How 'E.T.' Connects Me to My Kids

When I excitedly played E.T. -- arguably one of the best family films of all time -- for my kids a few weeks ago, they watched, but unenthusiastically. I could instantly see why.

Compared with films of today, movies I enjoyed as a kid look like the "before" clothes in a laundry detergent commercial -- the special effects are cheap and fleeting, and the animation flat. The time period itself is an issue: the culture of the 1980's is as alien to my children as the blue-skinned Na'vi of Avatar's Pandora.

The only similarity between films from my childhood and current ones are the haircuts, which tragically came back into vogue while few were paying attention.

The realization made me consider giving up introducing my kids to classic films of my own youth (and the entire 20th century, for that matter), and sticking with the Dwayne Johnson comedies, book-inspired fantasy serials, and spectacularly-rendered 3D animated films of the present. What's the point, really?

But suddenly, shortly into the movie, my son perked up.

"Dad, Dad! He’s playing with Star Wars toys!"

Sure enough, there's an unmemorable scene in E.T. in which Elliot is introducing his extraterrestrial friend to a set of 80's-era Star Wars figurines. Later, on Halloween, Elliot and E.T. run into a kid dressed as Yoda. To my son, a walking Star Wars encyclopedia, it must have been shocking. What were toys and characters from a franchise he loved doing in a movie his Dad loved as a kid?

Time warp or not, it made Elliot instantly more relatable to my son. In time, all the kids were glued to the screen, proving that they can detect a good story when they see it. They just don't mind the obscenely bad ones anywhere near as much as grownups do.

When the movie was over, my children wanted to know all about my original experience with E.T. -- when I saw it, where I saw it, who I saw it with, even about the E.T. Atari game I bought weeks later (a game later reviled as one of the worst in Atari history.)

They eventually forgot they ever saw E.T. -- it had nowhere near the impact of, say, Kung Fu Panda, but I'm thankful for how E.T. connected my childhood and theirs. It's important for my children to realize I was a kid at one time, too, and can (hypothetically) relate to them on that level.

It's even more important that they know I wasn't born this dorky.

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