Tsk. Tsk. If Jiminy Cricket were a movie critic, he might be wagging his finger at the makers of today's G-rated motion pictures. Violence? Sexual innuendo? Cigarette smoking? Jiminy might be asking: What are these doing in G-rated flicks meant for family audiences?
Industry sources, including a former official movie-rater, say some scenes slipping into G-rated films show that Hollywood's highly touted rating system needs serious repair.
Take for instance Disney's "The Lion King." Don Bluth, president of the Phoenix-based Don Bluth Films, wonders how it could get away with a "really, really violent" fight between two lions and still get its gentle-G rating.
"In a way, there is an exception to this rule, and it's Walt Disney Studio," says Mr. Bluth, whose company has made 12 movies, including "The Secret of NIMH" and "The Land Before Time." "They can get away with more violence and still get a G-rating.... I think if anyone else tried to do that," he says, there "might be a different yardstick."
Now, even Congress is taking an interest. Next week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut will conduct a committee hearing on the ratings systems for movies, television, music, and videos.
A recent Harvard University study on alcohol and tobacco content in 81 G-rated animated feature films found that 47 percent contained drinking while another 43 percent showed smoking. G- rated films - including classic fairy tales from Disney's "Pinocchio" to "The Little Mermaid - are an open invitation to viewing by children because they are supposedly free of baser elements. The official description of G-rated films is "all ages admitted." But should they be?
Critics charge that there seems to be a conflict of interest within the very organization that hands out movie ratings.
The Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) board of directors is comprised of executives from seven major studios, says Jay Landers, a former member of the association's movie ratings board (see interview, left). He wonders how the ratings board can feel a sense of independence when it is rating movies put out by those very same studios.
"If [MPAA president Jack Valenti] shares the perspective that some of his subordinates seem to share - that raters are obligated to put the interests of the motion picture companies first and foremost above all else - that would make the ratings board corrupt by definition, because the ratings board is supposedly trying to represent the parents of our culture," says Dr. Landers, who lives in Oak Park, Calif.
But, counters Rich Taylor, MPAA vice president of public affairs in Washington, the names of the people who determine the ratings are kept secret from the board of directors. This anonymity "removes the possibility of bribery and tampering," he says.
Still, even sexual innuendo is making its way into G movies, says another industry executive, who asked not to be named. In Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," for example, "there were some very sensual scenes that were very much deliberate," the source says.
Washington-area mom Elizabeth Baker would agree. The urban planner and mother of three boys under 13 says, "Even Disney [movies] that get a G have some innuendo in them.... It's surprising."
Ms. Baker also singles out "Hunchback" for its scenes of a "bad guy lusting after the heroine."
(A Disney spokeswoman could find no one to comment for this story during a two-week period. Pixar, which makes animated films with Disney, such as "Toy Story," also declined to comment.)
Parents do have ways to determine ahead of time if a G-rated movie contains these characteristics: websites and newspapers like the Monitor discuss specific content such as violence, sex, drugs, and profanity in films (see movie guide, page 14). …