PG films? Turns out ‘parental guidance’ doesn’t always mean family-friendly…
Not too long ago, I gave a few thoughts on the tricky subject of deciding what entertainment is or is not suitable for your child. As I noted at the time, it isn’t always so simple as just going by the BBFC ratings and assuming all the work has been done for us with PG films. In any case, it shouldn’t be.
Even if the film in question is rated PG, keep in mind that rating literally means “parental guidance”; in other words, it’s up to us as parents to make the definitive final judgement as to whether or not our child can handle it. And there have been some instances when my wife and I have decided that a PG film was not something we wanted our kids to sit down to, despite the fact that there have been plenty of 12As, and – yes – even a few 15s that we’ve been more than happy for them to see.
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Example: I took my eldest child to his first 12A when he was only three-years-old: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. My wife and I read the consumer advice, looked at the details on the BBFC website, and felt confident that our son could handle it. Sure, it’s quite violent, but it’s such heavily stylised, cartoon/video game-style violence that there was never any danger of my son mistaking it for reality.
By contrast, in cinemas at the same time was the remake of The Karate Kid, ostensibly more kid-friendly with a PG rating – but we certainly didn’t want our three year old son to see that, as it featured young children fighting in a realistic context. Other parents will surely have seen things differently, but I stand by the decision. (Incidentally, Scott Pilgrim still gets regularly revisited on DVD at our house. The Karate Kid remake, however, has only been watched once; not a patch on the original, obviously.)
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Here are some other PG films – and, yes, one specific U – that won’t get a play on family movie night in our house.
Ridley Scott’s PG-rated 1985 film may feature a beautiful princess, an enchanted forest and unicorns, but Disney it ain’t.
As fairy tale movies go, Legend’s definitely a bit further down the Company of Wolves/Pan’s Labyrinth end of the spectrum. Tim Curry’s make-up job as Darkness is astonishingly sinister, not to mention just how vividly his diabolical domain is portrayed; depending on which cut you’re watching, the opening sequence shows condemned souls writhing in agony on a slab surrounded by flames.
Surefire nightmare fuel for anyone under ten, and quite possibly for older viewers too. (Still, could’ve been worse; in the original script, Darkness and the Princess have sex.)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Kevin Costner’s 1991 blockbuster was a beloved childhood favourite for many of us, but it also has a somewhat chequered past with the BBFC – and understandably so.
Quite apart from being a hideous Hollywood bastardisation of a legendary British tale, it’s also a staggeringly sadistic, mean-spirited piece of work, with realistically presented scenes of bloodshed and brutality, not to mention more than one instance of threatened sexual violence against Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Marian.
Definitely not the sort thing young kids should be seeing. Our advice: just watch Alan Rickman’s scenes and fast forward through the rest.
Fire and Ice
It seems for many years the BBFC had the curious attitude that if something was animated, it couldn’t possibly be harmful: a mindset that saw them pass Akira as a 12 for its initial cinema release, an experience which took a significant toll on my pre-teen self.
Clearly attitudes have changed, as even the likes of Disney’s Tangled and Frozen are PGs today; yet I’m surprised that they haven’t upped the rating on Ralph Bakshi’s 1983 collaboration with legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta.
Fire and Ice isn’t quite so graphically violent as Akira, but it’s still pretty hard-hitting and savage, not to mention the fact that most of the characters are practically naked, most notably the voluptuous Princess Teegra. Sure, Disney princesses are sexualised, but this is something else.
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I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to note the fact any of the Jaws movies were ever rated PG makes a mockery of the entire ratings system.
In the years since, the BBFC at least have come to their senses, nudging up the original Jaws, Jaws 3, and Jaws: The Revenge to a 12 (though even that seems lenient); yet for some reason the second instalment remains PG-rated, on grounds of ‘mild violence, threat, mild bad language.’
Yes, a man-eating great white shark is ostensibly deemed as family-friendly as Queen Elsa and Olaf the snowman.
The Watcher in the Woods
Disney went a bit nuts around the turn of the 1980s, and started green-lighting all manner of weird and wonderful movies that went way outside their usual all-singing, all-dancing remit. Case in point: this incredibly creepy ghost story starring Bette Davis.
Director John Hough was well-versed in horror (his earlier films include Hammer’s Twins of Evil and The Legend of Hell House), and The Watcher In The Woods is every bit as heavy on suspense and sinister atmosphere.
Sure, there’s no gore – but we could say much the same of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which itself originally aimed for a PG (hard to believe, but true).
To be fair, the key reason we wouldn’t show this one to our kids is because, well, it’s a load of old crap. Yet it’s a load of old crap which I was allowed to watch with no questions asked as a child, and one which still carries a PG certificate to this day.
I’m baffled as to why it’s a PG film, given its overtly sexual representation of the relationship between Andrew McCarthy’s socially awkward mannequin builder, and Kim Cattrall’s dummy come to life.
Sure, a lot of it will go right over children’s heads, and we needn’t shield our kids from anything that deals remotely with sex; but that also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have qualms about exposing them to something so patently crass and sexist. And that’s to say nothing of its homophobic overtones.
Dead Poet’s Society
Peter Weir’s heavily Oscar-nominated 1989 movie is way over the other end of the spectrum in terms of quality, but still a little questionable as family friendly viewing. It does, after all, feature the suicide of one of its teenage protagonists.
It’s a bit much for a PG; and given the film’s obvious adolescent orientation, and I’ve never quite understood why it didn’t get a 12, for which it seems a natural fit.
And now, of course, the one dreaded U rated movie that surely doesn’t qualify as family-friendly…
Once again, the old ‘animation = fine for kids’ mindset at work.
It’s safe to say that most readers over 30, in Britain at least, will vividly recall being traumatised by this one in their childhood days. Cute little bunny rabbits, pretty summer meadows – and brutal, flesh-ripping carnage and despair. What a combination.
The BBFC’s guidance on the U-rated Watership Down cites “very mild language, mild violence and threat” – and, while the seagull shouting “piss off!” may be relatively mild, the same cannot be said of the film’s level of threat, not least when the terrifying General comes to the forefront.
Never mind the kids, I’m still not sure my own nerves could stand it again.