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We're Off to the Movies

Now playing this summer: "Ratatouille," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," "Transformers," and "Shrek the Third."

Several months ago, we took the kids to see "Charlotte's Web." The thought: They hadn't been to the movies in awhile and it's a classic. Plus, the book wasn't capturing elder son's attention and we thought the movie might make the book more appealing. And how much more kid-friendly could you get?

The kids' reactions? Younger son fell asleep. Elder son liked it, he says. But it was too long. And then, there's that part about the spider. He nearly lost it when Charlotte died. This is, after all, the boy who kept the 17-year cicadas as pets three years ago when all his friends were smashing them dead.

Finding appropriate movies for kids is no easy task. Family Filmgoer Jane Horwitz lists "Ratatouille" as suitable for ages 10 and up. "Potter" and "Transformers" are PG-13. Elder son's reaction to "Shrek": too scary. And what was with the previews for that? Advertising "Transformers" at a PG-rated movie is NOT okay, movie theaters. And the upcoming "Bratz: The Movie" -- there go those inappropriate dolls again. Need I say more?

A few sites aim to help. rates sex and nudity, profanity and gore and gives a detailed rundown of all the scenes that fall under each category. Family Filmgoer gives age recommendations. Even so, I find choosing movies for the kids, particularly ones showing at the theater, a difficult task.

I think we'll be sticking with "Cars" and "Nemo" DVDs for awhile longer. What about you? How do you choose appropriate movies for your kids?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  July 24, 2007; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers , Tweens
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What worries me almost as much as the content of the film is the deafening sound experienced in a theater. Does anyone know any tricks/devices to protect your child's hearing?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Who can afford a day at the movies anymore anyway?

For us, we find there's no sense spending that much money to have to monitor behavior, get up 3+ times for bathroom breaks, and be stuck with the least healthy snacks on the planet.

Better off watching DVD's at home. Cheap, you can stop it whenever you want, feed them whatever you want. If they fall asleep, no loss there. There are very few films that come out for kids that would warrant the "theatre experience". Maybe some of the IMAX nature type movies.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget Nancy Drew. Don't know your sons ages so that may not be appropriate, but even though the protagonist is a girl, that's not a bad message for boys as well as girls.

My eldest daughter (8) has always been a good movie-goer. She loves it, may be scared momentarily by things, but sticks it out for the happy ending. When she turned 5 she wanted to have a movie party--which we did, at our house. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that most kids her age weren't ready to sit through a full length movie!

We're off to see Nancy Drew this weekend, and Ratatouille is on our list, and renting Bridge to Terabithia as well (she read it in school this year so is prepared for the sad ending). I love movies too, so I'm glad I've got a companion to go with!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The movies are too expensive, even at matinee, to go to. But I don't want to deny my kids the thrill of seeing a movie in a theater.

We went to Shrek the Third and was appalled that they showed a very graphic preview for Transformers. My 3 yo didn't know what to make of it, but my 5 yo understood enough to be scared.

Posted by: Burke Mom | July 24, 2007 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I have actually had very good luck with most of the work of Studio Ghibli. They have more mature films as well, but their more family oriented movies are wonderful. I recommend "My Neighbor Totoro" especially.

That said, with a lot of these films that are based on books, reading the books with your kids first can help prepare them for seeing longer, scarier movies that don't necessarily have happy endings.

Posted by: David S | July 24, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

The recent live-action version of Charlotte's Web is one of the few movies that has succeeded in making me cry! Of course, I grew up on the book and remembered the story fondly - and obviously I knew that Charlotte died at the end. While the story is a classic children's story, this latest film version probably appeals to adults more than it will to today's generation of kids, in part because of all the celebs who provided the voices of the animals.

Haven't seen HP and the Order of the Phoenix yet, but I was shocked by how many parents brought their young children (4, 5, and 6 years old) to see HP and the Goblet of Fire when it was released in the theaters. This was NOT a movie intended for younger children.

9:10 was right about the cost of seeing movies in the theater. Buying DVDs (or checking them out from the library) and watching them at home is a much better bargain.

Interestingly, my father and his sister grew up in a VERY conservative household and were not permitted to go to the movies at all. My aunt remembers going to her first movie when she was ... what? ... in her 20s, I think ... after she was married. She went to see one of the Disney animated pictures ... Snow White, maybe? ... and it was this major decision whether or not it was okay for her to do something that she'd always been taught not to do. Amazing!

Posted by: Murphy | July 24, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I was very disappointed to find out that though Transformers was marketed towards young children, the content was quite mature as well as the language. There are a couple of movies that we go and see as a family (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates...) and thought this would be a great one to see together; especially as all three boys played with transformers as small children (their walls have "spit noises" as proof!). When I explained why we wouldn't be seeing it, they were very disappointed.

