there are some days when the state of the art simply does not satisfy. instead, it leaves me cold. on days like those i am profoundly grateful for things like paddle to the sea (1966).
this tiny jewel is bill mason's adaptation of holling c. holling's children's book from 1941 and is full of the kind of simpler pleasures they simply do not put into movies for children anymore. it follows the story of a canoe and rider, lovingly carved by hand, from the spring thaw in western ontario to its eventual arrival in the atlantic ocean. paddle to the sea's journey is fraught with peril, both natural and man-made, but he perseveres, and along the way we are treated to some beautiful nature cinematography and a valuable lesson or two.
i can't say enough about how much i love this movie but here are at least a few reasons why:
it's great for kids and kids need this movie now more than ever. as of this writing, when you enter "kids schedule maker" in a google search you get 232,000 hits, the very first one being specifically for preschool children. you people are insane. this film is a perfect antidote to just that very mindset. it begins with kyle, a young boy in the nipigon country of canada, patiently carving and decorating the canoe and accompanying figure. taken with the idea of adventure beyond the bounds of the world he knew, he aimed for something magnificent and was diligent and devoted to that dream. now, when i was just a li'l shaver my head was full of these kinds of ideas. i tied notes to balloons, put messages in bottles, turned my hardy boys books into safes for all my "valuables" and imagined buried treasure everywhere. when i was a kid, you could wholly invest yourself in a crazy idea like "i'm going to carve a canoe and it's going to sail from here to the ocean". i was fortunate, i suppose. my parents worked hard to encourage and foster my imagination and my generation was, quite possibly, one of the last that was truly allowed to be kids. we played outside until the streetlights came on, got dirty, got hurt sometimes, had pocketknives, jumped our bicycles off of things, caught spiders and snakes and none of it required a daily planner. it is simply tragic that so much of the spontaneity and exploration and room for that kind of magic has been administrated out of kids' lives today.
there's a great deal in the film for adults, as well. it is an elegant metaphor for the journey we are all on together. there is a certain amount of nostalgia to it, yes - the narration, style and tone are certainly of a very specific time - but the implicit emphasis on the value of serenity in the midst of trial and turmoil is something we can all stand to be reminded of anytime. our little wooden hero placidly sails on, smiling no matter what comes his way. sometimes he needs a little help from his friends, sometimes he does just fine even though he has no paddle or arms free to paddle with. sometimes he is right in the thick of the action, sometimes he drifts by in the margin, silently observing. undaunted, he reaches the sea.
it really is a beautiful meditation. take the time to see it if you can and revisit, if only briefly, that part of your life when your happiness was looked after so you had time for flights of fancy. and if you have kids please show it to them. watch it together. let them know the world out there is exciting and vast and there is still plenty of room for wonder in our lives if we just take the time to look for it.
you can get an excellent print of the movie here. if you're not inclined to buy it, you can see it on youtube in three sections starting here. and if you ever find me struggling or gone astray please follow these simple instructions...