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Friday Family Movie Night: 3 Ninjas

It's Friday again, and another recent movie my family watched and loved was 3 Ninjas. A number of the free movies 'On Demand' have been from my own childhood; this was one that was released, instead, while I was working 12-hour days as a young investment banker whose very last priority would have been watching children's films (especially those targeted at little boys). Now that I'm a mother of three boys who love samurais, knights, and most especially, ninjas? I jumped when I saw the title.

My favorite part was that the three boys very much mirrored my own boys' relationships, except that the youngest in the movie was most like our middle child -- different coloring than the other two and the once often excluded from the other brothers' games. (We got to talk a lot about how important it is for brothers to stick together and be a team, even if one is frustrating or has a different personality than the others.)


© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

3 Ninjas is the far-fetched but sweet story of brothers whose maternal grandfather is a real ninja; a retired one, of course, who now loves nothing more than to care for his three grandsons all summer long at his country little-boy paradise. The movie opens at the end of a summer of ninja training; their parents are about to pick them up, with dark overtones of the possibility dad (an FBI agent who works all the time) will not indulge them to train with grandpa again. While I mourn the absence in my life of a ninja father who had the energy and desire to fill my own boys' summer with discipline and karate and alarms that light up Japanese masks, dad is having a hard time with his latest bad guy: a ninja wanna-be named Hugo Snyder.

Oops! As it turns out, Snyder is an old student of grandpa's. He visits the country homestead where grandpa is getting ready to say goodbye to the boys, first begging and then threatening with an offer to come teach his army of bad guys ninjitsu... but not before the boys get a chance to try out their summer of education on Snyder and his militia.

It's an early nineties movies and there are early nineties people in it. Just as grandpa is an (awesome) caricature of Japanese Americans, dad is a caricature of distant, authoritative, too-busy-for-the-kids fathers. He doesn't want grandpa teaching the boys and filling their heads with ninja voodoo; nor does he want to be bothered with the task of keeping them entertained, themselves. While I delight in the 80s- and 90s-era conventions: the three boys share a room in their suburban home, even though there seem to be a bunch of rooms in the house, they ride bikes without helmets to school, nary a parent to be seen, their babysitter is a barely-seeing old lady in curlers -- there are surely many unhelpful images here. The stoner surfers hired to kidnap the boys (think: Home Alone, but with three kids alone and Bill & Ted as bad guys) have me groaning. The near-death situations faced with Macauley Caulkin-style wide eyes and slapstick results have me querulous. The mom in the movie, supposedly half-Japanese, will spend the rest of her career playing Hispanic characters.

I checked out the movie this time on Kids in Mind, a movie review site that provides detailed notes about all the violence, profanity, sexual situations and other adult topics in old movies targeted toward children and pretty much all recent releases (for instance, they cover Hanna, that new release about a teen trained as an assassin by her dad). It was recommended by an urbanMamas reader after last week's post. They didn't have much to say as the movie dates back to the site's early years, but what they did say was a welcome reminder:  the message of the movie is "It's OK to defend yourself when provoked, but don't start a fight." A nice theme indeed. (And according to the site's graphic movie key, there is zero sex, a welcome change from many of today's even PG-rated movies!)

And one more thing: check out the old school Mario Brothers on the Nintendo 64 while the boys hang in their shared room. Everett, who's lately become enamored of the video games I loved when I was a teen, thought it was great -- and so did I (even though I told him I wouldn't let HIM have a TV in his room, sorry!).

This movie isn't great for kids who aren't exposed to much violence, or who are very affected by violent images. Even though the violence is mostly cartoon-style high kicks and bloodless swordplay, there is one death (by shotgun) and lots of battling. It's nice for ninja-obsessed boys and those who weary of the over-the-top adult humor in some of the more modern action movies targeted at kids (think, Kung-fu Panda, Shrek, et. al.). If you can't stand the slapstick mess-and-destruction in Home Alone, you'll hate this; I gritted my teeth as they spread cooking oil all over (boy, that's going to take forever to clean!). I enjoyed this movie just enough to watch it through to the end, and not enough to put it in our DVD collection; the boys enjoyed it more.


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We love movie night! We tend to pretty much avoid current movies, however. I find the cartoon ones mostly obnoxious, what with the potty mouth humor and the adult "wink-wink" jokes for the parents (although we do love Miazaki). And the violence/"slapstick mess-and-destruction" as you put it, in much of the live-action films designed to appeal to boys is over the top for me. We are watching mostly old movies and they've been a great success. Last night my boys (8 and 11) watched Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone, 1939) which had mystery and suspense and evil plots - all the stuff they like. They are also very fond of Errol Flynn swashbucklers: Captain Blood, Robin Hood, The Seahawk, Master of Ballantrae. Ivanhoe was also a hit, and recently we watched James Stewart in The Spirit of St. Louis, which to my surprise was suspenseful, funny and moving, all at once. Anyway, the classics. There's gold in them thar hills.

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