EW senior editor Marc Bernardin shares the surprising thing that happened when he and his wife took the kids to their very first movie, ''Cars''

By Marc Bernardin
Updated June 30, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Cars: Disney


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Marc Bernardin: My family’s trip with ”Cars”

Movies shape the contours of my life.

My first memory is of that Star Destroyer sweeping over my head and down on Princess Leia’s blockade runner in the beginning of Star Wars. In college, when I switched from a business major to a communication arts major, my father said, ”Well, he watches enough damned movies.” On any given day, I talk more about movies than anything else — it’s my job, and I love it. Wouldn’t have it any other way. So when I tell you that the day I’ve been most anxiously awaiting for the last four years was taking my kids to their first movie in the theater, you know what that means to me.

Ever since my daughter, Sophie, was born, in 2002, I’ve been slowly building a movie library for her. And not a library of Thomas the Tank Engine or Wiggles DVDs — I’m talking about the movies that she should see, the ones I want to plop her on my lap and watch together. Star Wars, of course (see above). Ghostbusters. Some Like It Hot. To Kill a Mockingbird. Kiki’s Delivery Service. The Great Escape. Toy Story. (When she gets older, we’d move on to The Seven Samurai, Jaws, The Road Warrior, Aliens, Malcolm X, The Terminator, etc. One step at a time….) These films would be a trust for her, not only so that she could see some terrific movies and start to form her own cinematic tastes, but also so she’d know a bit about what made her old man the person he is.

Eighteen months after Sophie, we had a son, Luc. (No Star Wars cracks, however apt they may be.) And the library-building continued in earnest. And my wife, Sue, and I would wonder when we’d take Sophie to see her first movie. It’ll be a while, we thought, because she doesn’t really seem to have the attention span for a full-blown feature. She gets restless and wanders away, even if it’s something she likes. Maybe when she gets older.

And she did get older, but that lack of focus never went away — in fact, it got worse. Most times, it felt as if Sophie were someplace else, someplace that was endlessly more interesting than the here and now. When she was almost 3, we took her to a neuro-developmental pediatrician, who diagnosed Sophie with an autistic spectrum disorder in the moderate range.

Flash forward to last weekend: Sophie’s 3 1/2, and Luc is a brand-new 2. Sophie’s been to lots of doctors and therapists, and is enrolled in a special school for kids ”on the spectrum.” She’s made some progress, enough to give us hope. Sue and I figure that now’s as good a time as any to try a movie, and Cars is supposed to be pretty good. (Also, Finding Nemo is Sophie’s favorite movie — actually, the only movie she’ll watch the whole way through, repeating her favorite lines over and over — so maybe Pixar is our lucky charm.)

We shuffled into the theater a little early, thinking that walking into a pitch-black room might be too sudden a shock for the kids. We grabbed four seats in the last row, prepared to dash if it wasn’t going well. No popcorn: didn’t feel like Heimlich-ing my kids for the first time in a movie theater.

We were set, ready to go. The movie started…and Sophie couldn’t have cared less. A few minutes in and she hopped off her chair, climbed onto Sue’s lap, and sort of retreated into her own world. And she wasn’t quiet about it either, snatches of dialogue from her favorite TV shows coming fast and furious.

She wasn’t ready for the movies, as we sort of expected. But, to our surprise, Luc was.

The wee lad sat on my lap, a cup of his little toddler snacks in hand, transfixed by the racecar action. Every now and again, he’d pop a Kix into his mouth as if it were popcorn. Then he’d extend a pudgy paw at the screen and say, ”Ooooo… car! Red car!” For about 30 minutes, it was the movie experience I’d always wanted: sitting in the dark with my kid, watching eyes widen at the magic unspooling on screen.

Then, once the action stopped and Cars turned into Doc Hollywood, Luc’s attention drifted. If I were 2, I’d be bored too. We left the theater shortly thereafter, hoping to spare the other parents and their kids our hooting and, by now, crying brood.

Maybe I’ll get to see the second half of Cars in the theater. Maybe not. But for as rocky as it was, that first half was pretty special.

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  • G
  • 116 minutes