I have mentioned before that we now have Netflix in Colombia, and that the selection of grown-up films is not always that great. But there are a lot of kid movies, and so we've acquired the custom of watching a movie with Sam on Sundays or other lazy days we have free.
This has been perhaps Sam's most important exposure thus far to moving images on a screen. He's always watched the occasional show or soccer game when he's in his sister's or his cousin's room, but we never leave him in front of a TV screen for too long, and until recently he hasn't had the patience to sit down and watch for long stretches. But seeing an almost two-hour movie every week or every few days represents a lot of consumption for him at this point. I don't feel bad about it--if the stats are correct, even if Sam saw 4 hours of TV in a week, that would be about what the average two-year-old in Chicago or Bogota watches in a day or two, and his movie watching is commercial-free and accompanied by his parents.
Another thing I like about Sam's movie-watching is that it's divorced from the whole media and advertising circus that normally accompanies kid movies and shows. By watching movies that are already a few years old, and with no commercials, Sam sees just the movie. There are no promotional tie-ins with McDonald's, no must-have toys, no spin-off TV shows. In fact, thus far many of the movies we've watched sort of fizzled in their day. Hercules, The Emperor's New Groove, and Atlantis are Disney movies that I don't believe ever matched the glory and success of a Little Mermaid or Lion King. The Incredibles, Up, and the Princess and the Frog seem to me (removed as I've been from the popular pulse) like they had more success at the box office, but at any rate, Sam never saw any of the hype (though he has a doll of the Incredibles that some other kid left at our house once!). We've also seen some Dreamworks movies, both successful and lesser-known, like Madagascar (which my wife thought was silly and boring), the Road to El Dorado, and Prince of Egypt. And even some films not put out by these two big studios: an independent, odd-looking one called the Legend of Sasquatch, and a Nickelodeon movie called Barnyard.
I tend to see only bits and pieces of these movies, since our long-distance living situation means I'm not around long enough for a full-length screening. I like the more epic, sincere ones like The Road to El Dorado and even Up. Barnyard was okay, though I couldn't believe that the filmmakers insisted on putting full-size udders on the bulls that are the main characters. I don't know if it was laziness or ignorance, but you'd think that a movie about an animal farm would at least get right this simple anatomical detail. The movies I don't at all like are the sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek ones. It seems that at some point kid movie makers got caught up in the general cynicism and cowardly coolness of modern culture, and decided that making genuine, honest movies with integrity was too square. So they started filling kid movies with adult jokes, sarcasm, and pop-culture references. I believe Shrek started this trend; while in and of itself it was still a good kid movie, it laid the groundwork for direct spinoffs like Puss in Boots (which starts with a tomcat waking up from a one-night stand and sneaking out on his bit of pussy, and maintains that kind of inappropriate, stupid tone throughout), and competing films that tried to be even more acerbic and ironic. The Emperor's New Groove seems to be the low point of this trend. It is chock-full of a whiny, sarcastic, bitchy David Spade (has he ever played any other type of role?) being so clever that the character and the film are totally uninteresting for any audience, child or adult. (Incidentally, check out the sordid back-story on the making of this movie here.)
In summary, a perk I've discovered to living outside of the US and in general outside of a wealthy country with an over-developed, integrated media machine is that we can avoid some of the pre-consumerist addictive behavior that the media circus injects into young kids. For now at least, Sam isn't insisting on Hercules clothes, or a Pocahontas backpack, or an Up-themed birthday party. Hell, the poor kid doesn't even know Mickey's name, because I insist on referring to him as "Generic Animated Mouse"!
On another note, we recently had our first run-in with gun play. Sam and his cousin Mariana were playing with blocks, and they started making gun sounds and pointing them at one another. My wife and I are both zero-tolerance on this: both in Chicago and in Colombia, there is enough gun violence already, and it's no game. I intend to show Sam how to use a real firearm when he's a bit older, but I don't intend to ever have toy guns in our house. On this occasion it was easy to defuse the situation by suggesting the kids pretend their blocks were airplanes. But for next time, I had our live-in adolescent Carlos (who is studying industrial design) make some swords out of cardboard. I'd prefer Sam doesn't pretend to play with any lethal object, but if he insists, a medieval sword seems less immediately dangerous than a modern-day gun.