Enter the third dimension with care
It seems most kids' films these days are in 3D, something which apparently enhances one's enjoyment of the movie. Just try telling that to parents of small children
Any outing with small children is, as all parents know, fraught with the possibility of disaster. Before embarking on any activity there will be a frenzy of shouting, refusals and missing shoes.
The cinema, in particular, has its own unique set of pitfalls. Because films start at a set time there is the additional stress of a deadline. When you eventually get to the cinema you have to run the gauntlet of the stacks of brightly coloured confectionery and deal with any ensuing tantrum. And, as you then have to negotiate a darkened auditorium, the opening sequence of many children's films can be accompanied by a series of small thuds and wails.
Add 3D to the mix -- and this is exactly what the studios are currently doing to practically every children's movie -- and the potential for disaster shoots through the roof.
Obviously whoever has decided that 3D films are the way to go hasn't had much hands-on experience of dealing with toddlers.
Anyone who has ever attempted to submit a child to the torture of a face wiping or nose blowing knows better than to invest millions in technology that necessitates small children putting things on their faces.
Take, for example, when I brought my eldest son, Dylan (four), to see 'Up' in 3D. When I produced the big, awkward, adult-sized glasses he refused point blank to wear them. They must have been particularly unappealing because this is the same boy who previously had no problem running around with his mother's only pair of designer sunglasses on his head.
Without the glasses the screen is a headache-inducing blur, which he watched for all of 20 minutes. By that stage the sweets were finished and he lost all interest in the film and went for a wander in the aisles. He rounded off his cinematic experience by rummaging in nearby handbags and snacking on discarded popcorn.
I am not alone in my aversion to 3D. Many colleagues and the parents of children in my sons' creche reported similar problems. The glasses were either too big or the children just wouldn't wear them.
Selfless granny Maria O'Connor's solution was to sit through 'Shrek' clamping the glasses to granddaughter Emily's head -- although not everybody is willing to risk cramp like that!
Rita Lennon, from Crumlin in Dublin, is mother of Joe (six) and Chloe (three). "I took my two to see 'Monsters Vs Aliens' in 3D. My six-year-old loved it but my three-year-old was scared and the glasses were so big that she couldn't keep them on her head without holding them, which, being a three-year-old, she wouldn't do.
"You'd think with half the films in the cinema in 3D now they'd make kids'-sized glasses. I think I'll wait until they're older before I bring them again!"
Ciaran Buckley, father to Elizabeth (eight) and Matthew (six), has brought his children to lots of 3D films including 'Toy Story' and 'A Christmas Carol'.
"The kids liked them but I don't know if they liked them more than normal cartoons. They did whinge about the glasses but wore them as the blur without them was worse. Elizabeth enjoyed 'A Christmas Carol' especially -- she loved the snowflakes right in your face.
"I decided not to bring Matt to the 3D version of 'How to Train your Dragon' to avoid the hassle of the glasses and afterwards he said '3D would have been awesome -- dragons would fly in your face!' You can't win!"
David Boyle, from Monkstown in Dublin, father of Adam (six) and Simon (three), has decided 3D is not worth the hassle.
"A few weeks ago, my wife drove the kids all the way from Monkstown to Liffey Valley -- passing half the cinemas in the city -- in order to find a screen at which 'Despicable Me' was showing in non-3D format."
One father who did not wish to be named was fuming when, having paid extra for the 3D screening, his son Finn refused to wear the glasses.
"It had been such a pain getting to the cinema and it was so expensive there was no way I was going home," he says.
Thinking himself very resourceful he sellotaped the glasses onto the side of Finn's head. Of course this only made his son more resentful of the glasses and the resulting struggle meant the sellotape wound up completely tangled in the child's hair.
The upshot of all this was that a messy ball of hair and tape had to be cut out of Finn's hair by his furious mother!
So if the parents and the children are less than enamoured of the technology, why are so many films in 3D? Trish Long, vice-president of Disney Ireland, says: "The decision on whether 3D is used is not made based on a particular genre or demographic but on whether or not 3D would enhance the telling of a story.
"When used wisely, 3D creates a more immersive experience and allows kids to really lose themselves in a film."
Sarah O'Shea, of the Gate cinema in Cork, agrees with Trish and feels that 3D has been very successful: "It is unbelievable how popular the 3D films are. They sell out much quicker than the 2D showings."
However, she qualifies this by saying that when films show in both 3D and 2D, parents with smaller children will go for the 2D because the smaller children won't wear the glasses.
Although a few people had complained about the size of the glasses it hasn't been a big issue. That said, they are expecting their first delivery of kids' sized glasses next month.
To ensure your children get the best out of the film you should prepare them for the experience. We often forget how much is new to them. It might also be a good idea to let them know that these films will be different to the cartoons they watch on TV and that they may feel like they can reach out and touch the characters.
Even explaining about the 'special' glasses beforehand and making them part of the overall adventure might make a child more likely to submit to them.
Whatever you do, don't make the same mistake as Elaine Dunning: "The first time I brought my kids to the cinema I forgot to tell them that the place would be in darkness during the film. As soon as the lights went down they screamed their heads off!"