Monday, October 3, 2011

Does Disney Really Understand Children?

It looks pretty happy-go-lucky, doesn't it?
Last year I was very excited to take my children to see Disney's movie "Tangled". My son and daughter were almost 4 and it was to be their first time seeing a movie in the movie theater. Five minutes into it, my son was running for the door. Yes, it's true, at the time they didn't watch much television, but now that they're a bit older, they do watch a small variety of shows. However, nothing they watch would prepare me for my stupid decision to take them to see the re-release of Disney's "The Lion King" this weekend.

The original movie came out in 1994, which I tell you to help you understand why I had no recollection of how dark and disturbing this movie is. Yeah, yeah, Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata not withstanding, this movie is about a conniving uncle who successfully plots to kill a child's father, makes the child think it's his fault and then takes over the father's kingdom. My 4 1/2-year olds are not ready for Shakespeare.

This isn't a review of "The Lion King" (which for some assine reason was re-released in 3-D), but rather a repeated reminder that there is so much so-called entertainment that is not appropriate for the children it is marketed to. Technically, a G rating means "all ages". There were kids younger than mine in the theater yesterday; there was also a lot of hysterical crying and parents carrying their kids out as Simba frantically ran from a charging herd of wildebeests. 

The subtleties of characters' behaviors are lost
on Disney's youngest viewers. But it doesn't mean the
negative emotions don't get felt. 
When "Tangled" was out, my friends and I discussed the problem of trying to explain to children the issue of characters who are not wholly "good" and not wholly "bad". Children tend to see the world in those black and white ways. The notion that someone could be your mother (as Mother Gothel was pretending to be to Rapunzel) and be saying nice words but also be mean and conniving toward her daughter is beyond a 4-year old's comprehension. And should I have to explain that this is the way some adults behave? 

In "The Lion King", Simba's uncle, Scar, is all sneering sarcasm (totally lost on children and completely confusing) and ominous snarls. Children can pick up on the tone and the look of a scene, they know something bad is happening, but they are completely baffled by it. If a child can't understand the feelings they are having, how can we expect them to process them? It is not surprising to me that children act out behavior they witness in movies. I know this movie is 17 years old, but it saddens me to realize that parents (me included) still go in droves to films without having a real understanding of what their children are about to see. 

I'm not quite sure why I ignored my own advice to check out some parent reviews before seeing this movie. I, once again, got caught up in my own excitement about sharing something special with my children without fully researching it. But why should I have to do that every time I want to watch a movie with them? The MPAA defines a G rating thusly: 
"A G-rated motion picture contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters that, in the view of the Rating Board, would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture. The G rating is not a "certificate of approval," nor does it signify a "children’s" motion picture. Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated motion pictures. Depictions of violence are minimal. No nudity, sex scenes or drug use are present in the motion picture."
Common Sense Media is a fantastic source for
detailed movie reviews that focus on subjects
parents want to know most.
I can't be the only one who is surprised by the notion that this movie would be considered not to have themes that "would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture" and that the "depictions of violence are minimal". Am I crazy? I'm sure the term "offends" is intended to encompass cursing or sexuality, but personally I am offended that my children were scared out of their minds!

If you look at the parent reviews on Common Sense Media you may be struck by the fact that every adult who reviewed it said that it's way too scary and/or inappropriate for children. Why is that information not made more obvious to the movie-going public who shelled out almost 12 million dollars in the last few days to see this movie? 
"Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days"
I don't know about you, but my children had a few worries after seeing "The Lion King". And I know it's not just this particular film but many of the ones marketed toward children. What are your thoughts about movies for children these days? Are they better today than they used to be? Are your children affected by the violence, bullying, and negative behavior? Leave a comment below, I'd love to know your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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