In the early 1980’s, American audiences were treated to several family movies that pushed the PG rating to its limit, most of which were produced by Steven Spielberg. Although there weren’t a ton of kids that complained about the unsuitable content in Gremlins, Poltergeist, or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, parents complained that their precious babies had been scarred for life. Thus, the Motion Picture Association of America was prompted to create a new rating to bridge the gap between PG and R: PG-13.
What’s interesting is that nothing has really changed about movie ratings since the 80’s. Sure, an R rating is still an R rating, although it’s ridiculous that films like Boyhood would be restricted solely based on naughty language alone. As for the other ratings, however, PG-13 has become the new PG, PG has become the new G, and the G rating is virtually nonexistent. Nowadays, G rated movies are almost as hard to come by as the NC-17 rating. Where NC-17 is intended to alienate younger audiences, G is supposed to make a movie accessible to everyone. Ironically, though, the G rating now seems to mean “for kiddies only” in the public’s eye.
Family movies like How to Train Your Dragon and Paddington have reached a level of sophistication that adults can proudly attend them without accompanying a child. Most adults likely won’t be caught dead alone in a family movie, however, unless it’s rated PG. “Parental Guidance” implies that there’s going to at least be something suggestive enough for grown ups. When people think of “General Audience” now, something like Barney the Dinosaur or the Teletubbies comes to mind. You know, sheer baby stuff.
Even Disney, a studio that’s always prided itself on appearing as wholesome as possible, has started to realize the dreaded G rating is a death mark. Their recent financial hits like Tangled and Frozen were probably helped by the fact that they merited PG ratings. The G rated The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh meanwhile, didn’t do nearly as well at the box office. The only high profile modern movies that have garnered G ratings are sequels like Toy Story 3 and prequels like Monsters University. Since those films already had built-in audiences, it didn’t matter what they were rated. Untested waters like Big Hero 6, however, are riskier and require a PG rating to help gain a wider audience.
What’s really bizarre about this is that all of the films listed above would have been G rated had they come out in the 80’s, 90’s or even the early 2000’s. Yet, older G rated movies like The Secret of NIMH, The Brave Little Toaster, and The Last Unicorn would have easily been rated PG today. The same can be said about classic family movies that were later branded with G ratings like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio. As a matter of fact, when The Wizard of Oz was rereleased in 3D back in 2013, it was reissued with a PG rating for “some scary moments.” Good call seeing how those flying monkeys are already frightening enough in 2D!
If you think about it, family movies today are much more tamed than they were years ago. That’s not to say they’ve gotten any less smart, refined, or universally appealing. However, family movies now strive to be more politically correct with minimal scary imagery, profanity, and sexual innuendos. Regardless, studios will strive to get the PG rating because they know a G rating is bad for business.
The G rating isn’t necessarily entirely dead. In the United Kingdom, a U for “Universal” rating is the equivalent to a G rating. Where Inside Out, The Lego Movie, and Despicable Me received PG ratings in the United States, the British Board of Film Classification actually gave them all U ratings. It’s hard to say why, but it appears British audiences are much more open to seeing a “Universal” or “General” movie than American audiences. What this demonstrates above all else, though, is that there’s really not much difference between a U rating/G rating and a PG rating.
With little separating these ratings, should we just abolish the G rating? All it does is distance older audiences and ultimately hurt a film’s chances at the box office. Some may view the elimination of the G rating as a testament to this generation’s loss of innocence. If you really think about it, though, how many movies throughout cinematic history have truly earned a G rating? Almost every quality family film that’s stood the test of time has had intimidating imagery, heavy life lessons, or something challenging for the kids in the theater. Our world hasn’t really gotten any less innocent. It was simply never that innocent to start with. Perhaps its time we all recognized this and officially make PG the new G.