The conversation of movie ratings and the content found in films has been an ongoing topic of concern for movie viewers; especially the parents of young children watching films that may have, what they consider to be, permissive content leaking through the rating system. Arguments of the rating system being less reliable in recent years have some validity, however, perhaps the permissive content has always been present but just in different forms.
From the beginning of animated films there has been some sort of violent content. “In 1937, the Walt Disney Studios released its first fully animated feature film, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, and pioneered a new form of family entertainment.” (The History of Disney Animation).
“Once upon a time in a land far far away” there was an evil Queen who was jealous of her stepdaughter, Snow White’s, beauty and decides to plot her murder. A huntsman is ordered to murder the young maiden, but just as his knife is raised in the air he decides to withdraw and set her free. Snow White, running for her life encounters many startling creatures as she is lost in the forest. She soon befriends the forest animals who lead her to the house of seven little dwarfs who are gone mining. When the dwarfs return from a long day’s work they find the cottage cleaned and a young woman sleeping in their home. Meanwhile the wicked queen learns of her location and soon transforms herself into an ugly old woman. She poisons an apple and goes to the dwarf’s cottage, convincing her to eat the poisoned apple. This puts Snow White in a deep sleep that only “true love’s kiss” can wake her from.
While this classic animated film has many innocent elements it also contains material that could be considered questionable for some audiences. For example, Snow White’s evil Stepmother plots her death and nearly succeeds. Not only has this young girl had to experience the death of both parents, but she is now hated by her only living “family member”. As part of the queen’s plan, the huntsman comes at her in the forest with a shining dagger and luckily lets her escape, revealing the queen’s evil plot. Within the first five minutes of the film the young audience already has reason to be fearful. After her escape she is lost and all alone in a dark forest to fend for her life. When the queen uses evil spells to transform herself into a grotesque old woman the animation could be considered quite frightening for young audiences. This 1937 animated cartoon received a G rating.
This trend of scary content in children’s films continues today, but as mentioned before, has taken on a new form. One more modern example is the movie “Coraline”.
Coraline is a young, pre-teen girl whose life gets turned upside down when her writer parents decide to move. The home they arrive at also houses three other people on different flats; Miss Spink and Miss Forcible who are two former performers that live together and an elderly man who claims to be training a mouse circus named Mr. Bobo. There is also an area of the house that is inaccessible due to a brick wall and locked door. Coraline’s busy parents ignore her and her boredom gets the best of her which leads to much exploration.
She introduces herself to her strange neighbors who warn her of danger. She later finds the locked door and decides to open it, revealing a long hallway which leads to an almost identical floorplan to her own. The tenants appear to be a man and a women who look exactly alike to her parents. There’s only one difference, their black button eyes. Coraline is drawn to these individuals and their seemingly care free life. She continues to visit often and Coraline’s new “mother” tries to convince her to stay, however, there’s one condition, she must sew black buttons over her eyes.
Coraline is led to believe that her wicked “new mother” has captured her real parents so she bravely returns to save them but is captured. Through a series of events and after the wicked “new mother” transforms into a giant spider Coraline eventually escapes and locks the door behind her; or so she thinks. The other mother’s hand finds it’s way into Coraline’s world in search of the key to the locked door. With the help of Coraline’s feline friend they trap the hand and the key in a deep well where escape is impossible.
The movie “Coraline”, as with Snow White, contains content that warps everything good about childhood. The opening credits display a disturbing scene where a doll is disassembled; button eyes taken off and mouth ripped open at the seams. This is foretelling of the creepy nature of this young girl’s experience throughout the movie. Coraline’s parents uproot her and move to a strange new town. Her parents also ignore her and there is only one other kid her age in the neighborhood, who she is NOT a fan of. This lonely young girl then is harassed by “new parents” who want her to stay and sew buttons on her eyes! Normal? I think not. Not only is she in danger, but she is haunted by the spirits of other children who have been captured by these “new parents” of hers. This 2009 stop-motion animated film received a PG rating and could be considered quite terrifying and disturbing, not only to young audiences, but all ages.
While violent/scary content in films is something to be concerned about, it is also important to realize that this is not a new trend that has suddenly appeared in modern day movies. Both of these films demonstrate the violent content that can be found in children’s movies while also demonstrating that the violent content may just be portrayed differently because of the times. For concerned parents with young movie-goers, it’s okay to be cautious and screen the movies your children are viewing, but also be aware that the violent or permissive content is nothing new, it’s just different.