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I try not to judge a movie as it’s happening, which is harder for me than it is for others. I remember walking into Toy Story 2 already conditioned to think sequels never stood up their predecessors. That’s a pretty cynical outlook for a five year old to have. But nonetheless, when the previews for the first motion pictures of the new millennium were over, I let my guard down and took the movie in. I laughed during the funny parts, almost cried during the sad parts (I was five, not two, come on), and I left the theatre a changed person, free of ill-conceived notions about the detrimental effects of continuing a franchise. That is, until everything suddenly had a sequel.

Ever since I was old enough to watch movies, my family would congregate around the television on Saturday night, like clockwork, and feed the VCR a random selection of home entertainment. I don’t know if you bitTorrentors can recall, but VCRs were once a thing. And I don’t mean the ones with DVD trays that leave the other half of the box unused. I mean the classic one-slot, pop-in-a-tape, rewind-when-you’re-done, take-it-back-to-the-video-store (video stores were once a thing too) and dust-the-inside to-prevent-scratching-other-tapes cassette player. That, my friends, was the deity in our household for a long time.

I was raised mostly on Disney Renaissance animation, and I’m sure everyone else my age was too. Nine out of ten doctors agree it’s the most nourishing visual stimulation a child could grow up on, and it’s also a gateway drug to more sophisticated films. It’s the path we all took, despite how the consensual taste of our generation would eventually degenerate to sex and explosions. There are those of us who still cling true, however, to the integrity of the cartoon musical with a heart. When my family and me would watch those movies together, it was an absorbing experience, so much so that it made me intensely analytical. Even when I saw Toy Story 2, I already had the bullshit-tolerance meter of an A-level critic in my brain. I set to maximum, though I didn’t have to. It was just an impulse that I’d lose control over as I got older. I think movies are about suspending your disbelief, and in a way, they teach you to avoid overanalyzing things. But if you are a cinephile like me, you succumb to the temptation too often.
Disney was the first among many tapes on VHS that I watched during my most formative years. I say “most formative” because during my preteen years I was just formative, and when the big boy hormones finally kicked in, nothing impressed me. There’s a reason for this and it’s because I stopped watching movies for fun altogether. By the time I was in middle school, Hollywood was arguably going to s***, and just going to the movies every weekend suddenly cost half a year’s pay. The video-sharing niche of the Internet had blown up. What replaced television—the “vast wasteland” as Newton Minnow referred to it in the 1960s—was even vaster, like an infinite ocean of bytes, and the tail end of Generation Y thought the water looked great. I found transitioning into this new medium was quite easy, since there wasn’t even anything good on TV anymore. Still, I sometimes catch myself reminiscing about the time before I decided to dive in for a few laps. But it gets harder and harder to be nostalgic as the years progress.

Movie theaters aren’t magical anymore. There’s this one theatre in my neighborhood where, right before a film starts, a pre-recorded voice in the ceiling explains the entire plot to the audience. When it first interrupted my thoughts as I waited for the blank screen to come to life, a solid “what-the-f***?” look crossed my face. What is that? Where did it come from? Why did it just kill the suspense?! Theatres used to be all about the movie. The movie, and the snacks you ate during the movie, and that was it. Now they’re built three stories high so there’s enough space for stadium seating, arcade machines, kitchens to make real food in, and even bars. Are you kidding me?! If any substance was meant to enhance movie-viewing pleasure, it’s marijuana, not alcohol. One immerses you in the aesthetics and storylines; the other’s a depressant that shortens your attention span and makes you question how much money you spent after you bought a ticket. But that’s changing the subject. Movie theatres are no longer a simple means of escapism. They’re a bunch of lobbies separated at birth from their hotels. What’s even more saddening now is it doesn’t matter where you go to see movies. You don’t have to travel farther than your own fingertips and a wi-fi signal.

I miss the old ways of doing things. And I’m not even old. It’s awe-inspiring yet at the same time frightening how quickly things have changed. Grandparents will tell you of an upbringing that was archaic and riddled with inconveniences. Parents are too embarrassed of the clothes they wore and the shenanigans they got into to tell you everything. What will 90s kids tell their offspring? That once upon a time, moving images didn’t require special glasses to be clear? That instead of a 32:18 aspect ratio, there was merely 4:3? That movies weren’t judged by their budgets or their stars, but by their production value? That—God forbid—movies were once a thing like VCRs? That will be the day. I just hope whatever the next generation—or dare I say, the sequel—looks like, things will stay as good as they did originally.

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Sunnie20 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 11, 2013 at 3:08 pm
Nice job, I really liked your piece. I could really connect with everything you said and it was interesting to see your side. You used good word choice which is something I admire. You used the word shenanigans, I love that word and I don't hear it all too often. Keep up the good work!
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