Thoughts Akimbo

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Why the popcorn gets so soggy

I woke up crying. My evil uncle was about to push my father off the cliff, and a hunter’s bullet had just plugged Mom as she pranced through the forest.

Yes, after weeks of unrelenting stress, I’m dreaming in Disney plots.

When the going gets tough, I can’t help but cry. When I’m hungry or hormonal or homesick, or overtired or misunderstood, tears leap past my lower lids like Mufasa hurtling over a cartoon precipice.

I’ve always been this way. As a child, I cried in front of the TV during the final credits when Lassie lifted her paw as if to shake hands, with that mournful whistling in the background. Good girl, Lassie. Gimme paw. Sob.

I wept into my popcorn when a rival gang member’s knife put an end to Tony’s jazz dancing in “West Side Story.” (Maybe it was the duet Natalie Wood was pretending to sing with him as he lay dying on the schoolyard concrete. “There’s a place for us . . . sniffle . . . somewhere, a place for us . . . “)

And I sobbed on my transistor radio when “The Leader of the Pack” died in the Shangri La’s arms (“I begged him to go slow, but whether he heard, I’ll NEVER know. Vrroom, vroom! Look out, look out, look out, look OUT!”)

The radio still makes kids cry. I was once in a car with three teenaged girls who spontaneously burst into tears as they sang along with Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” But being beautiful has always been a pretty touchy subject with teen girls.

School also seems designed to make kids cry. As school-aged baby boomers, we cried when George shot Lenny in “Of Mice and Men,” (while he was telling him about the rabbits), and when Old Yeller had to be destroyed (without the usual waiting period to even SEE if he was going to develop rabies), and when the mouse died in “Flowers for Algernon” – and we knew the janitor was going to be next. Gulp. Sob.

Now they make kids read “The Cay” (shipwreck buddy killed by hurricane), “Walk Two Moons” (mother killed in bus wreck, grandmother bitten by snake) and “The Island of the Blue Dolphin” (little brother killed by wild dogs).

There’s probably not a dry eye in the seventh-grade wing.

But nothing is designed to wrench liquid from young eyes like the movies: tears of joy when Free Willy jumps the aquarium wall and horrified howls of despair when E.T.’s heart-light goes out.

Nobody knows this better than our mouse-eared friend to the south. Why don’t the Disney heroes ever have mothers? Think of Cinderella, Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Mowgli and Belle (The Beast’s babe).

Because filmmakers know if a barracuda eats Nemo’s mother in the first few scenes, the young audience is going to worry about that little clownfish for the rest of the movie (and often, long into the night . . . mares).

And you still have to keep tissues near the TV, too. Lassie might not be offering her paw to young viewers anymore (come to think of it, a trainer was probably waving a hamburger patty just behind the camera).

But now there’s that commercial where the distressed baby penguin is waiting anxiously for scientists to clean the oil spill off his mother (using Dawn dishwashing liquid).

And you know what kids who grew up watching Disney are thinking: Adorable little penguin . . . penguin mother in distress . . . Free Willy’s probably right around the corner.

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