Posted by: momof3boys | July 24, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

First, watching the movie "Charlotte's Web" (or reading it to him) denies the child the experience of reading it himself and discovering the book on his own. Sure, he can read it on his own later, but he won't be discovering it. Discovering a book is a powerful thing for a child. Second, there are way to many excellent picture books to be starting a 5 year old on chapter books at this age. Save the chapter books for a few years and go for the picture books. There is a reason the shelf in the bookstore labels picture books for 4-8 year olds. The rich language combined with the rich pictures helps the children absorb the language better than listening to words with few illustrations. Okay, I know lots of parents do want to get into chapter books, but please don't give up the picture books when you do. Picture books should predominate, and you should be reading them as well as letting the child look at them.

My kids are 6 and 8, and they have been to a small handful of movies. There was a Winnie the Pooh movie 3-4 years ago that the older one saw, and they both saw Happy Feet last winter. I wouldn't say I am denying them the opportunity to see a movie in a theatre (there will be many opportunities in their lives down the road), but that I am selecting the content of the viewing material so that it matches their cognitive and emotional level.

If, when considering movies for children, you are not sure if something is too scary (Bridge to Terabithia, Narnia movie), try reading the book to them first, if there is a book. The movie they create in their minds will not be too scary for them, while the movie the director creates might be. This is a case where fewer pictures would be a better thing. Also, when reading, you can stop and talk with the child if it starts to get to scary. Also, you aren't likely to read the whole thing at once, so the child has plenty of time to process the story.

As you can guess, I am not much of a movie goer myself, but I love to read.

Posted by: single mother by choice | July 24, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

single mother by choice

"There is a reason the shelf in the bookstore labels picture books for 4-8 year olds."

Yeah, it's a marketing gimmick to sucker parents into "dumbing down" their kids and buying them books for recommended age levels that are bogus!

Save the chapter books and go for the picture books, indeed!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

We all saw Harry Potter and Shrek III - my kids are 6 and 9 - they loved both. They have seen all the Potter movies and Lord of the Rings on DVD. No nightmares or anything for our kids.

The next movie we plan to see is the The Simpson's Movie.

That's all we can afford!

Posted by: cmac | July 24, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Watch 'em first, before your kid does. That's the only way to be sure you won't waste $ on something that isn't very good or isn't right for your kid.

Posted by: KC in Lubbock | July 24, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Transformers should not be marketed to children

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Stacey - how old is your "elder" son? And, elder might not be the best way to describe him, it conjures up a stooped and wrinkled child with an accelerated aging disease - might want to say eldest or oldest...

Posted by: jj | July 24, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I don't really think kids should watch movies at all until they're 7 or so, and even then it should be a rare treat. Most of my students are SO saturated with all the bad children's movies their parents have taken them to that they have no concept, even at the age of 10, of things like poetic justice or literary poignancy. I demanded my student read Etrigan before the movie came out if they were planning on seeing it, because I wanted them to understand the difference between a book and a movie, even though in that case, both were steaming piles. However, the trend took off, and my kids started reading every book before the movie came out, and now make comments about how the movie wasn't as good as the book, or how they dumbed down a female character, etc.

Posted by: Kat | July 24, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, many if not most movies today are not appropriate for most children, particularly the younger ones. That, plus the cost for tickets--and we won't even go into the unhealty and overpriced snack options!--makes DVD rentals or check-outs from the library very appealing. You have control over the subject matter and ratings for your children, the snacks they consume, and the audio volume. You don't have to watch the trailers and can skip directly to the feature. All in all a good alternative.

Regarding the audio volume in theaters, it is appallingly loud, and I'm older and my hearing isn't as great as it used to be. I can only imagine how it affects younger people with their more acute hearing facilites. If it's too loud for me, it must be practically painful for them.

The children won't miss a lot by not going to the theaters when they are younger, and they'll have plenty of opportunities to have the experience once they are older children or teens. Going to the movie theater isn't quite the "event" it was in my youth or in that of my parents' generation. Gone are the opulent lobbies, the elegant chandeliers and wall coverings, the heavy, velvety curtains, and the Cinemascope wide screens (am I dating myself or what?) of decades past. No more newsreels and the cartoon before the feature--just trailer after trailer for upcoming feature films.

Of course, we now have stadium seating in most theaters, so that's a nice change. Time marches on.

Posted by: Lynne | July 24, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Focus on the Family ( has a section of their web site, "Plugged In," which is devoted to reviews of different media, including movies. I never take my children to a movie without checking to see what Plugged In says about it. It thorougly analyzes the content of the movie and gives a recommendation about the overall message. They also have reviews of many movies which are only on DVD. You may or may not agree with the world view of Focus on the Family, but this is a great tool in deciding if a movie is right for your family.

Posted by: Mom in South Carolina | July 24, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

My oldest is 5 1/2. Good poing. I often refer to him as elder son in the blog rather than by name, but I'll try to stop conjuring up an image of a wrinkly kindergartner!

To those of you who take movies out of the library: Do you find that most of the movies are not damaged? Maybe it's just my library, but nearly everything we've borrowed has been unwatchable.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | July 24, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Mom in South Carolina

"Focus on the Family ( has a section of their web site, "Plugged In," which is devoted to reviews"

"Focus on Kooky Religious Nutjobs" is a better title for this website! No, thanks!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Sometimes our almost-3 and almost-5 year old will ask to watch a Disney movie. We have a Disney collection, many on VHS, which we accumulated for "when the kids are old enough." They know many of the characters from their friends and preschool, and will point to "Toy Story" and say "Let's watch Buzz!"

