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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #94
June 24, 2009

Art Stowaway

The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler + Art in Your City

The deliciously taboo notion that kids could stowaway in a museum for a week, without their parents, thrilled our children as much as it thrilled us a generation ago. In The Hideaways, a film based on our favorite childhood novel “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” Claudia and her younger brother Jamie pool their savings ($25.68), pack extra clothes in a violin case and take up residence in Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art. While hiding out, they become captivated with a statue of an angel created by an unknown artist. Eventually, the children discover the statue is an original Michelangelo and befriend Mrs. Frankweiler, the statue’s eccentric benefactress.

As mothers, we were captivated by E.L. Koenigsberg’s clever weaving of art appreciation into a subversive plot. Our first instinct, to fly to New York and tour the Met, got our creative juices flowing. Jazzed by our kids' newfound interest in museums, we decided to duplicate the idea at home. We headed to a local art museum and gave our children a mission: to figure out the logistics of life without adults – where to eat, sleep, bathe and hide – just like the characters in the story. The kids searched for a place to sleep and quickly discovered antique canopied beds (blue for the boys and pink for the girls). Energized, they kept exploring and soon happened upon ornate silver bowls for their Cheerios, a plethora of fountains for bathing, and even scoped out an antique disco ball for a midnight party. Without once complaining that they were being dragged through a bunch of dusty rooms filled with boring stuff, our kids enjoyed the museum’s collections. We were amazed at how easily they connected the dots between the movie and the museum adventure. The afternoon has become magically inscribed in our families’ memories as the original Kids Off the Couch adventure.

Film Title: The Hideaways
Directed By: Fielder Cook
1973, Rated G, 105 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why This Film is Worth It: Our children were riveted by Claudia and Jamie's daring adventure, in part because they loved the book from which this seventies adaptation is based. "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler", by E.L. Koenigsberg was written in 1967, but still tops most kids' book lists. We heartily recommend that you read it outloud with your family. This film is fine for anyone over six.
  • Rental Tip: Don't rent the 1995 version which, despite a star turn by Lauren Bacall, is not as good as this oldie. As one Amazon reviewer noted of The Hideaways, "it's old, but cool." Netflix doesn't carry The Hideaways, but it's available for purchase on Amazon, and can be found in specialty video stores.

Our tips for talking to your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy: This film was made in the early seventies. Note the hair and clothing styles, the soundtrack and the period wallpaper. Have the kids shout out details that show when the story takes place. Then, have them guess which of their favorite things might still be around in thirty years
  • Literature Savvy: This story, about two children surviving on their own in New York City, sounds scary. Yet, this story isn’t frightening at all. Ask the kids to guess who is telling the story and how it might have been different if it had been told from someone else's point of view. For example, if the story had been told from the parents’ perspective, we would have seen them worrying at home and the story would have been a lot less interesting.


A Visit to the Art Museum

Google Search Term: Art Museums
Time Allotment: Half-day
Age Recommendation: Five and up

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What worked for us: Let the kids plan their own hypothetical stowaway adventure (Hint: docents are pretty helpful in this quest). Have them find: A place to sleep, a place to hide their backpack during the day, a place to take a bath, a place to hide from the guards at closing time, a cereal bowl for breakfast, a desk from which to write a letter home, and a piece of sculpture to fall in love with.
  • Before You Go: Check your museum's website for a kids page. Help them search by artist or type of sculpture for something of intrest to them. Once at the Museum, they can locate their favorite objet d'art. (Or, like the kids in the novel, do the research after your visit).
  • Lessons Learned: The key to a successful museum adventure is to make the trips short and sweet - you don't have to see everything. Go for one specific exhibit, or just pick one artist to investigate at a time.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google your city + museum
  • Boston: The Museum of Fine Arts has all the trappings of adventure, so feel free to stow away in any of the high-ceilinged, airy rooms: rest in the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Queen Hatshepsut (1450 BC), enjoy a meal in a ceramic or bronze vessel from Egypt, Greece or Rome, chat with King Tutankhamen, Zeus or Aphrodite, dress up in a Nubian gold bracelet (100 BC) or a Japanese kimono, rinse with a Greek drinking cup (510 BC) and tuck yourself into the Nubian fort-like Divine Shrine (2nd century BC). No one will find you for weeks. 
  • Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago is a perfect place to hide away for an afternoon. From photography, painting and sculpture to an extensive collection of European decorative art, including furniture from the 17th century to the present, this museum has it all and much more.
  • Houston: Explore the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for a great hideaway experience. Plan to eat lunch or dinner at the Cafe Express in the Beck Building for a healthy quick meal. The MFAH has 300,000 square feet of exhibition space, plus gardens full of sculptures and fountains.  The Beck and Law buildings are connected with a tunnel that the hideaways would be sure to use and enjoy.
  • New York: The book and the movie take place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Download the "Mixed-Up Files" Issue from the MuseumKids section on the website. To find the jewelry of Princess Sit Hathor Yunet, that Claudia admired, go to gallery 8 of the Egyptian galleries. King Tut's bed is no longer on display, but we found lots of alternatives in the Federal Gallery. The Michelangelo sculpture depticted in the movie does not exist.  The Museum does own a Michelangelo drawing called Studies for the Libyan Sibyl which is sometimes hung in the Drawing and Prints Gallery. Temple of Dendur is where Claudia and Jamie collected coins and bathed. There is no longer a fountain here, but a beautiful fountain can be found in the Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing.
    Cool Trick: Find the wig in the same glass case to the right of the necklace, if you stand in front of the wig you will see your reflection which gives the impression that you are wearing the wig!
  • San Francisco: 30 miles south of San Francisco is the Filoli Estate, a Georgian Mansion built in the early 1900s where kids can imagine bathing in the pool, hiding amongst the yew trees in the walled garden, eating apples from the orchard, and drinking from the 18th century wine glasses! Possible road closures on Sundays for bicyclists.
  • Washington, D.C.: At the National Gallery of Art, be sure to walk through the sculpture garden. If you're pressed for time, or just have an hour or so check out the smaller Freer + Sackler Galleries. The peacock room is a sight to behold!

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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