How Gen Z Isn’t Getting the Movie Education They So Desperately Need
Or, I Just Came Here to Facilitate Pictionary, and I Am Feeling So Attacked Right Now
The 90s and early 2000s were an excellent time for movies. As one of those darned Millennials ruining the world, I grew up during the golden age of Disney, Steven Spielberg, and Harry Potter. These works were so ingrained in American culture; I was essentially breathing in Mickey Mouse dust and coughing up the scientific names of dinosaurs in my sleep.
This summer, I was surrounded by those smart-phone addicted Generation Zers (is that what they’re called? Let's just go with “the Youthz” from here on out). I was teaching photography, but I found that the activity didn’t come with enough mental stimulation, and so we played games (Pictionary being one of them). I picked the category because I run a dictatorship in my classroom and not a democracy. I chose movies.
Now, imagine me whispering into the ears of the Youthz, aged 12 to 17, the names of amazing 90s and early 2000s movies, thinking myself a brilliant and fun camp instructor. Just picture the Youthz taking a step back from me, empty gazes on their faces, mouths half-open, shaking their heads in confusion and saying to me in a hushed tone: “We haven’t seen that movie.” Now imagine me screaming. After a moment, I told them to draw “Frozen” as I sobbed in defeat. Rinse and repeat several more times with many other movies.
I was shocked, saddened, hurt, and traumatized by their lack of relevant pop culture knowledge. So, in true writer form, I’m sharing my indignation with you. Buckle up, fam, because I’m going to share some of the movies that Generation Z kids should have seen by now but haven't.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
We’re starting with the best movie ever, which is also a victim of not being appreciated in its time (something I’m all too familiar with). It’s a story about being true to who you are, about helping those in need, and it’s a movie that cautions viewers to acknowledge that those in power who claim to know what is right may actually be evil, murderous bastards who want to drown babies with disabilities in wells (sounds a little like anti-vaxxers). Add these lessons to an amazing voice cast, a gorgeous soundtrack, and the greatest animation Disney had to offer in the 90s, and you have a movie that withstands time.
Quasimodo, the Hunchback, is a kind-hearted person who is ostracized and abused for being different. But in the end, he is loved and accepted for who he is, not what he looks like. There’s a lesson in there, and the darned Youthz are missing out. No wonder they hated me—they never learned that being different is cool.
Zenon Girl of the 21st Century (1999)
Zetus Iupetus! There is just something enjoyably campy about a girl with a crazy name, raised on a space station above the earth, who needs to save the space station from blowing up because of an insurance scam. Oh, and throw in a hunky pop star that sings about super-nova-girls, and you have a classic that should be on a required watch list.
It’s interesting to see what people of 1999 thought the future would look like, with video phones, hologram teachers, and hover cars. Teens and kids alike would enjoy just how ridiculous this prediction of the future is. Come on; video phones aren’t the sizes of textbooks, they fit in the palm of our hands! Silly filmmakers circa 1999. You also get to see a cheesy romance that makes everyone cringe, and there is Raven-Symone (before she lost her damn mind) acting her ass off in hot pink leggings. What’s not to love?
All of the Harry Potter movies (2001-2011)
Most of the kids I work with have seen a couple, but not all of the Harry Potter movies. This is wild to me, mostly because once I start a movie saga, I’m compelled to finish it. Then think about how much effort needed to go into this franchise to keep it seamless, using the same child actors as the main characters for over ten years straight. That’s a huge feat! Additionally, there are many heartfelt lessons littered throughout the series, lessons that any child should be exposed to like the power of friendship, love conquers all, and finding light during dark times.
Plus, how could anyone not want to know what happens with Harry and Voldemort? How does anyone ignore one of the largest and most enjoyable phenomena in popular culture? Hogwarts and the wizarding world are so immersive, from the Hogwarts houses that anyone would love to sort themselves into, to the relatable characters and, for goodness sakes, you can choose your own wand! Are the Youthz broken? How did they not get sucked in? And, most importantly, why would anyone not want to enjoy watching Emma Watson act her talented and gorgeous ass off? I must have been hit with a Confundus Charm because I am shook.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Teenagers recognize Stitch, probably, because he is adorable and used by Disney as a symptom of capitalism: on mugs, t-shirts, stuffed animals, socks, underwear, band-aids, dime-baggies and more. But the Youthz don’t know which movie he originates from. When I played Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride—the iconic song of the film that I frequently butcher in the shower—I was met with more blank stares from the campers.
This movie is so beautiful, pure, and thoughtful. Lilo and her big sister Nani are real and accessible. They aren’t Disney princesses. Their parents died in a horrible car accident, and the realism of their resulting poverty and tango with CPS is something that Disney hadn’t done before. Disney represented Hawaiian culture well, taking into consideration the history, current state, and mysticism of the island. The movie deals with grief in a thoughtful and accessible way, with Lilo’s bursts of violence towards her classmates and how she calmly, but sadly, tells Stitch that it’s okay for him to go, because “I remember everyone that leaves.” This is a film that is real but also fun and enjoyable. The Youthz need fun and enjoyable—that’s why they come to summer camp, so I can demand they watch incredible movies. (I don’t think any of them did, but I tried).
Jurassic Park (1993)
When I told them to draw this film for our doomed game of Pictionary, they asked me: “Oh the new ones?” At this point, I just wept.
I remember watching the original Jurassic Park and being awestruck. I loved dinosaurs; my brother loved dinosaurs; my partner still loves dinosaurs: all because of this movie. I remember wanting to check out paleontology books from the library, another lost piece of culture that the Youthz have forgotten, and challenging my cousin to name as many dinosaurs as possible because the names sounded so smart. Jurassic Park started a whole phenomenon of dinosaur entertainment, from computer games to television specials. Most Millennials remember this amazing time of science and exploration.
So am I missing something? Did the kids of Generation Z not go through a phase where they were obsessed with dinosaurs? Why didn’t their parents force them to sit through these movies? Is it because Spielberg’s effects hold up too well, and they’re scared of the rendered dinosaurs? Do they not appreciate the pop culture idol that is Jeff Goldblum? I have so many unanswered questions, and no—I am not okay.
These are the movies that were so ingrained in my life that I just assumed others would know and love them, that the parents of the Youthz were doing their duty to humanity and educating their children on what good entertainment is. But no—most of my camp kids just shook their heads and asked for a “good movie” for our silly game of Pictionary.
Most of them have seen the Emoji Movie, though.
Note: My experience was not a controlled scientific group. It was me playing Pictionary with a group of kids at a camp.