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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #54
May 28, 2008

Seeking Higher Ground

Evan Almighty + Talking with Kids About Natural Disasters

In Evan Almighty, last summer's comedic take on the Noah's Ark story, newly-minted Congressman Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) gained his seat with the slogan "Change The World." Plans go a bit awry when he is asked to co-sponsor a bill to allow development of national park land, yet not is all lost when the Almighty (Morgan Freeman) directs him to build an ark. He does, and animals show up two-by-two. It's the humans that take a lot longer to get on board -- Evan's family is befuddled and his colleagues bewildered by his odd behavior. It's easy to laugh along when birds flock to Evan's Congressional hearings, but his family soon loses faith, certain that he's having a mid-life crisis. Carell plays the modern-day Noah with a bemused resignation that made us wonder whether the Biblical Noah's family thought he was a little nuts. When Evan's family finally joins him in time to shepherd hundreds of gorgeous, computer generated animals onto the ark, we were all swept along in a gigantic flood that changes hearts and minds all the way to the Capital Building.

The flood portrayed in Evan Almighty services the myth of Noah's Ark, for the sake of comedy; it is by no means representative of a serious natural disaster. Sadly, thousands of parents are having to deal with unimaginable loss after the deadly cyclone hit Myanmar 3 weeks ago, and an earthquake devastated schools and homes in China's Sichuan Province. We've been riveted to the news, but weren't sure how to discuss the tragedy with our own children. It feels strange to shield them from important world news (we don't want them to grow up in a bubble) but what at what volume should we offer a download? We have consulted our own expert, Marriage and Family Counselor Sandy Silas, for answers to these confusing questions - she cautions parents to first learn exactly what the kids know, and to focus on how the news makes them feel. Young children can focus on the facts about earthquakes and storms, and older kids can begin to think about earthquake preparedness (a sobering thought after last week's news that Southern California may indeed be due for another trembler) and make a contribution to one of the savvy non-profit organizations who are already sending aid to those troubled regions. Check out our City Savvy section below for her age-appropriate recommendations.

Film Title: Evan Almighty
Directed By: Tom Shadyac
2007, Rated PG, 95 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why this Film is Worth It: Evan Almighty is a light comedy that will please youngsters, and perhaps middle schoolers. Although produced as a sequel to Bruce Almighty (which our kids adored), we soon forgot that the two films were related. Evan doesn't have special powers, other than animals being drawn to him, and submits to his destiny rather than rail at the supreme being who has bestowed powers upon him.
  • Red Flags: A dam high above where the the ark is being built tears loose and water gushes down a valley, bursting the ark loose from its mooring and sweeping it down through Washington D.C. This elaborate special effect is a bit tense for a moment, but is not played for scares. Cover the ears of the littlest audience members.

Tips for talking with your kids about the film:

  • Cinema Savvy: Forty days and nights seems short compared to the work it took to create the animals for this film, which has more computer generated animals than have ever been created for a film. Some animals were shot in real time, some were shot against a blue screen and matted into the live shot, but most of the animals were created digitally. Look carefully at the sequence when all the animals climb into the ark - can you tell who is digital and who is real?
  • Belief Savvy: The story of a great flood appears in the stories of many cultures from Judaism to Hinduism to Christianity. In the Bible, Noah rescues the animals from the scourge of a vengeful God; other cultures just carry a story about a massive flood. Ask the kids what they think in the myth is so enduring, or if they think a flood might have actually taken place.


Talking With Kids About Natural Disasters

Our Kids Off The Couch Expert, Marriage and Family Counselor Sandy Silas, Offers Tips for Talking to Children of Every Age, from Tots to Teens

Ages: Everyone
Time: As long as it takes

Our tips from Sandy Silas, for talking with your kids about the tragedies around the world:

  • Ask Before Telling: Always open a discussion of these topics by asking children what they have heard, and how they feel about the news. Then, try to find out how the news makes them feel. Often, kids just need help processing the limited information they've heard. These simple prompts can open insightful conversation.
  • More than Age Appropriateness: Although Sandy's age recommendations set out nice parameters for conversation, parents should discuss with one another whether their particular child is ready to handle news of a catastrophe. For sensitive kids, the images and stories from China will cause additional anxiety; others can't relate at all to something they don't witness first hand.
  • Pre-School: Try not to discuss the actual crisis at all - if the issue arises, focus the discussion on storm systems and how and earthquake happens when the earth needs to wiggle, and adjust.
  • Kindergarten to 4th grade: Concrete thinking dominates this age group, so reassure them that natural disasters of this magnitude are extremely rare. They can handle the specifics of why the earth moved, or how a storm forms. If they've heard about collapsing schools in China, they can be told that the buildings were made of substandard materials; assure them that their school has been built correctly, and much more sturdily. You can remind them that most buildings survived the 1994 quake, here in LA.
  • 4th-6th grade: By fifth grade, most kids get some news in the classroom, with magazines such as Time For Kids. Similar to slightly younger kids, this age group still wants to feel empowered in the unlikely event of a crisis. Role play with them - who would they call? Where would they stand if they were in their home, etc. Click here for a link to a fascinating article on practical household advice for an emergency.
  • Middle School and Up: Parents still should start by asking questions: how much do the kids know, and how does it make them feel. These simple prompts can open insightful conversation. Tweeners and teens can also help with earthquake preparedness, and are ready to be empathetic with kids from other parts of the world. They can raise money, or donate their own allowance, to organizations such as the International Medical Corps, Doctors Without Borders, and Direct Aid International. (See below for more detail on each group).

Our tips for organizations that can help worldwide:

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

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