Wednesday, October 21, 2015

'Good Dinosaur' Gets PG Rating, Some MPAA Thoughts

Usually I don't talk about the ratings the MPAA assigns to movies, animated or live-action, because I think a lot of them either make little sense, or just aren't noteworthy.

A ton of family-friendly animated movies made in the last 5-8 years often get the PG rating. The PG rating, I think, suggests that "some material" may not be so suitable for young children. It's essentially, "take the kids but do some checking first, it could be inappropriate for your kids."

There was a time, I think, when the PG rating was given to films that deserved it. Prior to the introduction of the PG-13 rating in 1984, most PG films were akin to today's PG-13 films. That rating really did mean it, the following movie may not be suitable for the younger set though they can still go. Problem was, after PG came the almighty R rating, so it was like a middle-ground rating. It's been said that by the mid-1970s, more than five years after the rating system's introduction, G-rated films already got the "kiddie" stigma. Reportedly Star Wars was rated G by the MPAA, until the bloody arm was inserted. They were afraid the G would kill it, apparently.

Many who were around in the early 80s have said that no one over the age of 12 wanted to be seen anywhere near a Disney film. By 1979, all Disney releases were rated G by the MPAA. Some of their classics even had to be recut to get that rating, such as Treasure Island. (You can see this cut on the earliest video releases from the 1980s.) After Star Wars had changed the face of family entertainment and opened up to the doors to more PG-rated "family" films, Disney stuck to the safe G. In 1979, Ron Miller and the studio experimented with the company's first-ever PG rated films. None of them went over well at the box office, leading to the creation of Touchstone. Touchstone's first film, the PG-rated Splash, was a big hit. Had it been released as a Walt Disney Productions film, who knows how it would've done...

Splash was released in 1984, when the PG-13 rating was invented. The Black Cauldron would be the first Disney animated feature to receive a PG, though I suspect that if it came out before 1984, it probably would've gotten a G because nothing in it is really any scarier than what was in Walt's first five films. All of those carry a G rating, but that's because the MPAA standards were different in the mid-to-late 80s, when a majority of these films were theatrically re-released for the last time. The MPAA, to my knowledge, does not re-rate films when they come to home media. When classic films like The Wizard of Oz and Grease came back to theaters, they got new ratings. The Lion King, however, kept its G rating when re-released four years ago, which is kind of surprising to me.

If you look at all the Disney Renaissance films that were released from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, they were all rated G. Even The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which reportedly got very close to getting the almighty PG rating. Don Bluth's trio of post-NIMH features, which all frightened many children (and to add to that, Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven are watered down from Bluth's original intentions), got G ratings.

The G rating may say all ages admitted, but it never really meant "suitable for every kid in the world, and infants too." Unfortunately some people seem to think that the G rating means just that.

I think that a lot of those 80s/90s films are perfectly fine as G-rated films, when looking at it in a certain sense.

I always saw the G rating as the movie equivalent of the ESRB's "E for Everyone" rating. The E rating suggests kids 6 and up can play the games the rating is assigned to. Prior to E, it was K-A/Kids to Adults. See, I like that! K-A, it gives off the vibe that both kids and adults can enjoy the product. G says "just for kids". But what I'm trying to say is, I treat G like its universal: Anyone can watch, but that doesn't mean everyone could watch. I think Doug Walker/Nostalgia Critic put it best in his "Should We Scare Kids?" editorial: "What a certain 3-year-old could watch with great excitement, a certain 7-year-old could still be closing their eyes at."

Disney, via their "adult" Touchstone banner, released two PG-rated animated titles during animation's 2nd Golden Age, Amblin/Richard Williams' Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Henry Selick/Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Both deserved their ratings due to the content, the former has edgy comedy and language, while the latter has dark and creepy imagery. Interestingly enough though, after roughly 2005-ish, Nightmare Before Christmas went from Touchstone-labeled to Disney-labeled. The 2008 Blu-ray that I have even replaces the 90s Touchstone logo with the CGI Walt Disney Pictures castle logo at the start of the film! Who Framed Roger Rabbit, however, remains a Touchstone-branded title, though I've seen some argue that it should also be Disney-branded.

Something, however, changed... After around the early 2000s...

The PG rating, which Disney Feature Animation under the control of Michael Eisner had avoided like the plague for so long, was assigned to some of their post-Renaissance pictures: Lilo & Stitch, a thematic family drama with some sci-fi violence, deserved it in my opinion. On the other hand, the cutesy kiddie-kiddie Home on the Range got the PG... For what? Brief mild rude humor, apparently. Specifically, a scene where one of the cows says about her udders, "Yeah they're real, quit staring!" I think that's stupid, if you ask me. The joke will probably fly over the heads of most kids, and most of the rest of the movie is the Disney animation equivalent of a Nick Jr. cartoon, so that PG rating is totally not fully deserved.

