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KIDS ON FILM : Depression-Era Story Does More With Less

September 23, 1993|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' View section. and

In "King of the Hill," Aaron, an imaginative Depression-era youngster, struggles to survive in a hotel after his mother, father and younger brother are forced by circumstances to move out. (Rated PG-13)

It was a time when schoolbooks were carried with straps, when kids played marbles and used such swear words as "Criminy," when $1 a week could be too much to spend on a child.

It was a world unknown not only to kids today, but also to many of their parents. It was, in short, "weird," said Celinda Sandoval, 8, one of a few children lassoed by their parents to this coming-of-age memoir.

"Everything was different," she said.

That, of course, was the primary reason most parents said they wanted their children to see the movie.

"It was an object lesson," said her mother, Gay, explaining that Celinda and her sister Maggie, 11, "complain when their rooms aren't 20 by 20, when they don't each have a TV in their rooms and the cupboards aren't full of what they want."

In the movie, Aaron grows delirious from hunger, becomes an honor student, copes with a world full of unreliable people and events and brings his family back together. A handsome young mensch, he's a sort of Kevin Arnold of the 1930s--but instead of suburbia, his neighborhood is the cheesy Empire Hotel, the girl in his life a lonely epileptic, his best friend an honorable thief, his decisions a matter of life and death.

Gay said both her girls learned a lot.

"The photography was good," Maggie said. "And they had it look like it was in the '30s."

And even kids who normally prefer faster-paced Arnold Schwarzenegger films and who admitted they had to be dragged "kicking and screaming," gave the movie a perfect five stars.

Joe Zorrilla, 11, said he expected to be bored by any movie his mother had picked but was surprised that he and his brothers, 8 and 9, all liked it.

They were suitably impressed, as their parents had hoped, by the family's dire circumstances.

Nine-year-old Jeff was struck most by a moving scene of the younger brother being sent by Greyhound to live with relatives so the parents could save $1 a week.

"It was sad," he said. "I'd hate to live that kind of a life."

Spencer Daniels, 12, said: "I didn't know much about the Depression. I was able to see what it was about and stuff and learn how hard it was to live and to get money. It was sad toward the end, what he had to go through. His parents left. His brother was gone. He didn't have any money for rent. It was hard, compared to how we live."

Some kids are not bothered by having to watch coming-of-age memoirs they can't relate to.

"I like it because it tells about their own experience and stuff," Maggie said.

Her grandmother, 77-year-old Claudine Geiser, recalled that the Depression years, while difficult, were not as rough on her as they were on the film's family.

Nevertheless, Geiser said, "we had a lot of fun without having a limousine or going to Hawaii."

It's good for today's kids to see the movie "and realize things could be a lot different."

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