens when I watched this with them. It’s an R rated military movie. It is not a “family” movie.)
How to Train Your Dragon
This is the movie that inspired this article. I had seen How to Train Your Dragon when it first came out in 2010. I thought it was okay. Nothing special. I enjoyed the music a good bit but that was about it. The humor fell flat for me, and the story felt a little too predictable.
Sometime later, the film became available on home video, and I watched it with my two oldest boys. My middle son’s reaction to this movie completely changed my view of it. He would ask to watch it constantly and when he would watch it, he would sit a few feet away from the TV and just stare transfixed. My jaded criticisms of this children’s movie felt empty and pointless when I looked at his face full of wonder and joy as he watched Hiccup and Toothless bond and then go for their first flight together. I mean, how could you not love it when you looked into these eyes?
What’s the point?
That’s a lot of words about five pretty random movies. I do have a broader point, though. My wife and I have tried to steer our children towards movies that hold deeper meaning. Not just mindless entertainment that is here one day and gone the next. In many ways, each of these films reflect that ethos as well as the distinct and unique personalities of each of our boys. Yes, even Paul Blart reflects something deeper than dumb jokes.
Each of these films are populated by characters who make difficult and selfless decisions. Sacrifice is involved. Captain America gives his life to save millions. Paul Blart risks his own life and safety to protect the people he loves. Rango is radically transformed from a coward who is only concerned about himself to a brave, courageous, and self-sacrificing hero. The soldiers in 13 Hours risk life and limb to protect people even when they are abandoned by the very people who should be helping them. And Hiccup risks everything to protect his new friends and show his people that there is a better path forward for everyone.
These sorts of stories are built into our DNA. We were created to see glimmers of this thread of redemption woven into stories, movies, songs, and all other acts of creativity. It’s no accident these kinds of stories impact us as powerfully as they do. Sometimes, we just need to see them through the eyes of children to fully appreciate the redemption narrative that is playing out right in front of us.