by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
You and I are going to die. If our barely hospitable world doesn’t get us, if our fellow man or woman doesn’t do us in, if a freak accident doesn’t whisk us away, and if a disease of some kind doesn’t turn our own fragile bodies against us, then time will come for us and it will claim us. It is there as a constant reminder, that we tick ever so slowly towards our inevitable demise, that we will one day just… go. We will never return to what we once were – young, naive, innocent children – no matter how hard we try, and any exposure to anything not aimed at our age group is a reminder that we will never be that age again, and that the only thing awaiting us is the horrifying, relentless march of time and its accompanying cousin, Death.
These are the thoughts that I had as I sat through Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots & Favourite Stories. Those of you coming here expecting an honest-to-God review would be better served closing the tab and moving on with your life. Peppa Pig is critic-proof. Even by my standards – where I once stated that “I expect a lot because this medium can do so much, and I will not let low-quality or mediocre wastes of space pass by unscathed” – Peppa Pig is critic-proof. It is not for me, it never was for me – I was 10 when the series first debuted and had migrated over to Cartoon Network a good year or so earlier – and it never will be for me. I cannot sit here and tell you what Young Me would have thought because I cannot remember that far back, and I am not about to even hint at pretending that I know how your kids will feel about Peppa Pig.
All I can tell you is what I thought, hence the dalliance with my own mortality. I sat there, near the front of a relatively full screening, watching and dealing with many thoughts and crises of self-confidence. They had started before I’d even walked into the cinema. I mean, to begin with, I’d have to walk up to a cashier, as a grown 20 year-old man by myself and not exactly the most clean-cut acceptable-looking human being in the world, and say, “One for Peppa Pig, please.” They’d have to put on a friendly smile and a demeanour that gives off the impression that they don’t care and there’s no judgement, but we all know that they’re thinking, “The f*ck is up with this weirdo?” because they’re a human being and we human beings judge everybody over everything. Hell, my job depends on that!
Then there are the parents who populate such screenings. Our current culture is one built on fear and panic, that there are dangers everywhere that could bring harm to a parent’s precious child, and I know that at least one parent will see me sit down in a screen populated mostly with children and assume that I’m not here for the film. Christ, I was one of two people in the first screening of Shaun The Sheep: The Movie last week, and the mother of the daughter that she had brought to the film turned around and looked at me multiple times as I was laughing with judgemental eyes that carried a shaming mixture of bewilderment, suspicion, and even more judgement. As the lone man at a screening of Peppa goddamn Pig? I might as well walk around with a flashing neon sign that advertises the ankle bracelet I don’t have.
The programme – I hesitate to call it a “film” because the titular episode is 15 minutes at best and the overall thing doesn’t even last 50 minutes – itself did not help matters. It’s aimed at the lowest of ages and carries a soft, safe, carefree feel and humour that is typical in pre-school entertainment. It has a crude yet colourful art-style that very much resembles the kind of world that a child would be able to draw. The dialogue is to-the-point, loud, and restates everything all of the time to make absolutely sure that pre-schoolers can understand what is going on. It has catchphrases and loud inherently funny noises and is suited very much to the kind of viewer I was a good decade and a half ago.
And that’s what stuck with me. Bitter, jaded, lonely 20 year-old Me was getting pretty much nothing positive from this experience; young, wide-eyed, easily-impressed and optimistic 5 year-old Me may possibly have loved it. He may have been enraptured, he might have sang and danced and oinked without a care in the world. He might have irritated the crap out of his reluctant parents, and then looked back on these memories with equal parts disdain and fondness. Some of the kids got really into Peppa Pig, laughing and clapping and cheering which such wide-eyed youthful sincerity as to remind me that I can never be that cheerily pure again.
I can’t be that accepting. I can’t look at the deliberately amateurish art-style without thinking of how Young Me would have been over the moon that there was a cartoon made that looked exactly as good as I could draw back then – and I’ve somehow gotten even worse in the intervening years – but a Me of that age might not have. I can’t see the graph-paper “teeth” that the characters have without instantly being horrified by how f*cking terrifying it makes the characters look, but a Me of that age might not have. I can’t witness the Milkshake! presenter links without questioning whether a) they’re all on drugs, b) they realise just how patronising they come off as, and c) just how miserable their job must make them feel, but a Me of Peppa Pig’s target age may possibly have found them delightfully fun, innocent and sincere.
Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have. There were no children over the age of about 6 – I estimate as a wild guess, please don’t call the police – and the majority of them completely refused to play along with the Milkshake! gang’s antics. Cries to sing along to songs that everyone apparently already knew fell on deaf ears, calls to dance around went studiously ignored, and almost every attempt at getting a response from the audience was accompanied by extremely uncomfortable stone-cold silence. I was in a nearly full theatre with tonnes of parents and kids on a Saturday morning, and it was like I was in an empty theatre on a Wednesday afternoon. Are kids today really that cynical? Do they really not have time for doing what children’s TV presenters, whose job is to connect with kids, tell them to do, or was I never actually into that in the first place? Or are the parents just miserable f*cks who won’t let their kids do anything?
And then there were the kids who couldn’t sit still for fifty minutes, who got bored and started running about instead trying to amuse themselves. How they’d been brought to the cinema as a treat to watch one of their very favourite pieces of entertainment on the big screen, but their excitable and easily-distracted minds rendered them incapable of actually paying attention the whole way through. One child actually took a fascination to me, not kidding. She would repeatedly get out of her front-row seat, run about the screen and then start approaching me, possibly in curious wonderment as to why I, a grown-ass 20 year-old man, was sat in a cinema with her watching Peppa Pig. She tried to interact with me, even offering up a straw wrapper, but I tried my best to ignore her because her father looked like the kind of man who would immediately punch me in the f*cking teeth if I so much as thought about exchanging pleasantries.
I was a man out of place. I was watching a programme not intended for me, in an audience mostly comprised of human beings a quarter my age, face-to-face with how much I’ve aged and how creeping my own mortality can be. I spent the entire run-time of Peppa Pig confronting various philosophical questions about my life and frequently settled back on these two terrifying thoughts: at Age 20 I feel so horrifyingly old, and that one day I am going to die. Despite my attempts to cocoon myself in the things I liked as a child, to reacquire them and love them and never lose sight of my inner child, I can never truly return. I can never recapture the base level of wonder and enjoyment required to enjoy Peppa goddamn Pig, not to mention how the embarrassed silence that greeted the Milkshake! crew lead me to re-think everything about my formative years.
Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots & Favourite Stories put me through an existential crisis. Peppa Pig. Peppa goddamn Pig did this. I gotta admit that that’s pretty funny, in all honesty.
Also, because I know for a fact that somebody will complain about this not being a review unless I properly review it: it is quite literally just a DVD that they’re charging cinema prices to watch. Just wait for the actual DVD, then you’ll only need to pay the once. Take your kids to Shaun The Sheep, instead.
Callum Petch is older than he’s ever been and now he’s even older. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!