Movie ratings, to me, are both confusing and fascinating...
Year after year you often see editorials on the issues with the PG-13 rating and how far-reaching it is, and whether some movies truly deserve them or not, or if a middle-ground rating between PG-13 and R should be created.
Others often ponder, do certain ratings even mean anything anymore?
The PG, I think, is one.
There was a piece on Forbes on why it has become meaningless, and that was written when Frozen came out nearly 3 years ago. I'm just going to say this, 90% of the mainstream animated features I've seen in the last 6-8 years... Even 10 years are not deserving of the PG rating... At all...
But am I thinking like an old timer? In the 90s, it meant something. Some films truly weren't suitable, as the PG rating is meant to be a "know your kid before you take him/her to see it" rating. The early 2000s... Shrek and its innuendos, The Incredibles and its explosive action, Atlantis and its sci-fi violence (and high body count), those were films that earned their PGs. Keep in mind that this was not too long after The Hunchback of Notre Dame got a G rating in 1996, even though it nearly got the big bad PG. Disney back then made sure it did not. Action violence and Clayton's death by vine-hanging - shadow and all - didn't get Tarzan a PG.
In the early 2000s, we saw lightweight fare like Ice Age and Home on the Range get PG ratings. A little innuendo or two that could easily go over the kids' heads was most likely the reason why they got those ratings. Is the action in Ice Age anymore intense than what happens in the G-rated Finding Nemo? Or Hunchback? Or, say, An American Tail? The cutesy, never heavy Home on the Range got its PG rating for the udder joke at the beginning, but Brother Bear - with its more intense moments - got a G. That was only the beginning...
Nowadays, almost every little innocuous family film gets a PG. Most of the time it's for "rude/crude humor" or "thematic elements." Someone please tell me why movies like Turbo, Planes, Free Birds, Minions, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Smurfs, Barnyard, Everyone's Hero, Open Season, the Ice Age sequels, Planet 51, Escape from Planet Earth, Happily N'ever After, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lorax, and so on are PG-level? Toy Story 3, rated G, has a sequence where the toys - all your favorite characters - are about to burn alive in an incinerator that looks like a hellish inferno from their perspective! Cars 2 has lots of violence and gunplay, a car is tortured to death in a pretty harsh way, that's rated G too.
Pixar mostly gets the nowadays-rare G rating. Monsters University was the last film of theirs to get one, 3 years ago. It's mostly harmless, but so are many of the PG films I listed above... But again... Toy Story 3 and Cars 2? WALL-E I think could bump up to a modern PG, perhaps even Ratatouille.
The last two Pixar films, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, were rated PG. What are Pixar's other PG-rated films? The Incredibles, Up, and Brave...
Notice how those films are about humans and/or have humans in great danger? I bet you if The Good Dinosaur was only about dinosaurs and starred no humans, it would've been rated G - no matter how many times it whips Arlo around. Inside Out I think deserves its PG since it's emotionally heavy, and that could be a little much in its own way for some kids out there.
Now, Finding Dory is rated PG. For "thematic elements"...
The original was rated G in 2003. The original opens with a mother and 99% of her children being eaten by a barracuda, one of the main focuses of the whole movie is the husband coping with that, the bulk of the movie puts Marlin and Dory up against tons of things, notably the anglerfish in the trench. In several moments Nemo is almost killed, the filter sequence being a good example. Look this film and none of the others are bloody or gory or anything truly mind-scarring, but it's undeniable that some young'uns may find them terrifying. That's okay, but my thing is... Why does the MPAA think something like Finding Nemo is generally suitable for tykes while a silly candy-coated comedy romp isn't? I remember back in 2003, some people were telling me that their kids had to be taken out the theater after the first five minutes. Finding Nemo is a pure "90s G". In terms of today's rating "standards", it's totally a PG.
