As East Texas children prepare for the start of another school year, perhaps the best thing they — and their parents and teachers — can do is to forget everything they saw at the theaters this summer.
Maybe not everything. But certainly the message conveyed in the two biggest kids’ films of the summer, “Planes” and “Turbo” is exactly the wrong message they should be taking back to school.
Writing in The Atlantic, critic Luke Epplin says these films, like most movies for children these days, rely on the “magic-feather syndrome.” Like Disney’s Dumbo, the lead characters in “Planes” and “Turbo” only have to believe in order to succeed.
“It’s enough for them simply to show up with no experience at the most competitive races, dig deep within themselves, and out-believe their opponents,” Epplin writes. “They are, in many ways, the perfect role models for a generation weaned on instant gratification.”
In “Planes,” a crop duster aspires to win an around-the-globe race. In “Turbo,” a snail — yes, a snail — dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500. “Dusty” and Turbo, the respective heroes, have big dreams and big doubters. Most of all, they’re plagued by self-doubt. When they overcome self-doubt, and believe in themselves (this is symbolized, in both cases, by their doubting friends having a change of heart), they both go on to win races.
That’s a common enough formula. It’s paired with a disdain for mundane tasks (Dusty hates crop-dusting) and a contempt for hard work (Turbo despises his gardening duties). Besides, these kinds of movies say, hard work isn’t what earns success.
“Turbo and Dusty don’t need to hone their craft for years in minor-league circuits like their racing peers presumably did,” Epplin points out. “Their attitudes are all part of an ethos that privileges self-fulfillment over the communal good.”
A much better message for children to carry into schoolrooms with them this fall is this: It’s all right to fail. Failing means you tried. And it’s a step closer to success.
Epplin points to Charlie Brown, a character that surely would be denounced if he were drawn today.
In “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” the beloved blockhead enters a spelling bee, and ultimately loses on a careless mistake (he misses the word “beagle”). His friend Linus later reminds him, “But did you notice something, Charlie Brown? The world didn’t come to an end.”
Another model is contemporary author Terry Pratchett. In his book, “The Wee Free Men,” one of his characters tells a young girl, “If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
There’s nothing wrong with “Planes” and “Turbo.” They’re fine as summer entertainment. But they fall short on legitimate life lessons. Hard work is what leads to success. Dream big — but be willing to work.
That’s the message children should take back to school, and the message we should enforce and model for them as parents and teachers.