Lately, a few girls in one of my four-year-old classes have been pretending to be kitties. I won’t lie. There are few things I dislike more than children pretending to be animals. I can’t stand it. It would have been slightly more tolerable had they been playing quiet, timid kitties issuing delicate little mews. But no. These kitties sounded like they were being dunked into frigid water. Repeatedly.
“Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” a girl squeaked. “Eiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii,” another girl squealed in reply. They frolicked on their hands and knees toward a toy pan and pretended to lap up milk. “MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” “EIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!”
Even when I was little I thought other kids pretending to be animals was weird. One kid in my elementary school pretended to be a velociraptor straight out of Jurassic Park every recess for probably a solid year. He formed his hands into claws and held them near his chest as he stealthily tiptoed around the playground. Sometimes if you got too close he would hiss and screech at you.
And then there was the creepy girl we met at the pool when I was about ten who thought she was a dolphin. She made all sorts of dolphin-esque noises and even attempted to swim like a dolphin. I can’t remember if she spit water into the air like a dolphin. What put me over the edge was when she tried to play with my four-year-old brother like she was the main attraction at Sea World. I remember thinking, “She’s like my age… and pretending to be a fish. This is creepy.” So I snatched my little brother away. I mean, dolphins have teeth too. Apparently she’d read one too many Animorph books or something. I can’t help but wonder what animal she was out of water.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong for kids to pretend to be animals. Imagination-based play is great. I’m all for pretending to be fairies, doctors, teachers, race car drivers, magicians, superheroes, etc. But when it comes to animals I can’t help but think, “Really? That’s the best you can come up with?” I like cats, especially kittens, but there’s nothing really great about pretending to be one. They eat, sleep, use the litter box, rub up against people’s legs, meow, purr, and run away from dogs. They don’t even talk. Lame.
Then comes up the dilemma of talking animals. I’m perfectly fine with cartoon or puppet animals talking. I loved the Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians as a child. But it’s just weird when kid shows have real dogs or cats that talk. Take, for example, this movie. Maybe you bought this for your dog-loving child for Christmas, and I’m sure they’ll love it. But please don’t tell me that watching those dogs talk isn’t creepy slash bizarre.
Remember this 90’s movie? This one isn’t too bad because it was before they could digitally manipulate the animals’ mouths, but it’s still kind of weird. My biggest beef is giving animals human qualities. They aren’t humans. They are animals. Also, I don’t really like the idea of teaching kids that if you don’t like where your mom drops you off, you can just run away.
Speaking of animals being creepily human-like, you’ve probably seen this commercial. It’s animation, but it’s still weird. Animals aren’t like that. And they don’t look like that. And they don’t talk.
But occasionally, and ever so rarely, talking animals work for me. I happen to really like this commercial. And then there’s this movie. I have a thing for little talking pigs. For some reason the animals don’t look too unnatural when they’re “talking.” It also helps that it has a few really great underlying messages: You can do anything if you try; it’s ok to be different; be kind to those who are different than you; being nice can get you a long way; etc.
Anyway, I imagine that these animals pretending to be humans has something to do with kids pretending to be animals. The more human-like animals are, the more relate-able animals are to kids, I guess. I’m just crossing my fingers that my future kids aren’t hugely into pretending to be dogs or watching talking dog movies.
Update: One of my links was wrong, but it’s fixed now.