why movie ratings are stupid

In the past two weeks, we have been to two movies with the kids (and yes, you can assume that we had to hock something valuable–geez, movie tickets are ridiculously expensive).

The first, Cars 2, is rated G. As a reminder, “G” means “for general audiences”–that is, for everyone, including small children.

As it turned out, Cars 2, which is definitely the low point for Pixar, is also very violent. Most Pixar movies, while they might be scary, limit the violence and avoid killing off characters; this one, however, crashes and destroys many cars, and explicitly shows one of the cars crushed up into a cube, beyond repair. There are many guns–lots of weapons, in general, in fact. Much of the film is a spoof on James Bond.

I love James Bond, personally, but there are a lot of things about those films that I don’t think are appropriate for kids the ages of mine (3 and 4)–obviously. And while Cars 2 has cut out the gratuitous sex from those films, it’s kept the things that I think are MOST inappropriate: violence, disregard for human life, and dehumanization of characters on the villain’s side.

Our second movie, Beginners, on the other hand, is rated R. An R rating means, according to the MPAA, that it contains some kind of adult material. They advise, “Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.”

Well, we read about the film before taking our kids to see Beginners, and the reasons that it was rated R were “language and some sexual content.” Some of the reviews and more detailed descriptions elaborated on this, saying that it had a few “sexual situations” and pointing out that it shows men kissing. It was pretty clear that there was no explicit sex.

So, we took the kids to it. It was lovely. They were well-behaved and seemed to enjoy it (even though it’s all talk, not much action, and clearly most of the plot went over their heads, as expected).

The things about this movie that I would guess led to its R rating were:

  •  language (which they are going to hear anyway–sorry, guys).
  •  sexual situations (the most explicit of which is kissing and the fact that Ewan McGregor’s character, Oliver, spends nights with his girlfriend–they really don’t include anything that I would prefer the kids not see). Some of this kissing is between two men, which I feel sure is a factor in the rating, though it should not be.
  •  discussion of sexuality, which is both loving and tasteful and over the kids heads anyway.

One of the rating pages said there was “a scene that kids might find scary” but I have to say, I don’t know what that scene is. Maybe one where the characters are setting off fireworks? There’s a lot of yelling in that scene, but everyone is happy. Or possibly, the scene in which Oliver’s father dies, but that is a very peaceful and intimate scene even though it is sad.

This movie shows a functional family. The basic plot: Hal (Oliver’s father, played by Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet at age 75, after his wife’s death; he soon learns that he has terminal cancer. This is the story of his relationship with his son, Oliver, and of Oliver’s relationship with his new girlfriend, Anna (Mélanie Laurent). It is an intimate, sweet movie. Unlike most movies about families, there is no radical argument, no yelling, no violence. All of these characters do something unheard of in films: they treat each other with respect.

I cannot for one moment imagine why I should be more willing to take my kids to see Cars 2 than to see Beginners. I can understand in the abstract why ratings have to take swearing into account (and the language, I think, is really the only thing about this film that should be objectionable for people with small children). But I do NOT understand why a children’s movie can ignore all of that violence because there isn’t any swearing or sex. Since when is sex–especially loving, functional, happy sex, not shown on screen–more damaging to a child than seeing characters killed onscreen?

Pixar has made a lot of good movies that I like for my kids. Even the first Cars, which I found boring, is fine. The one other Pixar movie that is more violent–The Incredibles–is rated PG, which is appropriate. It’s for older kids. There is still a lot of violence in it, for what it is, but it’s not really aimed at the pre-kindergarten crowd. I don’t understand why Cars 2 is so violent; if nothing else, much of that violence is in the service of a joke that kids won’t get–that is, the James Bond thing.

I enjoyed the opening sequence of the movie a lot: Finn McMissile, secret agent, is discovered by the cars he’s spying on, and a funny, over-the-top escape follows, a la Bond. But that sequence, for kids who won’t understand why it’s funny anyway, can be scary. There’s a lot of shooting; the other vehicles shoot missiles at the car (I think–my memory of it is a bit blurry because the rest of the film was so dull). And later in the movie, the bad cars plant a bomb on Mater, the tow truck, without his knowledge, so that he is basically an unwitting suicide bomber.

Sorry, but I just don’t get why that is supposed to be more kid-friendly than Christopher Plummer kissing his boyfriend.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Aunt Bev on July 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Heather, whata commentary!! You should be a film critic! We have a lousy one in Kazoo. Sometimes I don’t think he has even seen the show! I admit a go to very few theater shows but I do read about some of them.
    Anyway you write so well- I really enjoyed reading this.
    Cathy & I both loved the comment from Wesley on “bras”!!! So did David. I think you & Connor are doing a great job of raising Mary & Wesley. You expose them to life & are do
    layed back yourselves.
    Justwanted you to know I love you guys & only wish you were closer – I just don’t get around much these days.
    Love, Ole Aunt Bev


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