Since everyone is sick with whatever this slime is, I decided that we should enhance our meal of soda crackers and 7-Up with a little experiment I've been dying to conduct. With the house reeking like a low-rent Bengali hospital and everyone too langorous to get enthused about much beyond being verticle without spewing, I decided to fire up the VCR.
I just happen to be old enough to remember when E.T. was released in theatres the first time and I recall the raves by every reviewer on the planet (when even the normally curmudgeonly Pauline Kael loved it, you knew it had to be a modern classic). One of the common threads in all those reviews was the comparison made between E.T. and The Wizard of Oz, "TWOO of this generation", stuff like that. Kind of silly, I thought, since I never really liked TWOO, and I threw my vote to the E.T. camp.
In my little experiment, I start with TWOO (giving it the chronological edge) and sit back to observe:
They're not huge with the Kansas stuff, the sepia tones, the relative drabness of the characters. I'm kind of smug in my initial appraisal, "They're bored, my 21st Century kids won't go for this old-skool junk for a moment, they're too sophisticated by a steady diet of Disney and Pixar." Closing towards the end of the Kansas Prelude and the introduction of the tornado, I'm almost laughing at how cheesy the special effects are (by modern standards) and I'm certain the TWOO/ET contest will be a rout - for ET. My kids aren't buying this, I think.
And then, suddenly: MAGIC HAPPENS. It's astounding to me how as soon as Dorothy lands in Munchkinland and the scene switches to technicolor, my children's interest in the movie shifts gears into - I can't describe it, it's too awesome. I could tip the refrigerator over and they wouldn't break their gaze from the screen. And in their eyes, in their faces, in their body language of being completely captivated by the magic of TWOO, I'm bewitched. The total purity of their absolute fascination at what transpires on the screen is gorgeous beyond belief.
Now I'm weeping, huge tears of joy and wonder. My children are unequivocally enrapt by TWOO and I can't control my emotions (what kind of a man am I?), hypnotized by every aspect of the film. Lilly is chattting, giddy with how cute the Munchkins are, Zeke is a zombie, entranced.. and I am laughing, shoving my fist in my mouth because I can barely contain the elation at how mesmerized they are by this movie. Marni wakes up (from throwing up all over my bed) and joins the crew at the point of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" and she's likewise enthralled, zoned right into the movie... I can't think of anything else that would manifest this kind of perfection.
Watching your kids watching TWOO is a relgious experience, utter transcendance. For me, the beauty of children is their innate ability to transport us to a time when a blade of grass was an entire universe and flying monkeys were truly frightening. In the midst of my workaday existence, the screaming pundits on the right and left, the news of blood-thirsty jackals murdering innocents in the name of their god, the push-and-shove of people racing to gather up everything they can, my children show me the door, my escape, to shut out the noise and remember that the universe is large and inscrutable and loving.
To the end, the coda, my children are awestuck and, obviously, I'm awed by their thrall. Everything about the film, as Dorothy builds her quest party with the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion, their first trip to Oz, their quest back to capture the Witch's broom, and then to the Wizard's rewards (and the revelation of his sham importance), not a frame is wasted, voluptuous to the eye and mind. Watching all three of my children rivetted to everything on the screen suddenly made me reconsider my bet. I have never seen my children so completely captured by a movie, not Nemo, not The Lion King, and certainly not the Care Bears. E.T. had, I reckoned, an insurmountable task in winning the hearts of my children.
The opening scene in E.T. is brilliant (if not a little frightening); the faceless grownups stumbling through the forest, the squealing E.T. hiding from capture - it grabbed the kids at the very start. However, the following scenes with the kids in the dining room and Eliot's eventual discovery of E.T. lose the kids for a bit. Sure, once E.T. becomes a part of the family my kids are back on board with the tale but not nearly to the extent that they were when Dorothy and her friends travelled through Oz. They enjoyed E.T. immensely; Lilly was moved to a few belly-laughs (she has the most dulcet, infectuous whole-body laugh) when E.T. was drunk and when he was dressed up, but just not entirely captivated in the way TWOO captured their imaginations.
So IMHO, my quite anecdotal and unscientific assessment is that E.T. is not TWOO, not by any stretch of the imagination. My sample population, a 6-year old girl, a little girl inching up on 4-years old, and a 2-year old boy were apparently much more wowed by TWOO than they were with E.T. although I have to say that this is based merely on my observations and not due to hooking them up to EEG's or other physiometric equipment. However, I encourage everyone with young children to try this experiment. There are worse ways to occupy your time on a rainy day or with a house full of sick kids.