Monday, February 18, 2013

Dumbo vs. Diego

“Five!  A new high score!” I yelled.  I was playing a game we invented in our house called “See How High You Can Build a Block Tower Before One of Your Kids Knocks It Down”, the rules of which are fairly self-explanatory.  The game is so difficult that the bar for success is very low, like how cowboys only have to stay on the bull for eight seconds.

“Again!” my son Evan squealed as he surveyed the wreckage he’d just created.

“This game is tough.  You’re quite the demolition man,” I said.

“No, I’m Diego.  I’m an animal rescuer,” he said.  Then, in case I wasn’t familiar with the scope of his professional obligations, he said, “I rescue animals.”

He learned about the exciting and vibrant field of animal rescuing from his favorite show, “Go, Diego, Go!” which teaches kids that you can keep the food chain from happening if you have a positive attitude, apparently unlimited funding and a backpack that turns into a hang glider.

Just as I started to build another tower, Evan danced a little jig and groaned, throwing himself doubled-over onto the couch.

“Need to go potty?” I asked.

“No, I don’t have tooooooo,” he said, straining as if he was bench-pressing a mini-fridge.  I’ve heard that in kids’ minds, once you make the urge to go to the bathroom subside for a moment, you think you’ve vanquished it forever, even though you’ve only forestalled the inevitable, which will only be worse when it comes back.  This thought process seems insane, but then Congress does the same thing every few months with the debt ceiling.

“Come on, bud.  Let’s go the bathroom,” I said.

“Nooooo,” he replied.

“We can watch cartoons in there,” I said, pulling the iPhone out of my pocket.

“Okay,” Evan said, waddling towards the bathroom.

Bribing him with cartoons has been way more effective than prunes.  But I worry that the cartoons I’ve hooked him on, cherished Bugs Bunny cartoons from my childhood, aren’t teaching the best messages.
Evan’s cartoons are about teamwork, exercising to be healthy and rescuing animals.  When I was a kid, cartoons were about pushing adversaries off cliffs, dropping anvils on their heads and shooting them in the face at very close range.

In the bathroom, Evan laughed as Elmer Fudd got his barely deserved comeuppance.  

“It’s not nice to put a stick of dynamite down someone’s pants, right?” I explained, just in case he ever has the opportunity.  To be safe, I’ll probably put another padlock on the TNT shed in our backyard.

I can’t even bring myself to show him my old favorite Tom & Jerry cartoons, which regularly featured the main characters drinking, smoking and hitting each other.  It’s what we watched before “Jersey Shore” taught us that this kind of entertainment could be achieved without animation.

Even old family favorites aren’t always safe.

“Look, Evan, it’s Dumbo!  You’re gonna love this movie,” I said when the title became available to stream on Netflix.  My wife Kara sat on the couch with Evan, excited to relive a classic with him.

A few minutes in, we started to rethink our enthusiasm.

“I don’t remember this movie being such a downer,” Kara whispered.

Evan squirmed as Dumbo was torn from his mom and tormented by clowns.  Do you remember how Dumbo flies for the first time?  He gets wasted on the clowns’ discarded booze, hallucinates, blacks out and wakes up in a tree.  When my friends in college discovered magical abilities that way, they often ended up needing stitches afterwards.

Dumbo doesn’t even fly non-wasted until the final few minutes of the movie, which he mostly spends exacting vengeance on the clowns.

Too bad Diego wasn’t around to rescue him sooner.

You can smoke dynamite with Mike Todd at


  1. Oh my gosh, this is my life. I bought Dumbo as a package of old dvds for $2, and I was so excited to watch it with Josh, and then I realized what a disappointment it was! I didn't remember the racism, the drunkenness and what sort of happy ending was THAT?! Oh, and we use M&Ms for the potty, and if I'm fast enough, I can get to almost 10 blocks before the tower comes down on someone's foot.

    1. Hey, Chiwei -- thanks for stopping by! I ran out of words before I could hit on the racism, too, but seriously, Dumbo is a messed-up movie. And thanks for making me feel less crazy for experiencing all these things, too! Or maybe that just makes you more crazy.