If "This One's For the Children," then why aren't the previews?

What does this....

have in common with this?

Absolutely nothing. And that is the main idea for today.

Our family rarely makes a trip to the movie theater for several reasons. First, it’s not very often that a wholesome flick comes along that doesn’t make parents feel like they just lost two hours of their lives. Second, a family of four is required to take out a small bank loan to purchase tickets and concessions. I always stand there slack-jawed when the theater employee behind the glass window tells me what I owe. Third, why make the effort when the theater-to-DVD cycle is quicker than it has ever been? Just be patient and wait a few months.

But every so often, a movie comes along that’s so big…so hyped…that we discard the above objections, provided we are certain that the investment will be worth it. Prime example: the much-anticipated Toy Story 3, which opened nationwide last weekend.

I have never seen a child as hero-enamored with a fictional character as my 3-year-old son is with Buzz Lightyear. And why not? Buzz is brave, funny, confident, and in charge. A “right stuff” kind of guy. But underneath all that, he’s humble…thanks to that infamous life-altering, eye-opening moment when he discovered he wasn’t a real spaceman after all. My son could certainly have worse role models right now.

Little man has been looking forward to the third Toy Story installment since he learned some time ago that it was coming. We would pass adult acquaintances in the grocery store, stopping to chat in the frozen foods section, and he would, without fail, announce to them that Toy Story 3 was coming. While brushing his teeth at Grandma’s house, he paused with toothpaste dribbling down his chin to tell my mother that Toy Story 3 was coming. Every night at bedtime, he would clutch his own Woody and Buzz toys and ask how many days were left. How could we miss such a momentous occasion in his little life?

So there we were, shuffling to our seats, concessions in hand, alongside my children’s special friends and their parents. This was a big deal. The lights dimmed and the 25-minutes’ worth of previews began to blare. My children, who had only been in a theater once before, sat wide-eyed, absorbing every single audio-visual detail.

The first few previews were typical for what one might expect would precede a movie like Toy Story 3… something tremendously annoying about talking cats and dogs in space, a new Rapunzel-type story from Disney, and the upcoming triumphant horse movie, Secretariat. Then, as a captive audience, we were assaulted with a too-long trailer for the new M. Night Shyamalan movie The Last Airbender. It was dark, nightmarish, violent, loud, and creepy – like a million other previews I have seen in my lifetime, featuring the standard, run-of-the-mill, computer-generated excessiveness designed to shock and awe. To me, it’s all just more of the same. My daughter, on the other hand, covered her eyes. My son, who has incidentally been struggling with bad dreams these days, was simultaneously horrified and fascinated. He watched the entire trailer and then turned to tell us that he did not like it.

My question to the Hollywood powers-that-be is this: why were we subjected to that? It’s not at all what we bought. We paid for family entertainment. How did five minutes of nightmares creep into that package? It is not due to an oversight on the part of movie industry forces (“Oops, we let that one slip through the cracks!”) Instead, it is a very intentional effort to target older members of the audience at the expense of the younger ones.

The opposing viewpoint would tell me that my children might as well get used to what they will see in popular culture. Previews that look like they came from the pit of hell sometimes pop up during prime time baseball games. It’s like a drive-by shooting. But at least when that happens, I hold in my hand the power of the remote control, ready to zap them back to the pit from whence they came.

Not so in a movie theater.

As it turns out, my suspicions were correct. According to a September 2009 Chicago Sun-Times article featured here, "The Motion Picture Association of America's Classification and Ratings Board substantially changed its policy earlier this year so that promotional clips from upcoming films no longer need to be suitable for ‘general’ audiences. The change went into effect without any announcement or opportunity to comment.”

In the past, the green band that flashes on the screen before a trailer assured us that the trailer itself is “approved for all audiences.” But now, some of those green bands say, “Approved for appropriate audiences,” which means that very young audience members have simply become unfortunate casualties.

Some might say that I should show up to a movie 25 minutes late to bypass the previews. I could, and I probably will now. But I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to reasonably assume that previews for a G-rated movie will be G-rated previews, or at the very least, unobjectionable ones. Here’s a rule of thumb for movie-industry types: If it’s directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it probably does not fall into the “little kid” category.

Yes, they will grow up one day. They will become more mature, no longer tormented by scary images that can replay themselves in the form of bad dreams at night. But for now, they are little children, being forced to grow up faster than we did in millions of tiny ways, thanks in large part to movies and television. The inappropriateness of one preview is just a small part of a larger problem. Those of us in the adult world are supposed to protect them, not push them to see what could adversely affect them. But obviously, expecting Hollywood to protect children is like expecting a hawk to look out for the best interests of a chipmunk. It is even less logical to expect anyone of note to respond to one parent’s complaint.

But I am mama bear.

Hear me roar.

If you would like to join me in expressing concern about this issue, contact the MPAA:

Chairman/CEO Bob Pisano
1600 Eye St.
NWWashington, D.C. 20006
(202) 293-1966 (main)
(202) 296-7410 (fax)

Now, at the risk of detracting from my mama bear ferocity, I am going to close today’s post on a lighthearted note with an oldie-but-goodie from 1989 – because if “this one’s for the children,” shouldn’t the previews be, too?


  1. Good to know. We are taking my little man to see TS3 tonight, and we will plan on showing up a little late. I never thought about this. I will help in expressing my concern!!

  2. Sorry about the assault - that's horrible! On a side note, it's been *years* since I've seen that video. Ah, good memories. :)

  3. STANDING APPLAUDING! Thank you - because how easy it would be to show up late - how unfair we momma bears have to bend our values when it's OUR MONEY they're after! harumph!


  4. We were at McDonalds yesterday and saw them changing out the happy meal toy display... I couldn't believe the toys were Airbender toys. I didn't think it was a child's movie... and now I see a mass conspiracy evolving! ;)

  5. I was going to mention the Happy Meals toys, too....I thought that was WEIRD when we treated the little ones during my gal pals' girls weekend. btw, how did your in-home Star Wars preview go? :)

  6. Couldn't agree with you more....it's a little frightening what is allowed before a children's movie. Maybe it's just us...I was shocked to find out that friends of my 8 year old daughter (themselves also in the same age range) have seen the Twilight movies. I'm not sure I'm old enough to seem them...

  7. Isn't that just annoying! that you and your family should be subjected to those horrid, loud, scary previews of coming 'attractions.' That's why if ever I do go to a movie, I try to get there at the end of the previews (which means I never go on opening night).

    AND, which is why I joined Netflix. (This is not a paid commercial, but it should be! I have advertised them so often - it's well worth the 8.95 a month.) AND, you have access to tons of movies you can't find at your local DVD rental store.

  8. Ugh! :( I definitely would not be happy either. We haven't been to a movie theatre in a few years. We only rent PG movies and even those are getting worse.

  9. Thanks for stopping in my blog! I enjoy your writing(s). I know that kids will grow up but I totally agree with you, the less exposure to 'the dark side' can only be for their good....I don't like it that happened, I think it's foolish on their part in the day of red box and netflix, makes for a good cause for rentals and not that 'need a loan' for a movie outing.

  10. Thanks for all your well-done research, and for the head's up! I am not surprised by much of anything coming from Hollywood these days, and I am known to question their intentions and imbedded messages in even their "G" rated films. I enjoy your site, and am now a new follower, too! Stopping by from iFellowship. Loved the fellowship you extended to me as well! I actually had been here the other day, and I must have gotten sidetracked by a little one or something before commenting!! Such is life, I suppose :) Looking forward to staying in touch!


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