For many years now, I have known of the inadequacies of the system by which movies are rated. Standing in the aisles of many a Blockbuster, I have asked myself the following questions: “Just what does ‘some mild language and crude humor’ mean? Are we talking a fart or two? A mooning here or there? Using the word ‘crap’ but not ‘s—‘?” And the deeper into the world of kiddie film culture I have gone, the more frustrated I have become. Too often “Rated G” not only stands for General Audience but “Generic” or “So mind-numbingly dull it could cause brain damage.” (Yes, I realize the last one doesn’t begin with a “g” but remember I am suffering from “G” syndrome, so cut me some slack.) It isn’t even that the movies are boring for adults. I feel a constant tension in desiring to see my kids develop an aesthetic appreciation for the art of filmmaking when so many of the movies made for them are horribly made, uncreative or transparently agenda-driven. The poor creatures are often forced to watch old classics with Jim and I such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca or Buster Keaton’s The General rather than sitting through two hours of our berating their beloved swill.

Still, kids will be kids, and I thought I had made my peace with the kid-flick industry. This past week, however, my somewhat benign annoyance bubbled over into a case of full-fledged loathing. Jim and I maintain the upper-hand with popular culture to a great extent by not allowing the kids to watch television. By limiting them to DVDs and the occasional, archaic VHS tape, we avoid a great deal of nagging regarding upcoming releases. Over the holidays, however, we visited my parents and my mother-in-law and the boys enjoyed a few days of unlimited access to the Cartoon Network and Animal Planet. They started asking to see Marley and Me and after seeing a few harmless-looking previews, I agreed to take them. I must confess to an ulterior motive in that I love going to the movies. Not just seeing movies, but the act of going to the movie theater, eating over-priced popcorn, the whole enchilada. So off we went. After all, it was rated PG. How bad could it be? Bad…really, really bad. Sure it had plenty “Oh, look they tied the dog to the table and he ran away to chase a cat” moments to keep the boys occupied. But it also had enough “Oh, look Jennifer Aniston is taking off her shirt and jumping into the pool” moments to make me choke on that over-priced popcorn and wish I had stayed home and watched another episode of Flapjack. It isn’t too often that you have discussions with your nine-year old regarding birth control and the inappropriateness of bikinis in one afternoon. While I blame no one but myself for having blindly walked into the theater without much in the way of screening, what are these filmmakers thinking? Have they ever met a child? Do they really think this is what parents and kids want to sit and watch together? I may have my beefs with Walt Disney—hard-core Darwinist and occasional racist that he was—but at least he knew his audience. Call me outmoded, but I long for movies that tell a great story in an appropriate way for kids. When such a film comes out, let me know. I’ll be standing in the aisles of Blockbuster, muttering to myself and trying to keep my rantings at a PG level.


8 Responses to “Kiddie Film, Aesthetics, and Over-priced Popcorn”


  1. Lezlie

     

    Amy,

    Suggestion for a future blog entry: your list of movies you have enjoyed watching with your kids. Of course, right now Israel does not watch much in the way of movies, but if his dad has any say in it, he will. And we already have seen how ugly some movies made for babies can be. (I will recommend the Classical Baby’s The Art Show to anyone, though, as we love to watch that calming sequence over and over as a family. Baby Einstein, on the other hand, is right out!)

    I am not the sort of person prepared to commit to watching a movie unless it has been recommended by someone I trust. I realize this is not a trait of mine that can be universalized…SOMEONE has to have sat through the good and the bad to be able to make the recommendations. But I think you might be a person who has already done that and I would love to hear your recommendations! I’ll even give you bonus points (whatever they’re worth) if I can check the movies out for free at the library!

    Reply
  2. Lori L.

     

    Sometimes I lie to the kids that the DVD player is broken, simply because I can’t take it anymore. The moral penalty for lying is worth it to end my suffering. Of course, they might one day wonder why the DVD player “breaks” every month around the same time… but TMI.

    Hey, remember when we used to go to the movies and swindle the concessions guy for free pickles?

