My little secret is out. As I hinted at pretty clearly in last week’s Roundtable, Mrs. Z and I are expecting our first children (that’s right, plural) imminently. Some of our astute readers may have back-tracked and noticed a theme leading up to this in other recent post topics (Movies About Parenting, Annoying Movie & TV Children, Sibling Rivalry, Favorite Childhood Cartoon Series). This week, I want to call out some movies that are ostensibly made for family-friendly viewing, but that actually feature content inappropriate for young children.
This topic at least partially grew out of an observation I noted in this week’s Blu-ray Highlights post about how creepy it is that the otherwise-charming film ‘Big’ shows the Tom Hanks character (whom viewers know is a 12-year-old boy pretending to be an adult) losing his virginity to a fully-grown woman. Other good examples of things we’re looking for here would be kids’ movies that turn out to be super violent, or have unnecessary swearing, or gratuitous nudity, or references to drugs and sex.
I’ve only seen it once, and that was way back in 1995 when it was released in theaters, but the movie that immediately popped into my head was ‘Jumanji‘. A Robin Williams vehicle co-starring a young Kirsten Dunst, the movie is about a jungle-based board game that comes to life and all the dangerous and deadly wild animals that spring out of it. Granted, almost all of the animals are computer animated and cartoonish by today’s CGI standards, but this PG-rated (yes, PG, not even PG-13!) movie includes man-eating plants, stampeding animals, creepy spiders and (the worst of the lot) monkeys hurling knives at children. I was in my mid-20s when I saw this film, and it scared the willies out of me. I’ve never seen it again. How in the heck did the MPAA give this thing a PG? I could argue that it’s R-rated material, but at the very least it deserved the PG-13 label.
I remember being absolutely terrified of ‘The NeverEnding Story‘ when I first saw it as a kid. To be entirely honest, I didn’t fully comprehend just how disturbing the film was until I rewatched it in my 20s. The idea of a nothingness tearing through a children’s book universe and obliterating everything in its path is WAY too apocalyptic for 7-year-olds. I know that the horse comes back at the end, but good god man, you see it drown in mud in the first hour! Atreyu stabs a giant man-eating wolf to death! Giant big-breasted sphinxes immolate knights trying to pass through the gateways they guard. I mean, there’s even something slightly creepy about the speech patterns of giant, flying dog Falcor – and he’s probably the nicest character in the movie! Maybe that’s what makes the film so memorable, but just the thought of that weird, three-faced character hanging out in the background in the Ivory Tower scenes sends a cold chill down my spine.
I’m sure a lot of guys my age remember ‘Doc Hollywood‘. One moment you’re sitting in the theater with your family, watching a fish-out-of-water tale about a cocky big city plastic surgeon who crashes his Porsche Speedster into a wacky country town. The next minute, your eyes are bugging out of your head as one of the most mind-blowing women you’ve ever seen comes bursting out of a cool morning lake, completely topless, and proceeds to stay that way for a very enjoyable amount of time. I’ve heard lots of stories about VHS rental tapes showing significant wear and tear in this portion of the movie, and I believe it. I can still remember my father’s girlfriend turning to me in the theater and going, “Michael, is this movie rated R?!” Nope.
M. Enois Duarte
It definitely says something, possibly troubling, about our current culture when newer films like ‘Frozen’ and ‘Super 8’ are rated PG and PG-13, despite the fact they’re more family-friendly than Disney’s films from the early ’90s and the action-adventure flicks of the ’80s. (It mostly proves how pointless and unfairly discriminating the rating system ultimately is.) How is that movies from previous decades could get away with more and still be considered family films?
Don Bluth’s animated classic ‘The Secret of NIMH‘ is a perfect example of the MPAA’s ridiculously arbitrary guidelines. Compared to ‘Frozen’, ‘Despicable Me 2’ or ‘The Croods’, the 1982 family favorite is disturbingly dark and violent for children, yet it was stamped with a G-rating. The story features a variety of adult themes about survival, sacrifice and the heartbreaking pain of loss. It also shows several scenes of children in peril and a mother under constant life-threatening situations. In spite of this, I still think that it’s a fantastic animated feature that children will enjoy – and they do, as I discovered when I showed it to my daughter when she was only 6-years-old. Films used to take more risks with original ideas and themes that the whole family could enjoy together, and the MPAA surprisingly didn’t stand in the way of that. But today, everyone wants to play it safe in order to receive a desired rating.
As creepy and strange as Tim Burton’s PG productions typically are, for the most part, they’re just fine for children. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘Corpse Bride’ come to mind. I’ve never worried about my children watching them. But I have no idea why my parents let my brothers and I watch PG-rated ‘Beetlejuice‘. While the style and tone are pretty much the same as ‘Nightmare’ or ‘Corpse’, those two animated flicks didn’t show a character drop the F-bomb and honk his genitals. As kids, we thought it was hilarious. We’d kick things over, exclaim “Nice f–king model!” and honk our own junk. I don’t want my own kids doing that stuff, but it makes for a great nostalgic moment from my childhood!
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I wonder if there was an epidemic of kids squirting each other with pee-filled water pistols in the wake of ‘The Boy Who Could Fly‘? I certainly thought about doing that a lot back in the day.
It’s funny how much both standards are cultural norms have changed over the last few decades. These days, Hollywood bends over backwards to water down movies in order to secure the lowest possible MPAA ratings, so that the films can be marketed toward a wide family audience. However, when I grew up back in the ’80s, even films indisputably aimed at children would deliberately throw in adult content for the specific purpose of getting higher ratings.
Case in point: The 1986 animated ‘Transformers: The Movie‘ was almost rated G, until a couple lines of dialogue were redubbed to add swearing: “Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?” and “Open, damn it! The inclusion of profanity was enough to bump the picture up to a PG. Why do this? The producers believed that the target audience (boys from about 8- to 14-years-old) would think that a G-rated movie was too “kiddie,” whereas a PG movie with swearing would be perceived as edgy and cool. In this instance, the ploy didn’t work. The movie bombed, though that had little to do with this issue. Nonetheless, this was hardly the only movie of the era to pull a similar stunt.
Honorable mention to the 1976 cheesefest ‘Logan’s Run‘. While not necessarily a children’s film, it’s generally the sort of simplistic sci-fi parable that kids enjoy, and the majority of content in it is tame enough to be watched by a 10-year-old. That is, except for two wildly out-of-place moments, including a psychedelic slo-mo orgy and a jaw-dropping topless scene by gorgeous star Jenny Agutter. Neither has any particular bearing on the plot of the movie, but both were surely appreciated by teen boys and adult men of the day (not to mention by me today!).
What allegedly family-friendly films have you seen with inappropriate content wedged into them? Tell us in the Comments.