Mysterious Movie Ratings

Do you ever wonder how films get their ratings? Especially kids’ movies. There seem to be some inconsistencies in the system.

For your edification, the Motion Picture Association of America says the following about G and PG movies:

G — General Audiences. All Ages Admitted. 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.

PG — Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children. A PG-rated motion picture should be investigated by parents before they let their younger children attend. The PG rating indicates, in the view of the Rating Board, that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, and parents should make that decision. The more mature themes in some PG-rated motion pictures may call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated motion picture.

I remember my friend Skye, a fellow elementary school teacher, complaining about the first Shrek movie (before there were others) being rated PG and having inappropriate things in it – which means you can’t show it to kids. Or you could, but there would be repercussions. (If you don’t remember, Shrek makes jokes about his “ass”, referring to Donkey, but many little kids would hear that, and understand it as a bad word. This is in the school context, where hell, stupid, and shut up are also bad words.) Interestingly, they toned down the next two Shrek movies; they’re rated G.

Kung-Fu Panda is rated PG, as is Kung-Fu Panda 2, for “Violence”.

kung fu panda jack black

Other movies get the rating for “Scary Situations” or “Mild Language” – or sometimes just “Language” (which always makes us chuckle).

So, who are the actual people that determine what makes an element “intense” or a situation “scary”? Who defines what “violence” is? Because I agree with the Kung-Fu Panda rating – there’s lots of inter-species martial arts in there – but then, I noticed that The Incredibles is rated G, even though you have Elastigirl knocking out security guards with punches to jaws she can’t even see. Huh.

the incredibles
She’s “Elastofille” in French.

As for “scary situations”… basically all animated Disney movies are rated G, but seriously – there are lots of situations that are scary. Your mom dying of illness/getting eaten by a barracuda/being shot by a hunter? Fleeing sharks/Arab thugs/the huntsman? And all those evil villains – Snow White’s step-mom, Maleficent, Ursula, Shan-Yu, the Green-Eyed Man… I could go on. You get the point.

I got to thinking about all this because we recently watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

alice in wonderland tim burton
Everyone in this film is a bit scary.

It does have lots of creepy imagery, typical of Tim Burton, and there’s battling. Even slaying. (I was nerdily annoyed that they all talked of slaying the “Jabberwocky”. The creature is a Jabberwock, people.) The funny part is that Sean noticed the disclaimer: it’s rated PG “For Fantasy Action/Violence Involving Scary Images And Situations, And For A Smoking Caterpillar.”

The original Disney Alice in Wonderland is rated G, even though there’s plenty of talk of beheading, abuse of tiny hedgehogs, and without a doubt, a smoking caterpillar.

You have to wonder how many movies out there are rated based on larvae with hookahs.



9 thoughts on “Mysterious Movie Ratings

  1. Mama says:

    And what about Cruella DeVille? One of the nastiest anti-heroines in film.

    I have a feeling movie rating has become like many other aspects of our lives that used to be at least in part governed by human capabilites such as commonsense, intuition, judgement, etc. Now, instead of some intelligent and caring folks watching a film and saying, That would be fine for little kids, or Not, someone (or perhaps a rating robot?) goes through the frames and ticks off boxes on a form; when the number reaches a certain level the rating changes.

    Or maybe not – but it tends to feel that way: mechanized and either way too rational or completely irrational.

  2. Amanda says:

    We discovered when helping to choose a movie for victoria’s grade five class that US ratings are different from Canadian ratings for the same movies. The movie Elf is rated G in Canada but in the US it is rated PG. At our house to determine the suitability of movies we use two websites. Kids in Mind and Common Sense Media mixed in with the opinions of like minded parents who have seen the movie and a dash of my own common sense :-).

  3. Cousin Q says:

    There’s a documentary called “This Film is Not Yet Rated” that I haven’t seen yet, but have HEARD is really interesting and talks about how screwy the system is.

  4. Producer Patrick F. Gallagher says:

    The well known Hollywood studios are unable to dictate exactly whatthe movie-going public want or can get as they have in earlier times. Once you add to that distribution on the internet, media, web-sites, from gossip to whole motion pictures. It is a whole new environment. Much of it great, some not.

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      That seems more appropriate to me. My DVD says G by “Canadian Home Video”, but then it says “Violence” in tiny letters underneath. So it must be a different party rating the movie, depending on how/where it’s distributed.

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