What does a G rating really mean?

Filed under: Development/Milestones: Babies, Media, That's Entertainment

Reader Stephanie wrote to ask about movie ratings, specifically the G rating given to Ratatouille, the latest animated film from Pixar. She writes:
We took our young son to see Ratatouille this weekend. Most of the content was ok, except a scene in the beginning where a woman starts shooting at a colony of rats. She even needs to stop to reload. My son is now obsessed with "shooting." He has turned about four different objects into a gun. I have tried to explain how we do not play guns in our house, but he doesn't seem to understand. I am at a loss for what to do! I want to know how the movie industry can rate a movie featuring guns be rated G?

The movie ratings are assigned by the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) which is a ten to thirteen member board comprised of parents. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which operates the ratings system, "there are no special qualifications for Board membership, except that the members must have a shared parenthood experience, must be possessed of an intelligent maturity, and most of all, have the capacity to put themselves in the role of most American parents so they can view a film and apply a rating that most parents would find suitable and helpful in aiding their decisions about their children and what movies they see."

The key point there, for the purpose of this discussion, is that they are trying to assign a rating that "most parents would find suitable and helpful." Unfortunately, it seems that most parents in this country would have no problem letting a very young child watch a woman blow away rats with a shotgun. I think Stephanie is not "most parents", nor am I -- I knew from the trailers that my kids won't be seeing that movie for a long time, and I'm not particularly happy that every time we put in the Cars DVD, the kids have to watch trailer for it.

According to the MPAA, polls consistently show that parents like and appreciate the ratings system. In fact, the latest poll shows that "78% of parents with children under 13 found the ratings to be "very useful" to "fairly useful" in helping them make decisions about what movies their children see."

When assigning a rating, the CARA board considers a lot of different factors, including sex, violence, nudity, language, adult topics and drug use. I'm guessing the board did not feel there was enough violence to warrant a PG rating. Unfortunately, the ratings system, consisting of G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17, isn't really detailed enough to allow parents who actually care about what their kids see and who tend toward the more conservative end of the spectrum to really get a handle on whether or not a movie is appropriate.

There is help, of course, this being the internet and all. Kids-in-Mind is a website that offers an alternative to the MPAA ratings. Instead of a single rating, the site offers "objective ratings for sex/nudity, violence/gore & profanity on a scale of 0 to 10." There are also detailed explanations of why the movie got the scores it did in each category. If that's not enough, the site lists "instances of substance use, a list of discussion topics that may elicit questions from kids and messages the film conveys."

Their analysis of Ratatouille notes quite a few more instances of violence in the movie than did Stephanie. Many of them may not be an issue for most parents, but it's nice, as a parent, to be able to decide that for oneself, rather than relying on an imprecise one-size-fits-all rating from the MPAA.

What do you think? Have you taken your kids to a movie (or even gone yourself) and then found that the rating didn't really match the content in your opinion?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.