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The Day Charlie Chaplin Won Over Disney Channel

04/18/2014 01:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2014
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I suppose that, when it comes down to it, I'm an average dad.

In moments of paternal exaltation, my wife and I follow the manual down to the letter: we think that our 5-year-old and 10-year-old daughters are the prettiest, kindest, and smartest that the world has ever seen. But when lucidity returns, we arrive at the conclusion that, yes, they're great, but they also have multiple defects.

Of course, I'm responsible in large part for any deficiencies my girls suffer. Most of the time, as a father, I know I'm just not doing as well as I could: I don't spend enough time with them, I sometimes try to shirk my responsibilities. For example, I don't keep them from using video consoles or tablets, or watching TV. Some nights, looking back on the day, I realize they've spent hours and hours with their Nintendo. The next day may be the same.

I allow it, even though I know it's not the best for them.

My daughters are normal. They read, they think, they do their homework... and like good girls, they're unpredictable. One night -- sick of them watching American TV series in which the characters, handsome boys and attractive girls, live in luxury apartments in Manhattan, drive Porsches, and have parents who, luckily enough for the kids, are never home -- I took an initiative that was wholly successful.

I turned off the show they were watching and put on Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. As I recall, that evening I had been listening to a radio show celebrating the 125th anniversary of the birth of Chaplin, without any doubt one of film history's great geniuses.

I must admit that when the movie started, I was convinced that my experiment was going to end up shipwrecked in a sea of mistakes. The movie was in black and white, silent, starring a mustachioed man in a bowling hat. It did not exactly feature the stuff that based on what I've seen, seem to interest kids these days.

Despite that, I triumphed. Few times have I seen my kids laugh so hard as that night. They asked me to replay the scene in which the kid flees from the police running as fast as he can at least five times.

And, with tears in their eyes, they turned away when the same kid was separated forcefully from his vagabond father. During the 52 minutes that the movie lasts, I explained everything that they didn't understand, jumped ahead a few scenes to pique their interest ("Just wait and see what happens next!"), and overacted, laughing in big guffaws at scenes that I already knew by heart.
Five days later, they'd seen The Kid many more times.

Weeks later, I did the same thing with another Chaplin film, Modern Times. In various moments, I had to stop the movie because my eldest daughter, who's 10, was actually crying to the point of tears (during the celebrated screws scene) or screaming from all the suspense (at the end of the movie, when Chaplin almost roller skates off a cliff). My 5-year-old laughed, screamed, and enjoyed everything just the way a little girl would.

At this point they've seen The Kid, Modern Times, and The Gold Rush -- well, with the last few minutes of that one muted. It's not a revolution, I know. But it's a small victory, at least for me. They haven't and won't stopped watching Disney Channel series that I hate, like Jessie, My Dog Has a Blog, or Shake It Up. But they know who The Tramp is. They have seen top-notch cinema and have worried about how it's humanly possible for a worker to have to spend eight hours a day screwing in screws on an assembly line.

In short, I've been witness to the fact that with a little effort, any kid can have their attention captured, can be asked a little more than normal -- and will respond well to the challenge.

You only need the will to do it. And the genius of Charlie Chaplin.