We were lured to Reading by the Vanity Fair Factory Outlet Store. Their two, colossal five-floor warehouses (the red building and blue building) were the focal point of a huge discount complex, on Hill Avenue.THE FACE OF THE RECTANGULAR BLUE BUILDING (above) SHOWS THE SHORT SIDE OF THE STORE. THE MIRROR-IMAGED RED BUILDING RUNS PARALLEL TO THE LONG SIDE. AN INTERIOR BRIDGE CONNECTS BOTH SO SHOPPERS DON'T HAVE TO BRAVE THE ELEMENTS TO SWITCH BUILDINGS. BETWEEN THEM OUTSIDE, A PRETTY, TREE AND BENCH-LINED COMMON AREA, PROVIDES A PARK-LIKE ATMOSPHERE.
We'd get into Vanity Fair around noon. Sometimes we wouldn't leave the store all day and only give a minimum of time to other places. VF specialized in all aspects of clothing but other vendors are also there. Our chief concern was to build-up my son Andrew's toddler wardrobe. But I was assured at least a bag of socks while my wife Sue, power-shopped for herself and hunted down gifts.
I liked the basement best because they had a few more shops and hosted a vast food court. While its true that I looked forward to lunchtime, my day was usually crowned with a nice dinner. The first time around, before we were savvy enough to research old world Italian restaurants or more upscale eateries in neighboring towns like Wyomissing and Shillington, we wound up, two blocks away, at the Penn Diner, (on Penn Avenue). Please take heed, it was one of our worst eating experiences of all-time. So just in case that crap-eteria is still there, DON'T go !
In October of 1995, Andrew was only walking for two months. So while Sue enjoyed some private mommy-time and intensely browsed on her own, I was left with entertainment duty. Regardless of how clever I might have been, my twenty-month old eager beaver, didn't cotton to idle conversation. Nor did he want to be strapped into our pack mule-like stroller. He wanted to run free through the never-ending children's department's maze of racks, aisles and displays.
I was chasing him for quite some time until something caught Andrew's attention just inside the main entrance's vestibule. He sat on the floor, started shouting with excitement and pointing to the ground. I had heard from Sue that Andrew had this new talent but I was witnessing it for the first time.
Assembled into the floor, incoming shoppers were greeted with a mosaic rendering of the Vanity Fair logo. This insignia featured a prominent "V" and "F." At a time when Andrew couldn't speak well, he was impressing the passersby with his crystal-clear knowledge of these two letters. I soon found out that he knew the whole alphabet. I exploded with parental pride as I placed Andrew back into the stroller. I wanted to find his mom and report my findings.
Along the way, I was distracted by a television with an unfamiliar cartoon on. We stopped and both watched. I soon noticed that all the merchandise in that section included characters from the Disney mega-hit movie from the year before, "THE LION KING."
We had missed seeing that movie because my boy was too young. So this glimpse of it was our first exposure. I was immediately immersed by the cute animals, state-of-the-art visuals, the familiar resonance of James Earl Jones leading an all-star voice-over cast and the terrific sound track. When the scene shifted, I was caught off guard. The king lion was betrayed by his brother and set-up for an "accidental" murder. The dastardly deed went over Andrew's head but negatively affected me in two ways. My dad's death (seven months earlier), was still fresh in my mind. Plus, I stressed about the possibility of my own demise and worried about not always being there for my son.
My sensitivities were touched by that short scene in a way that I didn't care for. I had a tear in my eye, a lump in my throat and a prejudice against the film that would last for three years as I pushed the stroller towards the lingerie department.
Andrew was five when a friend suggested that I put the past behind me and rent the movie. When we saw the whole fast-paced, humorous package of deception, disgrace and redemption, I declared the, "THE LION KING," the best children's movie ever made. In addition to catering to our entertainment needs, the tale reassures its audience, without getting too complicated or juvenile, to have faith in our loved ones and the value true friends. Since then, I've seen the technology for producing kiddie films improve...and I saw some other great flicks...but my opinion of number-one, never wavered.THE SECRET OF MAKING THIS LION, KING AT THE BOX OFFICE, WAS MAKING THE ENTERTAINMENT SOMETHING THAT COULD BE SHARED BY CHILDREN AND ADULTS. FOR INSTANCE, BY WORKING ON SO MANY LEVELS, THE DEPTH OF ITS COMEDY TOUCHES EVERYONE IN DIFFERENT WAYS. PLUS, ITS THEME OF A UNIVERSAL SOLIDARITY PACKS A POWERFUL MORALITY PUNCH THAT IS EASILY UNDERSTOOD.
Once our VCR became obsolete, all our VHS tapes, including, "The Lion King," went into storage. While its true that I still quote from it, the movie itself was forgotten. In support of this notion, Andrew's taste had grown too sophisticated to go backwards so I was never spurred enough to find a DVD and force it on him.
In 2006 when Andrew was in sixth grade, he was the Reeds Road School's, first orchestra flute. When I heard about the last piece of the school's spring concert, my thirst for, "The Lion King," was resurrected.
Weeks earlier, my guy was handed a pan flute and was honored with the opportunity to play it in the show. Some of the subsequent important information didn't filter down to me because when he failed to master this instrument, I thought the mission was scrubbed. So when I was sent in to videotape the production, a pleasant surprise fell in my lap.
The show went well. Then they made the announcement that the grand finale was, "The Circle of Life," from "The Lion King." The emcee added that rather than using a professional recording to accompany the fifth grade songstress, the school imported two teachers from the middle school. After they were introduced, I was shocked to hear that my son was the flute soloist.
The woman from the middle school stood at an upright microphone and a set of chimes. The man positioned himself behind fancy bongos. When the audience quieted, the teachers did a great job capturing the essence of the famed instrumental intro, complete with African chants. Then the girl brought down the house. When she paused, Andrew stood alone with his grandfather's flute and soulfully accentuated the performance. Then the rest of school's orchestra joined the girl and Andrew for the last stanza.
Maybe it's because he's my son or maybe it's because wonderful memories of my dad were stirred. But that performance, especially Andrew's two-minutes, made me so proud that just thinking about "The Circle of Life," is guaranteed to make me smile and hearing our recording of it, is guaranteed to make my eyes well-up. In any event, afterwards, I didn't seek out the "Lion King," movie.
Two years ago, we vacationed in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Sue found out that the Mandolay Bay Casino was selling-out the theatrical, "Lion King" in their showroom, (we were lucky to get last minute seats). While the costumes, music and dancing were awe inspiring...I guess I didn't love it as well as Sue and Andrew.MAYBE THERE'S STILL SOME ADOLESCENCE BURIED IN ME, I PREFERRED THE CARTOON...IT WAS FUNNIER.
When we got home, I still didn't run out to the video store to see the original. The movie and I would remain separated until last month when kismet was on my side. I saw a TV commercial, advertising a limited engagement (two weeks in mid-September), of a 3-D version of the "Lion King."
Sue and I jumped on it. We were delighted by the pure eye-candy, 3-D aspect and loved the movie all over again. We recommended it to Andrew. The next day, he went with his crowd and they all loved it too. Apparently the public liked it too. The Disney marketing strategy worked perfectly because, in the fourteen days that it was shown, the film grossed $60 million.
If you missed it, the 3-D DVD is coming out next month. So don't drive up to Reading and expect to find it in the five-dollar bin at Vanity Fair. That means before you exclaim, "Life...isn't fair," or have a bunch of hyenas laughing at you for missing it again, make sure...whether you've seen it already or not... that you check-out, the king of children's movies.