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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #28
October 10, 2007

Art Smarts

Animal Crackers + Best New Art Exhibits and Our Tips for Luring the Museum-Phobic

Your kids will be giggling all night long at the Marx Brothers' old-fashioned antics. Just for the fun of it, we popped Animal Crackers into our DVD players without mentioning that this black and white film was made over seventy years ago. After a few minutes, that Marx Brothers magic took over. The storyline, as if it matters, has Groucho playing an African jungle explorer who has just returned home. During a fancy party in his honor, while Groucho regales high society guests with tales of his exploits, a valuable painting is stolen. Locating the art is just a premise for plenty of silliness that includes fake paintings, an unconventional piano playing scene and a rather lyrical moment with Harpo playing... the harp! Whether your kids pick up on the film's themes of class struggle and social rank, or just crack up at what are now famous witticisms, there is something to please everybody in this beloved film.

Want some cultural relief from those homework-laden afternoons? Think art. Autumn typically brings a colorful showing of fresh art exhibits around every town, and we've discovered a few tricks for helping kids enjoy a museum. Before entering any gallery, we ask our kids to look for a favorite piece. It sounds corny, but it works. One of our boys loved a black and white photograph of nature because he liked to imagine himself in that spot. Another was taken with an outdoor sculpture that changed as it moved in the wind. Our middle school-aged daughter spent thirty minutes trying to figure out where a video installation's images were stored, and declared that the artist should exhibit on YouTube. Just before boredom set in, we delivered on an earlier promise (okay, a bribe) of an ice-cream cone and soon found ourselves in an animated chat...kids LOVE to express their opinions about what they've seen. Kids discussing art over ice-cream? Now, that's a pretty picture. (For additional tips, see KOTC Kernels, below).

 
Film Title: Animal Crackers
Directed By: Victor Heerman
1930, Rated U, 97 min


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom from watching this film with our kids:

  • Why this Film is Worth It: We love watching our kids giggle, and don't think any kid should grow up without being introduced to the Marx Brothers. Little kids will appreciate their physical humor and older kids, once accustomed to the pace of the dialogue, will love the double-entendres and verbal puns. Definitely worth an introduction at any age. Our boys, now going into fifth and sixth grades, started watching the Marx Brothers four years ago, and continue to put these films on top of their Netflix queues.
  • Red Flags: Most kids will find some of the scenes too talky, so feel free to fast forward... just don't miss the big crowd scenes, the card games, or any scene with Groucho, Harpo and Chico together. This is one of the Marx Brothers' longer films, so keep it running as long as the kids are still laughing.
  • Fun Facts: There are no animals in Animal Crackers, but the song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" became Groucho's theme song and music for his TV Game Show You Bet Your Life.
  • Ha, Ha, Ha: Groucho's famous joke came from this film: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know." (Kids really do find this funny!)

Tips for talking with your kids about the film:

  • Cinema Savvy: Animal Crackers was based on a successful Broadway play and filmed in 1930, at the very dawn of talking films. Hence the giddy dialogue!  If your kids beg for more Marx Brothers there are plenty of titles to keep them happy during a few long summer nights. See our Film Festival below.


 

Visit Your City's Best New Art Exhibit

Age Recommendation: Five and up.

Time Allotment: Plan to spend an hour, maybe more depending on the ages of your kids.



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about seeing art with kids:

  • What Worked For Us: When without kids for an afternoon, we love to roam at our leisure. With kids, we start with art we know will grab their interest and plan on making an early exit, as soon as they have had enough -- usually about an hour. We like to ask them to pretend that they can take home one piece in each gallery we visit, so choosing that piece gives them something adult to do, and they usually feel empowered by the assignment. Be ready to learn about your kids' taste in art; they definitely have opinions!
  • Looking at Art with Kids: Remind kids to be quiet in the galleries, and not to touch anything - but, otherwise try to let them alone to roam at their own pace. Ask kids what they think an exhibit or work of art is 'about'. If it's merely pretty for them -- or not pretty - that's fine, too.
  • Postcard Souvenirs: After the exhibit, we made a stop at the museum gift shop and looked for postcards of the pieces they liked. It's fun to purchase a few and keep them posted on the fridge at home.
  • Remember, Leave When the Going Gets Tough: Seeing art should be fun, not a trial. If you have chosen an exhibit that just isn't interesting for kids, leave and laugh about it. If your kids only last for fifteen minutes during your first visit, consider that a triumph. Remember, over the long term, you want your kids to trust that you will choose fun outings, making culture welcome, rather than a dirty word!

