Our 5-year old boy has been showing an interest in all things Harry Potter of late - and this is hardly surprising. An advertising campaign is currently underway that has seen to it that picking up a cereal box, turning on a television or walking outside the front door involves an audio-visual assault designed to send parents sprinting to cinemas with our kids under our arms to see the last instalment of the most successful movie franchise in history.
My partner and I are careful about the toys we buy for our two boys but the world of Harry Potter seemed like a good choice because, it being based on the excellent books of JK Rolling-In-Money, we hoped that it might pave the way to an interest in literature.
It transpired that the road to literature is paved with a great deal of official merchandise. Cloaks, wands, Lego, action figures, board games, video games - and of course the DVDs. I'd seen a couple of Harry Potter films and vaguely remembered them being harmless affairs full of quidditch, hocus pocus and mystical derring-do. So we bought the first Harry Potter DVD for the boys and, as it was a PG-certified movie, I sat with a parental finger poised over the pause button just in case things got too scary.
By the halfway point the boys were having a great time. Yes there had been a large troll and a giant two-headed dog but the boys had weathered these well, weren't scared and were showing no signs of having been seduced by the occult. They had however learned the words 'bloody' and 'arse' and how to use them in context, courtesy of young Ron Weasley. To say that I was spectacularly unimpressed would have been an understatement.
Like most adults I pepper my language with colourful Anglo-Saxon phrases in the company of friends, but for 5 years I had kept my potty mouth shut within earshot of the kids and neither of them had uttered a salty word. I was as proud of my restraint as I was angrily unamused by this child-friendly Trojan horse loaded with unsuitable phrases that had been rolled under my radar and into our home.
The PotterGate incident got me thinking. And by 'Thinking' I mean 'Complaining loudly to my partner until she asked me to go away'. I realised that I could reel off a laundry list of other PG movies that I'd had to mute, fast-forward and even dispose of altogether to prevent the boys being exposed to language or behaviour that just isn't suitable for them yet, and which had no place in movies aimed at children.
Chief amongst these offenders was The Cat In The Hat. This movie was based on a Dr Seuss book for very young children and our boys loved it just as we'd expected. But what we hadn't expected was The Cat calling a little girl 'A dirty hoe' before producing a gardening tool to comic effect. Or the scene in which The Cat points a large meat cleaver into the face of another character yelling angrily 'I'll get you and it'll look like a bloody accident... I mean it; I will end you.'
Being a resourceful lad our 5-year old banked this last phrase, withdrawing it for use a few nights later when Mummy suggested that it might be time for bed. The Cat In The Hat swiftly became The DVD Hurled Into The Bin - which was a shame because the boys had loved it and asked for it for weeks thereafter.
I cannot fathom what the inclusion of these words and actions supposedly lent to the movies in question. Did the writers, producers and directors sit down and decide that their child-oriented production would grind to a halt without the scene in which their eponymous hero swears angrily, waves a meat cleaver and threatens murder? Could the scene have worked without the profanity? Could a less terrifying kitchen implement have been wielded?
Similarly, did the good folks at Warner Brothers really envisage millions of 10-year olds storming the box office to demand refunds because Ron Weasley didn't say 'Bloody' and 'Arse'? It's not just the fact that these scenes are in the movies that bothers me, it's the fact that they were wholly unnecessary for the films to be amusing or exciting. I don't object to monsters being scary or baddies being dispatched, because these are necessary plot devices that move the story forward. What I'm railing against isn't just the irresponsibility of the people making movies for our children; it's the total lack of creativity being exhibited by them.
Fortunately all is not lost and we parents do have a choice in this arena. I imagine that, like me, most parents with children under the age of 10 have thanked goodness for Pixar Studios. Pixar have become the world's most successful film studio by producing one solid gold hit after another, without a single swear word or one troubling scene. And why? Because they prioritise the telling of stories over cheap shock tactics.
I know that the days are long gone whereby the phrase 'I said good day sir!' was an outburst so shocking that it was guaranteed to end any argument. I couldn't care less that no contemporary mainstream movie is complete without every character in it having been accused of extraordinary and acrobatic sexual relationships with their parents. I can assure you that my sense of humour is as ribald, puerile and base as any that you will come across.
I just want children's entertainment to be produced in a manner that allows parents to relax as the lights in the auditorium dim and the movie begins. I don't know about you but I think it would be nice if we could enjoy our popcorn, safe in the knowledge that the drive home will not be spent explaining why we never use that word that the cartoon bunny used, why axes are not something that we should play with and why nobody is to threaten the other children at school with having their heads stuck into the place that we already agreed the bunny shouldn't have been talking about.
Or we could just go and see Cars 2. Thank you Pixar.
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