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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #63
August 06, 2008

Countdown to the Beijing Olympics: Part II

Mulan + Watching The Olympics With Kids

Our kids never run out of questions about the world, and as excitement about the Olympics builds, they've been asking about China. Disney heroine Mulan provides a good departure point for armchair travelers -- her escapades give vivid introduction to ancient China and provide kids with a role model who, like our girls, would rather wear camo than pastels. Mulan’s courage trumps convention when she sneaks away and joins the Imperial Army, dressed as a boy. Quick-witted and determined, her unconventional combat skills are essential to the Imperial Army's victory against marauding Huns. Wacky sidekicks, catchy musical numbers, and a fireworks finale keep everyone enthralled. By modeling courage, honesty and good aim, Mulan catches the eye of a valiant young warrior. The film pays tribute to Asian folklore and culture: we spotted splendors like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and the animation echoes Chinese calligraphy, architecture and sculpture.

Screening Mulan made for a simple transition to talk about heroes of today -- the athletes who will compete in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. As our moniker implies we don't usually suggest spending a weekend on the couch, but we have such wonderful memories of watching the Olympics as kids, we could hardly resist the incredible stories that will be coming from the East over the next several weeks. To prepare for the onslaught of media (NBC is broadcasting in HD on TV and over the Internet), we asked each child to choose their favorite event, and then searched online to learn more about each sport and its athletes. One of our sons picked Table Tennis (don't call it Ping-Pong!) and the other is primed to see whether Michael Phelps will best Mark Spitz's record of 7 gold medals in the 1972 Munich Games. One of our daughters chose Gymnastics (where we learned the ins and outs of the new scoring system) and another, an avid volleyball player, reveres Misty May. They pored over the athlete biographies and noted when the their chosen sporting events would be broadcast (Click here for NBC's comprehensive site that includes a terrific zip-code search function to determine your local stations and viewing times). We also set the TIVO to record those events that would go on while our future Olympians were sleeping. For us parents, the off the couch moment came when, last Sunday morning, the kids grabbed the newspaper, competing for the section with those iconic colored rings to see what the pundits were predicting in the pre-Olympics coverage. Kids wanting to read the newspaper... that is worth Olympic Gold.

Film Title: Mulan
Directed By: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
1998, Rated G, 1 hr. 47 min.

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why This Film is Worth It: This is a sweet, but not sappy, story about a character who has to do some heavy lifting (literally!) before she finds her place in the world. Mulan helps us cherish our Inner Oddball, and offers a peek at an ancient world through a contemporary lens.
  • Red Flags: Ultimate Sidekick Eddie Murphy was cast as Mulan's helping Dragon before he became Donkey, and if you find the two characters hard to tell apart, you're not alone. Fortunately, we were laughing too hard to care.
  • Further Viewing: Watch these other great films about the Olympics: Miracle, Chariots of Fire and Cool Runnings.

Our Tips for talking with your kids about this Film: 

  • Culture Savvy: Chinese innovations include eyeglasses, salt mining, gunpowder, printing and papermaking. When we asked our youngest if she knew who created fireworks, she surprised us by saying, "The Chinese, of course."  Tech-fluent children enjoy thinking about the creation of the tools they take for granted.  How do we compare to people from distant places and times?  Do similarities outweigh differences? Our kids never tire of this question.  We liked that the Disney characters offer details that make an ancient era seem accessible.
  • New On The Scene: The fantasy-adventure crowd will recognize a tribute to the Terra Cotta Warriors in the new "Mummy" movie, "The Dragon's Revenge".  Kids who've seen the Warrior exhibit will feel like they can tell Brendan Frazier a thing or two about the topic. 


Watch the Olympics as a Family for schedule information
Opening Ceremonies - Friday, August 8

Age Recommendation: everyone

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What Works for Us: Our kids each chose their favorite sport, and did online research to figure out when to view the best matches (hello Tivo!). Because of the Internet, they were quickly able to meet athletes and learn the scoring and rules of each game - believe us, in Table Tennis this is key! Click here to visit NBC's incredible website for all you need to know about the Games, the athletes and the rules. The New York Times' site is also rich with data and stories.
  • Before You Watch: We are planning viewing parties for the opening ceremonies (this Friday night -- 8/08/08) and the kids are organizing a time for their team buddies to come and watch "their" sport off the DVR.

Our Tips for Expanding this Adventure:

  • Get Schooled about Each Sport: On NBC's website, and in PLAY, a special supplement to the New York Times last week, families can brush up their knowledge of the rules and scoring particulars of each sport.

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

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