One year I was a camp counselor at a Christian camp, and we had a really rainy day. Drenching rainy. Muddy rainy. After having a devotional in an indoor auditorium, we couldn’t think of what to do, and nobody wanted to go outside in the rain.
Thankfully, there was a movie projector, and someone had two Disney movies. The choices were Brother Bear and The Incredibles. Figuring both are good, safe movies for kids of all ages old enough to to to camp, I thought they would put it to a vote, see who wants to see which one the most.A quick look at the packaging made the decision easy. Brother Bear was rated G, The Incredibles was rated PG. Whatever the reason, since there were 9-year-olds present, the G movie was safer.
I was curious as to why, surprised that Incredibles had a PG rating, and so later I looked up it up. The Incredibles was the first Pixar movie to be rated PG, for “action violence.” Supposedly the one scene that tipped it from G to PG was [spoilers] the villain being sucked into an airplane propellor, which explodes with no blood. Granted, there’s also a lot of mild, cartoonish punching and kicking. I don’t know any parents who would call it too tense for 9-year-olds.
Brother Bear, by comparison, isn’t a movie human-to-human combat. It is, however, a story about violence and revenge, and a sentient creatures dies. There is at least one scene intense for children in which a bear attacks a man, trying to kill him. I though, some children might find that more intense than any scene in The Incredibles. It depends on the child, I suppose.
What also stood out to me was the thematic content that many families and religious groups would find objectionable. Ethereal spirits are characters in the story, and earth’s creatures are said to be made by multiple spirits. They use shamanic magic to transform a boy into a bear. A few times characters say “Oh my God!” Many religious people would find this content inappropriate for very young children, confusing messages about animals, spirits, violence, and man’s relationship to nature that they would rather isolate their children from until a certain age.
Of course, either of those movies were okay to show that night it wasn’t a big deal. Considering the group of believers I was around at the time, I assume that, if they had to choose based on specific criteria, they would have found Incredibles with its stringently pro-family themes to be more favorable than a fairy tale about nature spirits and multiple creator gods that insinuates it’s wrong to kill animals for any reason other than food. But what we looked at was the label. So this comparison got me thinking about how we rate movies and why, as well as what we deem appropriate.
Tech providers like AngelVid and TVGuardian work to filter out inappropriate content. Even general websites like IMDb have parent tabs describing moments in films to prepare for. In other words, rating systems alone can only do so much. Often, staying informed about what’s in a movie involves more than just looking at the rating. Shoot, many parents take their four-year-olds to PG-13 movies.
Likewise, some messages and content aren’t so blatant. Lion King, for example, is a very clean movie with only mild intensity in some moments. However, the messages about leadership are complicated somewhat contradictory, and difficult to apply to human government. Why do lions get to rule the Pride Lands? Simply because they’re at the top of the food chain? How would that rule apply to humans? Is a stratified society based on caste really what makes for justice and order in our world? Or is that just how the animal kingdom is set up?
Fortunately, with Lion King, I don’t think kids will trying to apply the divine right of alpha carnivores to their growing theory of government, but assume it’s never too early to talk with your kids about the themes and contents of the movies you watch with them.
Then there’s the recent remake of Beauty and the Beast, which drove many religious people into an uproar because a minor villain happens to have a foolish man-crush, and yet for years the story has been about a romantic relationship between a woman and a beast that is formed out the woman’s captivity. Sometimes out gut reactions miss the bigger picture, sometimes we overreact, and sometimes we have to choose our battles.
I feel that most G and PG movies are safe enough for children five and up. And I hope that is always the case. But don’t just rely on the label. Do your research. And no matter what the movie is, be prepared to dialogue with your children, knowing the movie, knowing how they see the movie.
As parents, it is always wise to know what the content and themes are in the media your children consume, and not assume someone else has done it for you. There’s no reason to be paranoid, however, for as children grow, they will be introduced to ideas and content, savor and otherwise, and merely shielding them from a dark world by only offering simple, neat, clean content will, at some point, wear out, and you will find yourself facing a young adult who has already encountered a world too complex for Disney, Veggie Tales, and pre-K versions of scripture. The Bible has stories of violence, sexual misconduct, corruption, suffering, lewd language, and confusing mandates. With every cute boat full of cuddly animals and Noah’s family, there is a perishing world of terrifying floodwaters.
Parental advisory may mean it’s not yet time to watch it. It may mean it’s time, but be advised to watch it along with them.