Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oh Barney, Where Did You Go Wrong?

With a toddler, life is full of repetition, and that's what makes life happy for a toddler. Why just today she wanted to watch the same episode of “Little Bear” on three separate occasions, the delightful tale of the time Little Bear, a bipedal, raucous, vacuous brown bear, meets his soon to be good friend No Feet, an aptly named garden snake. The stories are of innocence and imagination. Natalie loves them, needless to say. Matthew? He could care less.

But Barney! But Barney, my friends, the big purple dinosaur grabs a commanding attention of all who enter the room (and those unlucky enough to be trapped in an Exersauser and can’t escape), as Barney lords over children with an unexplainable gravity, a significant magnitude that attracts unwavering attention.

Given Natalie’s proclivity to demand her entertainment in repetitive bursts, I’ve seen a Barney movie or two in my day as a parent. Let me just start off by saying that I’ve really got nothing against Barney. I know he’s cool to hate like Al Gore or Cindy Sheehan, but it’s great entertainment for a two-year old. He’s bubbly. He’s got the appeal of Grimace from the old McDonald’s characters but with the unarming voice of that preschool teacher everyone thought was a little odd but was so good with children… until you found out that he keeps them in his basement. Anyway, I half-way enjoyed watching them the first few times. Mind you, that’s the first few times, but when we end up viewing it so many times I’m about to call the producers of Cats to tell them we’ve got you beat—so much so, that the DVD looks more like a reflective Frisbee than it does a source of media—my eyes glaze over with a purple haze and I force myself to internalize groans of discontentment.

It usually keeps Natalie’s attention until it starts to skip, and I try to teach her the proper way to handle a DVD—for the most part she gets it—but sometimes she forgets and that’s why they’re pocked like the surface of the moon and don’t play very well. We only need a couple more years out of them, and since I plan on trying to keep Matthew away from Barney, and Al Gore and Cindy Sheehan for that matter, for the sole reason that I don’t think I can sit through those movies during another round of child rearing.

A little known fact about me is that I like movie mistakes. I hate to be the one that points out the foibles of others (as a magazine editor, it was one of the more loathsome tasks of my responsibilities, listening to yahoos tell me that I forgot an oomlat above the u on some German word)… anyway, so I don’t like pointing out mistakes, but it does make a bad movie all the more enjoyable to watch. Check out this site: Movie Mistakes and you’ll see what I mean.

As I’m watching Barney’s “Let’s Go to the Zoo”— a favorite tale about Barney, BJ and Baby Bop all, you guessed it, go to the zoo—after about the umpteeth time, I begin to notice a small little unsavory scene transpiring in the background. I’m not sure what they were attempting to do, the directors, I mean, because what it ends up looking like on my end is this strange little tale of unrequited love, a May-December romance and the heartbreak of a little girl and her father all at the zoo under the watchful gaze of Barney and his semi-lovable friends.

Here’s what happens as I see it, and please forgive the quality of the pictures (they're borderline incoherently dismal and dark... sorry). It was difficult to find a DVD player not connected to a TV that would play this movie and I ended up taking a picture of the screen to illustrate what was going on. I know it is dark and very blurry. It's like taking a picture of a picture and then faxing it to you, but trust me, this is a lot better than playing the whole movie for you when I see you next, right?

As the trio come bounding into the scene singing that delightfully gagging song “What will we see at the zoo?” they pass by what looks like a nice couple and their young daughter sitting on a bench waiting for the zoo to open (why else would you go to the zoo and then sit down?). Much to the little girl’s delight, Barney, in the flesh, is dancing and singing mere feet from her gleeful eyes. What we can only assume is the mother, turns to point with equal excitement.

Then, seconds later, not even waiting until the end of the song, the mother unceremoniously waves good bye to the daughter, doesn’t acknowledge the father who is sitting on the other side of the little girl, gets up and walks out of the frame. Maybe she’s going to the bathroom… maybe she’s going to get a drink or pick up the tickets at the ticket booth… and she always has a habit of waving good bye to her daughter. I know what’s going to happen, but for the sake of narrative suspense, let’s give her the benefit of doubt and say that she forgot her purse in the car and she has to run out there and get it so she can take a picture of Barney while he is still performing his number.

Yes, I’ve given it lots of thought.

The next shot the woman is gone and left behind are the little girl and the father. Given the action-packed thrill ride that is any Barney movie, especially one as enamoring as this one, the scenes move quickly and, though the song hasn’t changed or ended—apparently, according to Barney there’s a lot to see at the zoo, enough to necessitate a six-minute song about it… and this is before we’ve even stepped one foot inside yet—so, even though the song hasn’t ended, we’ve changed shots to a rose-covered walkway that leads up to the main entrance of the zoo.

What? What is this in the background? Walking behind Barney, BJ and Baby Bop, while they sing their little stuffed-animal hearts out for all of the happy children in the world, at least the English-speaking ones, what do we see but the mother strolling hand in hand with another man! They're happy and laughing and cajoling in a too familiar of a way to make it innocent.

Gasp! The first time I saw it, I was floored! What we just witnessed was a divorced couple exchanging the children in a public place, per court orders. Where better to do it but at the zoo, and she wasn’t running back to the parking lot to get her camera; she was running into the arms of another man, albeit a much older one, but there’s someone for everyone. How sad for the little girl indeed. Perhaps one of the shining moments of her young life is to see Barney face to dinoface and it is soured by the image of her dear mother, trolling her heart on the waysides of a romantic affair with another man… and right in front of dad too.

Oh the humanity! And I saw it in an innocuous Barney video, one that I would hope would provide me and my family with a wholesome experience and instead I have to observe the seedy underbelly of a broken home.

You can’t argue it, and all of the counterpoints I could rummage up seemed contrived at best. The most convincing argument I could gather up…nay, the best excuse for this, was: Oh, that’s her father and she’s enjoying the zoo with him too. Well, if that’s her father, then the little girl is his granddaughter so why wasn’t he with her too? And why were they holding hands? Okay, well maybe she wasn’t that little girl’s mother. Good point, maybe not, but then why was she sitting so close to her? The bench isn’t crowded, and I’d like to think the father has good enough sense not to crowd someone’s personal space. The simplest explanation I could eek out of this little sociological display is that a father and his daughter went to the zoo where the father saw a friend whom he hadn’t seen in years… maybe it was the little girl’s teacher and she’s got a thing for older men.

It seems convoluted and forced… and there’s too many factors to account for, too many complicated parameters to allow for.

Bitter divorce, I say.

She likes the smell of Old Spice on a man’s neck, Geritol and Metamucil on his breath and is that a coin purse in your pocket or did you take your Viagra early?

Child custody exchange, I say.

So then, I start to look for little peculiar specks of evilness peppered around in his other movies, tiny, insignificant subplots and assumptions that the directors may have thought nobody would notice… and let me tell you, you’d be surprised at what I found.

But that, my dear readers, is another story for another day.

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