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Google your city + art museum, or art exhibits. Check the site's Exhibits page for current and future exhibits.
  • Boston: The new ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) is a “best” exhibit in itself. Located at 100 Northern Ave on Boston’s waterfront, its views of Boston harbor are worth the trip. The recently installed Design Life Now exhibition, Sept. 28th - Jan. 6th, features cutting edge design of the last three years including architecture, furniture, graphics, film, animation, technology, science and fashion. Plus, Louise Bourgeois, one of the most influential living artists, has her own exhibition, which includes a giant black spider not to be missed.
  • Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago isn’t just for grown-ups. The Kraft Education Center is a fully interactive center that offers numerous hands-on activities and workshops for children and families. Currently showing is The Touch Gallery, with sculptures of the human face that children can touch and explore. The BIGsmall exhibit presents different pieces of art that explore the boundaries of size. Reservations are required. Check the calendar for other fun family events like their ongoing story time. The best part is, children under 12 are free!  (Other students are $7.)
  • Houston: The Menil Collection is a unique museum environment located in the Montrose-area Museum District.  It houses the art collection of John and Dominique de Menil, which is considered one of the most significant of the twentieth century.  The collection consists of nearly 15,000 works dating from the Paleolithic era to the present day.
  • New York: Enjoy spectacular autumn views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop to Frank Stella's recent works in stainless steel and carbon fiber at the Frank Stella on the Roof sculpture exhibit on The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden at The Met before it closes Oct. 28th! For sculpture of a different nature, marvel at the mobiles, stabiles and wire constructions at the Focus: Alexander Calder installation at the MoMA, (5th floor), through Feb. 18th.  While at the MoMA, parents should steal a minute to pop into the Ellsworth Kelly single-gallery exhibit.  The kids will also appreciate the bold abstract canvases of color and shapes! (4th floor), through Jan. 7th. Finally, mark Nov. 4th on your calendars for the opening of From The New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig at The Jewish Museum and celebrate the "King of Cartoons" on the centennial of his birth. Did you know that "shrek" means "fear" in Yiddish?
  • San Francisco: There is an exciting exhibit at the SFMOMA by Olafur Eliasson titled Take Your Time. This is a great active, non-traditional exhibit that can engage even the “not a museum!” kids!  One of his instillations is a kaleidoscope tunnel wrapped around the Museum’s truss bridge! The museum offers a fun learning lounge for all ages, and an interactive site.  If possible, go during the week (open Thursdays until 8:45 pm) as the weekends tend to be crowded. The museum’s Caffé Museo offers great food, as does the food court at the Metreon (4th & Mission) across Yuerba Buena Garden.
  • Washington, D.C.: Your kids will enjoy walking the rounded halls of the Hirshhorn no matter what you see. Don't miss Morris Louis Now: An American Master Revisited, an exuberant, lyrical celebration of colors hovering in white space, through Jan. 6th. The third level also houses kid-friendly works of art, including mobiles by Alexander Calder, and a seven-by-twelve foot American flag made of video monitors. The Corcoran Gallery of Art always has great photography exhibitions. Currently you can see works by Ansel Adams, through Jan. 27th.  Beginning Oct. 13th you can see Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990–2005, through Jan. 13th. Get tickets online and in advance.  While you are there contemplate the exhibition, Kyoko Ibe & Mark Lander: Indigenous Paper, which showcases two internationally renowned artists who work in handmade indigenous-fiber paper and installation.  The Corcoran also has great hands on family programs on the weekends.



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



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