Nowadays, Disney animated films score PG ratings on a regular basis. The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh are exceptions. I fail to see how Tangled or Frozen are any worse for some small children than Frog. I'd argue Frog's voodoo stuff can be a bit much for some tots out there, but the MPAA apparently thought it was okay. Tangled and Frozen? Both have their fairly intense moments, but no. Nothing worse than what's in Frog. Wreck-It Ralph has a fair amount of hectic action, Big Hero 6 as well along with some themes, but I guess they could pass as G. 80s/90s G, that is.

Yet their Emeryville cousins always manage to get the rather rare G rating. The G rating is apparently this big kiss of death, yet Pixar's G-rated films routinely make serious buck at the box office. It's debatable whether all of them deserve that rating in this day and age...

Not counting the film that's a month away, only four Pixar films have received the PG rating: The Incredibles, Up, Brave, and Inside Out.

What do these films have in common? They star humans, rather than anthropomorphic animals or fantastical creatures. The emotions in Inside Out are essentially little people inside a person, so I guess it passes the test.

The Incredibles fully deserved its PG rating, Up too. Inside Out deserves it because of the story and themes. Brave? Kind of, outside of the scenes with Mor'du - which are just as intense as some 80s/90s G-rated films - there isn't much else. It was rated PG for "scary action and rude humor". There it is again, rude humor! Did it get that rating because of the scene with naked clansmen? Let's say we took that scene out... Would the movie have still gotten a PG rating?

Maybe, maybe not. The film still stars humans, though, so I'd lean on it still getting a PG rating.

But Toy Story 3, with its arguably much more intense and frightening incinerator sequence, has a G rating. (And let's not overlook the conveyor belt set piece that leads up to it.) Toy Story 3 also has a moody atmosphere, themes of abandonment, the idea of kids growing out of playing with toys, and to top it off it snuck in some innuendos and such. Still got a G, though. I guess it's because it's toys in peril and not humans?

Meanwhile, an innocuous animated romp about non-humans from DreamWorks or Sony or Illumination gets a PG rating like it's nothing. I don't know about you, but a good amount of their films (and in DreamWorks' case, their more recent films) don't warrant PG ratings to me. To me, a chunk of them don't have a shred of the maturity of those G-rated films, let alone anything that's overly inappropriate. Many of them seem to get the rating for "rude humor" or "mild rude humor"...

Toy Story 3 arguably has all of that, and some scary scenes and a lightly somber mood to top it off, and has a G rating. Is it simply rigging? Does the MPAA just give ratings without watching these films? Do they have certain no-nos that are unique to them and no one else in the general public? Do some animation studios/distributors lock PG ratings just because they want to make sure they can get those pesky older kids that won't watch a yucky G-rated movie into the theater?

Clearly that last strategy doesn't work, because a lot of PG-rated animated films don't go over. Many of Disney's PG-rated animated films from last decade had bombed. A PG rating isn't a guarantee these days, because it has become meaningless. Parents march kiddies into PG films all the time now, because almost everything kid-friendly today is PG. It's just there... Years ago, you got the sense that it wasn't.

So this all brings me to The Good Dinosaur's rating. It's PG for "peril, action, and thematic elements". No mention of rude humor in sight!

Let's recap. Finding Nemo opens with almost an entire family being killed and has lots of intense scenes, one of which involving a predatory anglerfish in a pitch black trench that indeed scared a lot of kids, in another scene Nemo almost gets chopped up in a filter. I'd say that's peril! Ratatouille has a scene with dead rats in a trap shop, in addition to some innuendos here and there. WALL-E's titular hero gets crushed during an action-packed climax, though he survives, plus the film is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Toy Story 3 has everything I just mentioned. Cars 2 has lots of gunplay, explosions, a high car body count, and a scene where someone gets tortured to death...

So what makes The Good Dinosaur so special that it managed to get the big PG?

Is it because one of the main characters is a human child? Probably. If there wasn't any human kid in it, I bet all that peril Arlo faces - from drowning floods to lightning to predatory dinos - wouldn't have gotten it the PG rating. Or any of the action.

It's interesting to note that this is the second PG Pixar film to get the rating for "thematic elements", which Inside Out got it for as well. Perhaps the MPAA sees things differently than they did a few years ago? I know that they don't re-rate films unless they get a theatrical re-release (i.e. The Wizard of Oz and Grease being re-rated), so who knows how they'd rate previous G Pixar films. They didn't seem to flinch when Disney re-released hits like The Lion King and Beauty and the BeastFinding Nemo kept its G rating when theatrically re-released three years ago. I'd argue that all three of these films qualify for a 2010s-PG rating, because they have peril, action, dark moments, and edgy jokes here and there. If Hunchback got theatrically re-released nowadays, I'm almost certain it would get the PG.

