The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “The Jungle Book,” click here.
My son’s bedroom is decorated with an Amazonian theme. Not the jungle; the boxes. Every box Bezos sends us is immediately commandeered and dragged upstairs, where it is turned into something else. It’s not just boxes, either. Empty toilet paper rolls, oatmeal containers, egg cartons all get turned into a weaponized Minecraft time machine transmogrifier robot of one kind or another.
So I could empathize with some of the animals in this week’s “The Jungle Book,” which I saw with my 4-foot inventor ON A SCHOOL NIGHT. SO EXCITING. In the movie, young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is consistently reprimanded for his “tricks” — namely, his tool building. His wolf father scolds him for using a hollowed-out fruit rind to retrieve water more effectively; his panther guardian Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) reminds him that binding vines together to make ropes is “not the way of the jungle.” Baloo the bear (Bill Murray) encourages Mowgli’s creativity, but only after Baloo discovers that fearless boy plus leaf-based beekeeping suit equals honey.
Of course, sometimes authority figures say “no” for good reason; last summer my son got obsessed with the TV show “BattleBots,” leading to a heated dinnertime discussion about why building a “spinning death blade” was not an appropriate activity for a 7-year-old. But the law of the jungle forbids Mowgli’s tricks simply because they’re against the law of the jungle: The animals can’t understand why someone would need to build stuff, so building is not allowed.
Kids too often hear things aren’t allowed, and the reason they’re not allowed is because they’re not allowed. I’m not saying parents and teachers should let children do whatever they want (see: spinning death blade), but we have got to start making room in their world for more yes. Yes, pour your own milk. Sure, check out that book about space from the library for the 10th week in a row. Here’s your helmet, there’s your bike, be home for dinner.
Like the animals of “The Jungle Book,” we think the law of our jungle exists to keep our kids safe; moreover, we think if we follow the law, safety is the only possible outcome. That’s naive, of course, but it’s actually dangerous — it produces children who not only function best in a rules-laden society, but who are comfortable obeying supposedly unchangeable rules that are based on tradition rather than reason. If we raise kids thinking the old ways are the only ways, they’ll never discover new ones. We need to stop training our kids out of all their tricks.
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