This weekend I took my kids to see Big Hero 6. A few minutes into the movie an important character appeared and my daughter inevitably asked, “Dad, is that a good guy or a bad guy?” Normally after a question like this I spoon feed the answer saying something like, “Yes, that’s Darth Vader. And he’s a bad guy. See the way he force choked that lady? That’s not nice is it?” I need to stop doing this for a couple of reasons.
1) I don’t want to teach my kids to talk during the movies. Nobody likes that person. If you’re reading this right now you know who you are.
2) I’m missing an important moment to parent my kids.
Now when my kids ask me if that’s the good guy or the bad guy I answer, “You will know by the choices they make.” This may sound like some cryptic Mr. Shifu answer, but it’s still the right thing to say.
There are lots or parenting schools of thought that center on the idea of teaching our kids to make better choices. We want our kids to make the good choice to clean their room, do their homework, don’t hit your sister, be kind to others on the playground, and so on. We monologue the reasons they need to be better people, but our kids usually check out before we finish our speech.
Then there are movies, those things we feel guilty about showing but our children can’t get enough of them. If you’re showing your kids well-written movies the hero is making choices all of the time. Have conversations about that. What are those choices? Does that mean he’s a good guy or a bad guy? Don’t judge characters by the way they dress or look or where they come from.
Look at their choices.
A rat can be a hero and prince can be a villain. Stories teach that just because a person looks like us that doesn’t mean they are nice, and just because a person looks different that doesn’t mean they should be feared.
We live in a weird time where the anti-hero is everywhere. For the last 15 years we’ve spent our Sunday nights with Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, Dexter, and the entire cast of Games Of Thrones. None of these people are classic heroes and as adults we (somewhat) understand this, but what’s amazing is the anti-hero has crept into our children’s films as well.
Wreck It Ralph is a bad guy but in the theme stated line of the movie Zangief explains, “just because you’re a bad guy doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy.” Ralph makes a selfish choices to break all the rules and steal a medal. But his soul is not lost. There is still a chance for him to be a hero a trapped girl and help her find freedom and redemption.
And just because someone seems sweet, charming, and good looking that doesn’t mean you should trust him with your life seconds after meeting him. Hans seemed like another prince charming, but the plot of Frozen quickly reveals that you shouldn’t go elope with a someone just because you can sing a really epic duet together. And Elsa seemed like a villain, but makes a profound choice and shows greater love hath no one than to lay your life down for your sister.
I could point all of this out to my kids. I could spoon feed to them everything that’s happening. But I’m not going to tell them who the bad guy is anymore. I want them to pay attention. I want them to understand that our choices define who we are. Maybe there are not really good guys or bad guys at all—just good choices and bad choices. Any of us are capable of making choices that destroy the people we love the most. And any of us are capable of making the choices that will help us find redemption.
Choices matter so much that’s why I’m going to talk to my kids about them. We had a great conversation about Big Hero 6. But we waited until we were on the way home after the movie was over.