My opinion is this... The PG rating is overused today, it's handed out too much. It's given to innocuous little movies that are hardly inappropriate for kids, and it's selectively given out. It's inconsistent, and just another reason why I think the MPAA is kinda full of it. Countless violent movies are given the PG-13, but another movie gets an R rating just for language. Sure the PG-13 movies aren't graphic, but the violence is still there.

None of these movies, even some of the films that do deserve their PG ratings, are Roger Rabbit or a good number of PG-rated films made shortly after the introduction of the PG-13 rating. The G rating was applied to several movies in the 80s and 90s that left some kids terrified or upset, from Don Bluth's two late 80s smashes to a good number of the Disney Renaissance films, to say nothing of other family films. (Babe: Pig in the City is often brought up, and for good reason.)

When an animated movie got a PG years ago, often times, it deserved it. Shrek had innuendos and dirty jokes and some action here and there, I'd say it's a PG. The Incredibles is full of action, violence, intense moments, and a subplot where Helen suspects that Bob is having an affair. Definite PG. Lilo & Stitch's themes and some of the more intense bits, yes, also a PG. Atlantis and Treasure Planet also deserve the ratings, I believe. The Iron Giant deserves it...

After 2002/2003-ish, that's when I think we started to see movies that didn't quite deserve it. Ice Age? Nahhhh. Hoodwinked!? Nope. Almost anything released in 2006 from Barnyard to Ant Bully? Uh-uh. Today? The Lorax? The Smurfs? Hotel Transylvania? Escape from Planet Earth? Free Birds? Legends of Oz? Dino TimePlanes? Turbo? The Croods? Really? Even films that are great, like Arthur Christmas, The Lego Movie, and Tangled. Totally not PG-level stuff!

What recent movies do deserve it? If you ask me... Definitely Coraline and ParaNorman, definitely Rango, definitely Fantastic Mr. Fox and Song of the Sea, among others...

Yeah, I think the PG is overused and pointless in this day and age. But given the way it is today, I'll be curious to see what makes The Good Dinosaur worthy of the rating...

Update (11/25/2015): Having seen the film... It's a 90s G through and through. The peril Arlo and Spot face is no worse than Toy Story 3's incinerator sequence, though I suspect - like I said in this article back in October - it got the PG simply because Spot is a human child. If he wasn't in this movie, it'd probably get a G.


  1. yes the MPAA can get a little weird with how they rate movies

  2. I think much of this problem could be solved--the abuse of the PG rating, the misunderstanding of the G rating, possibly even the entire "animation age ghetto"--by creating a new movie rating.
    In television and video games, there are separate ratings to denote works that are enjoyable for audiences of all ages and those that are aimed solely at children. For video games aimed at young children, there is the EC (Early Childhood) rating. Likewise, for television there are the Y (young children), Y7 (older children), and G (general interest) ratings.
    No such ratings exist for movies.

  3. I really agree there. I had actually made up a rating system of my own a while back, and did what the ESRB does/did: Have a category for toddler fodder (like eC) and one that's more for general audience stuff (E). I kinda hope that the MPAA does something similar, and maybe just maybe make the PG the late 80s/90s PG again.

  4. "...most of the rest of the movie is the Disney animation equivalent of a Nick Jr. cartoon..." I kinda see "Winnie the Pooh/2011" to be more the "kiddie filler" of the Disney Animated films.

    Also "Brother Bear" (which was released before "Home on the Range") wasn't too spectacular or particularly noteworthy in a grown up sort of way which makes IT'S "G" rating more justified.

  5. Out of curiosity, if there was a "Young Kids Only" rating for movies, what movies would you want it to be given to?

    1. Something either really, really, really harmless or something that's aimed right at tots, like a Barney the Dinosaur movie, or that Oogieloves movie.

    2. On that train of thought, the Peanuts movie is getting a G rating. And it really does seem to be a "general audiences" movie, just like the comic strip it was based on was.

    3. Yes, I like that Blue Sky sometimes doesn't go for the almighty PG. Makes them a bit unique in a way. They even re-did a scene in 'Rio' in order to get a G rating.

  6. The version of the Nightmare Before Christmas on Netflix still has the Touchstone logo at the beginning.

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  8. Why does Disney Infinity had a 10+ ratung, cartoon violence doesnt make sence, in that case tom & jerry should had that rating too.
    Ha ha ha at least that system is not as brooken as the You Tube copyright one

  9. I think the overuse of the PG rating is to ensure that adults don't get bored by animated films while they're watching them. If it's G-Rated, then it's just a mindless distraction for kids and parents won't pay to see the film. It's just a marketing ploy to make a fast buck.