When re-released theatrically in 2012, Finding Nemo kept its G rating. Films seem to get re-rated when shown in theaters again, two good examples being The Wizard of Oz (rated PG for its 2013 theatrical re-release, it had carried a G it's whole life in the post-MPAA world) and Grease (2010 re-release earned it a PG-13). I'm actually surprised Finding Nemo didn't get the PG for the re-release, the same goes for The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast when they were re-released a few years back. For obvious reasons, of course.
Makes me wonder what a theatrical re-release of The Hunchback of Notre Dame would get, or something like The Secret of NIMH.
Countless G-rated films made in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s have scared or upset lots of kids: A good chunk of the Disney Renaissance films, Don Bluth's films, and so on. All of the Walt-era films saw their last theatrical re-releases during the early-to-mid 1990s, and they all kept the Gs. I'd argue that Pinocchio is not a 2000s G at all, ditto Snow White, Fantasia, Bambi, Ichabod & Mr Toad., and some of Walt's live-action films. Some of them actually were re-rated to PG over time, like Treasure Island and Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.
But really, that's some of the magic of a good family film with bite. Some kids will be upset, others will be excited. Harsher moments, if the story calls for them, shouldn't be shied away from. It's like what Doug Walker said in his Nostalgia Critic editorial on movies scaring kids: "What a certain 3-year-old could watch with great excitement, a certain 7-year-old could still be closing their eyes at."
So Finding Dory is rated PG. Last year, only one mainstream animated film got a G rating, Blue Sky's The Peanuts Movie. Everything else was a big ol' PG. 2014? Only Blue Sky's Rio 2. 2013? Only Monsters University. Nothing new in 2012 got a G. 2011 had five G-rated family and kids films, one of which being a Blue Sky film, Rio. (Which, fun fact, originally got a PG for "off-color humor". The film was edited to get a G.)
Will anything big and animated this year get a G now that the one Pixar film didn't get one? I'm not really sure. Everything else seems to be a lock for the PG rating. LAIKA's next? Hell no! Illumination's easily getting the PG with their second film this year as Secret Life of Pets has it, with DreamWorks it's a given for every feature of theirs, and probably Warner Animation too. Disney Animation has abandoned it too, apparently. Ice Age 5? Nope. Maybe the Lionsgate-distributed The Wild Life is a candidate, but I'm sure that will somehow get a PG.
The G, outside of big films, is often given to very small films that are like documentaries and such. Truly harmless fare.
Andrew Stanton himself had this to say about Finding Dory's PG rating...
No. Put ratings have gotten stricter since Nemo. They're about the same in intensity (imho). https://t.co/EHk6aTtH4s— andrew stanton (@andrewstanton) May 13, 2016
Makes me wonder... Is that it for the G rating?
These days, the G still can't quite shake off the "it's for kids only" stigma, but Pixar's last few Gs made huge bucks because they were well-marketed and turned out to be great, adults and families went back to see them and told their friends. A rating means nothing in the end, for many PG-rated animated films bomb. I get the sense that the studios lock the PG from the get-go in an attempt to get a broader audience, but as 15 years of flops has shown us, it's no guarantee.
Perhaps 2016 will be the first year no mainstream animated movie is given a G.
Honestly, get rid of G altogether because it means nothing. Turn G and this modern PG into one, but one that doesn't sound too kiddie. I like the ESRB's way of doing it... E for Everyone, that's nice I think. The rating itself actually suggests 6 and up, but still, you get the idea. For video games aimed at toddlers and under, there's the eC - Early Childhood - rating. Make an eC-esque rating and give that to pictures that are for toddlers.
The ESRB has its own 90s-style PG rating in the form of E10+, games really meant for bigger kids and up. Make the movie PG that, like it was in the 80s/early 90s, and give it to movies like Rango, Coraline, ParaNorman, The Incredibles, Kung Fu Panda 2, How To Train Your Dragon 2, et al. Fluff like Smurfs and Lorax is not 8-and-up material, c'mon! "Big kids and up!" Then PG-13 after that, then R.
That probably won't happen, but it'll be interesting to see if the G withers away from mainstream animated movie ratings. 2017 and 2018 may just give us an indicator...
What say you?