Fatherhood has enriched my life in so many ways that I can't begin to enumerate them, but it has hamstrung me as a writer/observer/whatever it is that I do. Any work conversation that includes the phrase "hey, how's the kid doing?" inevitably ends on a sunny note, even if it began with accusations of anti-Semitism and influence-peddling. I can't view marketing content as I once did, either. Take that infamous Infiniti ad from earlier this year: Where I once might've been intrigued by its focus on a single feature, it now prompts me to jump off the couch and scream, "Are you MAD? What kind of monster lets his child play outside without a leash and a bodysuit lined with protective foam padding? I'M TELLING MICHELLE OBAMA ON YOU!"
Unfortunately, the realization that I'm now so easily swayed has prompted me to whiplash in the other direction. When I'm emailed a clip that features a child - even in a negligible role, like "silent observer to parent's feverish Walgreen's transaction" - I now reply along the lines of "I am on to you! I am impervious to moppet-related emotional blackmail and not at all impressed with the kid's Mini Boden top, which can be purchased where did you say?"
Even as I remain in this deliberate-overcorrection phase, I can't help but be blown away by "Emily's Story," the Children's Wish Foundation's animated clip outlining its mission. This thing melted me, because I'm a wuss, but I truly believe it will have the same effect on child-hating cranks, genocidal tyrants and black-market ivory traders. It's that beautifully conceived and deeply felt.
On its surface, "Emily's Story" is a straightforward appeal for donations to help fund CWF programs. It relates the experience of a sick child who, thanks to the CWF's generosity, was able to fulfill her wish for a seaside family vacation. On that description alone, it could have fallen into any number of traps: The sick but spirited kid who loves school smiles, the white-coated doctors tenderly place their hands on her shoulder, the family tears up in the background, the scientist-looking guy handles lab gear in a way that suggests that breakthrough research is being conducted at this very moment, etc. You've seen this before, right?
You haven't. By animating Emily and setting her story to the strains of a lovely, twinkly melody, the CWF elevates its pitch far, far above a grubby appeal for support. The images are at once fantastic (Emily soaring among the clouds) and harsh (the tumor-stricken Emily on an MRI tray), which serves to universalize her story without burying it under a heap of oozy sentiment. The video has a wonderful sense of symmetry, too, as Emily's condition changes with the seasons.
It's also scripted with a sensitivity usually not heard in appeals of this sort, and there's a real economy of language ("just surgery, that's what the doctor said"). Narrated without flourish, the video comes across as proudly anti-cloying. You feel for Emily because you can't not feel for her, not because the clip's creators are pounding you over the head with the incredible unfairness of the hand that she's been dealt.
And the letter Emily wrote to her fairy godmother, which expresses a desire for "sea and sun and fun… I wish for dolphins and smiles and cake and time with my family"? It was at precisely this moment that a pipe exploded right over my head, sending torrents of warm, salty liquid flowing down my face. Yes. That is what happened.
"Emily's Story" also scores points for what it's not: a fable. Pointedly, the clip doesn't reveal how Emily's saga concludes. The "happy ending" isn't that the doctors rushed into the room with a last-minute miracle cure, but that the CWF was able to give her and her family some relief from the burden of her illness. The video is thus true to the reality of her day-to-day life - and, as such, uncommonly brave, within or without the constraints of the medium.
I don't know what else to say, other than the obvious: This is a wonderful cause and a wonderful clip. I'm at a point in my life where I'd prefer not to be lectured about the fragility of the human condition, but "Emily's Story" reawakened me to my own good fortune while reminding me not to forget that such fortune can be fleeting. I'm gonna go get that pipe fixed now before it gushes anew.