Magic happens when two generations bond in a movie theater

By James Owen
Special to Columbia Daily Tribune
The pups are back on the case in "PAW Patrol: The Movie."

One of the great things about being a parent — at least for someone who reviews films — is imparting the movie theater experience to your kid. Thus, my motivation for hauling my nearly 4-year old to a recent Saturday-morning presser of the “Paw Patrol” movie. 

Usually, I only attend press screenings for movies I want to see. Which maybe explains why I write more positive reviews than negative ones. But I had no motivation to see this film.  

It feels like millions of shows stream into the Owen household — Nickelodeon's “Paw Patrol” is not one of them. No, our daughter was exposed to this show at Grandma’s house, where she seemingly gets to do and watch whatever she wants.

I heard her talk about this show centered on law enforcement pooches. I mentioned there would be a longer, more exciting version of the traditional episode playing in a theater soon. She was sold. I was on the hook.

Might as well let her see it before any one of her friends at daycare get a chance. What’s the point of having a dad review movies if you don’t get to feel exclusive?  

My child received her first taste of the multiplex earlier in the summer with the “Boss Baby” sequel. Her response was as I hoped. A little bit of fear and wonder sitting in this big auditorium with plush seats and the smell of popcorn wafting into your nostrils. The screen lights up and your senses overload. At that point, anything you can imagine is possible. 

She laughed. She shrieked. She closed her eyes during the scary parts. 

A new movie fan was born. It reminded me of the first experience I had in a theater, which remains one of my first memories. It was “Bambi.” I don’t even remember being traumatized by the matricide, as I surely must have been. But when I got home, my father asked me about the movie. 

“How did it start?” he said. 

“Well,” I responded. “The curtains opened up and they turned off the lights.”

He found it a pretty funny response. For me, it was a religious experience. I discovered where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Squeaky chairs, crumpled cellophane and all. 

Whether my child feels the same way is yet to be seen. Hopefully she’s more interested in curing cancer or saving the planet. But watching her react in a theater — the laughing, the yelling at the screen — becomes a whole new reason to want to see a movie. 

Especially in a theater. At home, there are stops and starts. Distractions. There’s no distinction, nothing to make the experience different from simply being at home.

Moreover, there’s no chance to watch something new with a whole room of strangers. Who have the same reaction at the same time. Or maybe have a reaction that makes you think differently about the movie you are watching. 

It’s a reminder that seeing a movie in a theater is supposed to be communal, bonding you to your fellow man. Or that it's the best way to see a movie because of the quality of the sound system and size of the screen. Or it’s a good place to take your kid on a hot August morning. Go watch a movie in a theater, if you are able to do so. 

But do you need to see “Paw Patrol: The Movie”? The colors are bright. The action is loud. The plot involves a maniacal billionaire-turned-unqualified politician who develops an evil scheme to unsettle the weather. So there’s lots of liberal indoctrination. Which is fine by me. 

For whatever reason, the Paw Patrol is the only group who can stop this plan. Why not? The characters seem pleasant enough and learn lessons about teamwork and bravery along the way. All sorts of odd celebrities do brief vocal roles. Kim Kardashian West and Tyler Perry have bit parts? Whatever works. 

I was amused and distracted. My kid loved it. I loved that my kid loved it. As we left the theater, she said, “I love watching movies with you.” I mean, folks, my heart melted. All the lost sleep and gray hairs developed as a parent become worthwhile in moments like this. 

It's unlikely you will have the same emotional experience I had watching “Paw Patrol.” Or maybe you might. I am merely reporting my encounter, why I think the filmgoing experience will always be worth keeping theaters alive. But there’s all sorts of magic that happens when you get a kid into movies. 

In real life, James Owen is a lawyer and executive director of energy policy group Renew Missouri. He created/wrote for Filmsnobs.com from 2001-2007 before an extended stint as an on-air film critic for KY3, the NBC affiliate in Springfield. He was named a Top 20 Artist under the Age of 30 by The Kansas City Star when he was much younger than he is now.