The long Thanksgiving weekend is a popular one for moviegoing, and this year offers plenty of options for families. In fact, all three of the new wide releases are aimed strictly at the family set - not a PG-13 or R-rated option in the bunch. You can choose from The Muppets (the preferred choice in the Hammerle household) or Martin Scorsese's Hugo (a close second) or the holiday-themed Arthur Christmas. Plus, there's leftovers like Happy Feet Two and Puss-in-Boots contending for your wallet.
But what do you do if you've got a toddler and you want to venture out to cinemas? A lot of my friends have kids around the age of 2 and want to make The Muppets their kid's first theater experience, so I'm getting asked that question rather frequently now. I've been taking my son to the movies since he pretty much learned to walk (G-Force back in Aug. 2009; my son had just turned 1), and I've learned a few tricks of the trade over the last few years. So what can a parent do to ensure that: (a) they can take their toddler to the theater; (b) not waste the money spent on tickets; and (c) still get to see the whole movie?
Here are the rules:
1. Skip the Previews. Look at the printed showtime. Then add 15 minutes. That's about how much time is spent on previews. So, if you've got a 3:30 showtime, the movie won't actually start until 3:45. Aim to get to the theater then. When you're going to the movies with a toddler, time is a precious commodity. The clock is ticking and you've only got so long. Skip the previews and buy yourself an extra 15 minutes. What's that? You love previews? Fine. Check 'em out on iTunes before you go.
2. Avoid 3D. This probably goes without saying, but most toddlers aren't quite ready to wear 3D glasses for over 90 minutes in one sitting, let alone for 30 seconds. Save yourself the extra $3 dollars and stick to 2D showings. Most major movies are offered in 3D and 2D - pay attention to the difference and pick the 2D option.
3. Choose a Seat Near a Wall. Seat placement is important. Your kid may get antsy around the 50-minute mark and will want to stand and walk in the aisle. I like to pick a small row of seats to the side of the theater, with a wall blocking the end of the row. Sit about 4-5 seats away from the wall, with parent on outside, and kid on the inside. If your kid wants to get up and walk, he or she has a nice little blocked-in area to do so.
4. But Don't Sit Too Close To the Screen. You don't want to be too close to the screen because that can make some things scarier to kids than they actually are. Case in point: I took my son to see The Smurfs this past summer. Not scary by any means, but we were sitting in the second row. Gargamel was a lot bigger and meaner in the second row than he would have been on, say, a TV screen.
5. Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks. This is the key to survival. You need to bring a vast supply of drinks, treats, snacks, etc. with you. Pack that diaper bag full of 'em. I'm talking water, juice, smoothies, granola bars, fruit snacks, popcorn, whatever. You need to dole out the snacks in stages. I usually make my son wait at least 20 minutes before any snacks are introduced. The movie will keep 'em interested for about that long, and then you need reinforcements. Make them wait 5-10 minutes before the next snack. Having something to nosh on makes the viewing experience that much more fun. Same holds true for adults.
6. Engage Your Kid. Ask them questions. Convey your shock or surprise at events on screen. Interact with your kid during the movie. Don't just sit there and watch it silently with them. Get them talking and they'll become invested. Just be sure and keep it to a whisper so you don't bother others.
7. Be Prepared to Leave. You may not be able to last through the whole movie on your kid's first try. That's okay. Bound to happen. If it does, I'm betting it will happen around the 50-minute mark. If your kid starts to cry or says, "I want to go home," then take them out of there. Don't be one of those parents whose kids cry during the movie and piss off everybody else in the theater. Nip it in the bud. You can try taking them to the bathroom for a reprieve and then going back in. Sometimes that works. Sometimes not. Try not to get too attached to the movie (not too hard for most kids' flicks). In any event, you can just catch the rest of it if and when your kid asks for the DVD.
8. Have an Emergency Stash. Okay, but what if you're really into the movie? Hey, I understand. My son just so happened to like Toy Story 3 and wanted to stay for all of it, but even if he hadn't, there was no way I was going to leave that movie before the end. If normal, somewhat healthy snacks are no longer working, and you're way into the movie at that point, break out the big guns: CANDY. I like to go with Reese's Pieces, but everybody's different. If you're smart, plan ahead of time and stop at Walgreens on your way to the movie - you can get a box of movie candy for $1.39 rather than $4.00.
9. If at First You Don't Succeed, Try Again. And Again. And Again.
That's it. You're ready. Now, go out there and see The Muppets!