No shushing allowed at screening of ‘Brave’ for special needs kids

In this undated publicity image released by Disney/Pixar, Princess Merida is shown in the 3D computer-animated Disney/Pixar film &quotBrave."
Disney/Pixar | AP
In this undated publicity image released by Disney/Pixar, Princess Merida is shown in the 3D computer-animated Disney/Pixar film "Brave."
Posted July 12, 2012, at 6:27 p.m.
Last modified July 12, 2012, at 7:03 p.m.
Shane Leonard
Shane Leonard

BANGOR, Maine — At a showing next week of the new Disney film “Brave,” the lights will be up, the sound lowered and shushing discouraged.

The July 16 showing at Bangor Mall Cinemas 10 will cater to kids with disabilities, particularly autistic children who struggle with the usual booming soundtracks and no-talking, sit-still rules of the movies.

Shane Leonard, a Bangor area photographer, organized the event after learning about “gentle movie viewings” from his girlfriend, who has a 9-year-old autistic son. The viewings, also known as “sensory-friendly” screenings, were common in the boy’s previous home of Chicago, and Leonard said he wanted to bring them here.

“He loves movies,” Leonard said. “It is both a reward and entertainment.”

Children will be welcome at Monday’s screening to move freely around the theater and bring in their own food to accommodate special diets, Leonard said. Talking during the film also will be allowed so parents don’t have to endure dirty looks from other moviegoers, he said. That can be a special relief with autistic kids, who may fixate on a character — such as the red-haired Scottish teenager Merida in “Brave” — and bubble over with excitement when the character appears on screen, Leonard said.

“It’s the feeling that you get when you go to one of these showings; there’s no sense of judgment or annoyance,” he said.

While sensory-friendly showings appeal especially to people with autism, Monday’s showing will be open to all, Leonard said.

Since he posted information about the event to Facebook and Twitter earlier this week, interest has been strong, he said. So much so that Bangor Mall Cinemas 10 is considering moving the showing to a larger theater that can seat more than 200, according to Sue Bradgon, the cinema’s general manager.

She hopes to see enough interest to warrant making gentle viewings a monthly or twice-monthly event, she said.

“It just seemed like such a great idea to alleviate the pressures I see parents under when they bring in kids with special needs,” Bragdon said.

The showing will begin at 10 a.m. Leonard hopes to move any future viewings to weekend mornings so children with working parents can more easily attend, he said.

The cinema’s doors will open at 9 a.m. Tickets can be purchased on the day of the showing for the standard matinee price of $6.50 for both adults and children.

Gentle movie viewings also have been held in southern and western Maine, Leonard said, but he’s eager to see the idea catch on locally. At some showings in other parts of the country, parents have driven hours so their special needs children may enjoy the magic of the movies without reproach, he said.

“I’m hoping that as far out as the message has gotten, a lot of people are going to do this,” Leonard said.

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