Ensuring Parents Know the Rating

Censorship and rating of films is not just to limit content, but to reduce complaints about content. This was evident as early as 1920, when the Ontario Film Review Board started reviewing movie posters. The expressed reason for introducing this review was to prevent complaints from passersby who assumed everything suggested on the poster was presented in the movie. In 2000 the OFRB banned the “suggestive” poster for Yana’s Friends, rated AA (equivalent to the current 14A).

More recently, film board Public Service Announcements and web sites have stressed the importance of parents paying attention to ratings in order to choose appropriate films for their children. Getting that message out can be challenging. One theatre employee I talked to recalled outraged parents who had taken their children to see Brokeback Mountain (14A, Mature Theme, Sexual Content), and been shocked by the sexual content. Perhaps they had overlooked the OFRB rating, or perhaps these parents just did not like the gender mix of the sexual content, and were completely oblivious to the advertising, trailers, and saturation media coverage.

Now theatres have a new tool to make sure parents are aware of the rating for films. This past weekend I took my youngest two children to see Hop, and their older brother to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. The MPAA gave both these films PG ratings, but in more liberal Ontario they have G ratings. However, both have several content advisories:

For Hop:
– Sensitive to scenes and situations related to child’s security
– Limited embracing and kissing
– Restrained portrayals of limited violence

For Diary:

– Suspenseful situations with short scenes or glimpses of scary characters or images usually in comedic, fantasy or historic setting
– Sensitive to scenes and situations related to child’s security
– Limited embracing and kissing
– Restrained portrayals of limited violence

I used the automated ticket dispenser to purchase the tickets. The ratings are displayed with the film title, and I was asked to confirm that I was aware of the warnings before I could purchase the tickets. Not only was the existence of content warnings brought to my attention, but somewhere in the data file there is the record of my acknowledgement. This makes it harder for parents to complain they were unaware of something in the film.

My children were undisturbed by the scenes and situations related to a child’s security (despite a difficult divorce and almost two years of unresolved custody and visitation issues), and I saw almost nothing to be concerned about, except Hop’s stunning disregard for narrative arcs, pacing, and plot development.

I was offended by one scene in Hop, set at the gates of the Playboy mansion and featuring a voice cameo by Hugh Hefner, but the weak joke went right by the kids, and fortunately I was not asked to explain it. I was also a little perturbed by a scene in Diary where two young children travel in the back of a cargo van, unbelted, unseated, and tossed about. For some reason I felt compelled to point out to my son that such a ride would be dangerous. His response? “Yeah, but it’s only a movie.”

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