    Reply
  3. nate

     

    stick with all things pixar.

    good for kids. good for adults. never stooping to the level of sneaky sexual innuendos.

    great story lines. well-crafted. excellent, beautiful, creative.

    in my mind, they’re the only ones still making true family films, aiming for good art over quick profits, while never being pretentious or elitist.

    and it’s working! imagine that!

    Reply
  4. layla solms

     

    We also sat through the innuendo fest that is Marley and Me, albeit with a somewhat different feeling walking away. While we did not appreciate the topless Jen, the dog being used as a babe-magnet, etc., and countless other aggravating elements, there are a few redeeming moments in the film. I don’t want to be mistaken as defending the movie, I’m not…but at the end of the day when you are doing damage control, and hoping your offspring will remember something other than hot Jen and beach babes, here it is: our 10 yr. old had read the book, and appreciated the story, being the dog lover’s (sans actual dog, boo hoo) we are, It was great to watch vicariously as a family hugged, loved, and endured the crazy animal…but here is the lesson our son learned–The book is ALWAYS better than the movie!!! So, maybe I’m just making myself feel better, but if Jake has learned to read the book and maybe watch the follow-up film, then he has surpassed many folks on this planet, and hopefully he will have influence on his peers to NEVER rely on the Hollywood version of any book before reading the hard copy.

    Reply
  5. Chris Fauble

     

    Pixar is amazing! Not only are the great for adults and kids with good stories (and amazing talent at their craft), but the “messages” conveyed by the movies have been ones I want to pass on to my kids.

    Reply
  6. Elliott P.

     

    Well if you want to know a movie’s content beyond what a bare MPAA rating can tell you, there’s always http://www.pluggedinonline.com, a site you’re probably familiar with. It’s almost humorous to read EXACTLY what kind of content every movie contains, but for a parent I could see it being very helpful in letting you know the level of language, sexual content, etc. that a movie contains. It also tries to hit on redeeming quality, as well.

    Reply
  7. Zane

     

    I’m a little disappointed to see so much hating on Marley and Me. I saw the movie over Christmas break with my family (given, there were no little children in my family watching) and we really enjoyed it. I understand your problems with the film from the standpoint that there are a few images you might not want your young boys to see, but I feel like you might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater (This is a sidenote in terms of the images, but we don’t actually see Jen topless, and it’s nice to see a husband and wife in film that seem to have something going on in the bedroom (or pool I guess) that isn’t altogether boring). There are some important family friendly themes I found in the movie which I think make it more valuable than the typical family movie. First, there is a strong message that despite the problems the couple experiences, divorce is never an option (a pretty bold claim when you consider the view on divorce typically embraced in film). Second, there are some great ideas involving sacrifice for family. In terms of career, John Grogan puts aside his desire to be an adventurous reporter in order to take on the role of a columnist, which will be much more conducive to his family lifestyle. Also, Jen puts aside her career in order to be a hands-on mother to her children (can’t you hear the outcry of feminists?). The script that revolves around Marley contained much of the funny content of the film, but outside of the humor, I find the film to be an endorsement of a lifestyle that seems to be all too boring to the general population. We don’t see adultery, drug abuse, or violence; we simply see a pretty normal family on their journey through life. Maybe there were some things I missed, but I guess I felt the film as a whole (in terms of the themes of the film and the character of the husband and wife) was about as family friendly as any film I have seen in the past few years. I am certainly open to objections to my thoughts here and I apologize for the length of the post…I guess I just had to take a stand for undefended Marley and Me!

    Reply
  8. Amy Spiegel

     

    zane,
    i appreciate your alternative perspective (though i fear it might prevent future invites to dinner). i think my beef was more with the ratings system than the movie itself (though i found it a bit long and thought jennifer aniston looked a bit awkward with the kids). i agree that there was a strong theme of self-sacrifice and compromise. however, when accompanied by my boys, i think i would rather see more potty humor, less toplessness (from any angle).

    Reply

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