More often then not, though, they decide a movie is "too scary" (Pinocchio, for example), and actually ask us to turn it off. !?!?!

Several of their friends have seen movies in a theater. But our boys' reactions at the DVDs or tapes they ask us to watch tell us that they are not ready for that experience yet. Honestly, most of their screen viewing at this point is still 20-30 minute chunks of Sesame Street or Wiggles (which we'll occasionally tivo and then save indefinitely), or a 20-30 minute bit from a Barney/Thomas/Sesame Street DVD.

Posted by: JB's mom | July 24, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

For those of you that have children who are too young to see the current Transformers movie, you might want to check out the original animated movie that came out in the 80s. While I can see that it might be inappropriate for very young children, it might be the sort of thing that would be good. It came out on DVD a while back.

Posted by: David S | July 24, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"Focus on the Family ( has a section of their web site, "Plugged In," which is devoted to reviews"

I personally would not take advice from those people on ANYTHING!

Posted by: CJB | July 24, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I have taught early childhood education at the university level. My mother is a retired reading teacher. My children both read well above grade level, in spite of (in actuality, in part because of) the fact that I have "dumbed down" (as someone said) their reading material.

My 8 year old is reading the Little House series this summer. She loves many simpler chapter books as well. She also currently enjoys:

When Jessie Came Across the Sea
Abby and the Storm
Grandfather's Journey and Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
The Sick Day
anything by Jan Brett
many books by Chris Van Ahlsberg
"Thundercake", "Mrs. Katz and Tush," "Rechenka's Eggs," and others by Patricia Pollacco
Sister Anne's Hands
I had a Friend Named Peter
Hooway for Wodney Wat
Fox at School by James Marshall
A Birthday for Frances

Ask any elementary reading specialist what a six year old should be reading, and s/he will not tell you chapter books. Look at the language on the books such as "When Jessie Came Across the Sea," and you will see that there is a richness of language not present in many chapter books. By reading books such as these to primary grade children, you present them with language models that help them read and speak more complex language. The pictures help them understand words that they might not otherwise comprehend, increasing their vocabulary.

So read chapter books to your children if you must. But don't lose the picture books. Jim Trelease has an excellent book, "The Read Aloud Handbook," that can help you find books appropriate to your child's age.

Posted by: single mother by choice | July 24, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

My boys are 15 and 10, so it's easier now than when they were younger. The younger one has been to a few movies that were probably too old for him at the time, but big brother wanted to see them, and little brother figured out his own solution when things were too intense - climb into Mom's lap and look at the back of the theater or up at the projection booth.

That crack about "Your kids are retarded. Get 'em tested." People! nobody can make a diagnosis like that based on a few sentences on a blog. Some kids are just more sensitive than others. My younger son's best friend (since they were toddlers) didn't want to go to Pirates of the Caribean with us because he thought it would be too scary.

I'm sorry that more people don't have access to an older, independent theater. We love our local "movie palace" complete with the organ rising out of the stage before the Friday and Saturday night films. It's a special occasion when we go there, and we try to avoid the mall/chain theaters because they just aren't as nice or as fun.

We always buy a huge popcorn to share among the four of us, and bring our own bottles of water, so the worst-possible-junk-food isn't an issue. DH is diabetic so we *HAD* to find a solution to that problem.

Posted by: Sue | July 24, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

My son and I love going to the movies. Much better than dvd.

Posted by: pATRICK | July 24, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

single mother by choice

"So read chapter books to your children if you must. But don't lose the picture books. "

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Did Einstein have picture books?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

How odd. As an avid moviegoer, I've tried my best to share that experience with my nephews- it was a regular monthly event for me to take them and we never had a problem finding a kids friendly flick. Big complaints would be that they were too long occasionally.

Granted, I was shocked at age 4 they were interested and behaved enough to actually sit through and enjoy a whole movie (as I wouldn't take them otherwise) but they were!

Now I HAVE seen a recent trend where non kids movies are marketed to kids for merchandising and such- Pirates and Transformers being such. However, knowing their rating, seeing the previews and knowing the topics they get into- I already know it's not on my list.

Maybe it's because I myself am an avid moviegoer that I know what to look for in previews, know what to read in reviews, and know what my nephews are interested in.

I don't care if they show breasts- I care if they kill cops. I don't care if they talk about certain subjects, I care that my nephews will be able to process them appropriately.

Chicken Little, Happy Feet, Meet the Robinsons, Firehouse Dog, Nanny McPhee, Over the Hedge, Hoot, Night at the Musem, Curious George, I could go on.

Posted by: Liz D | July 24, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

My little girl loves going to the movies. We usually see one a month. The only thing that annoys me is when we go to a kid's movie during the day and there is some adults there who are annoyed when the kids laugh or get excited. Please, it is a kid's movie! I wouldn't be watching it if I didn't have kids. Does anyone else find it odd when adults go to kid's movies? I don't mean something like charlotte's web, I mean a cartoon? Just wondering.

Posted by: Irish girl | July 24, 2007 3:18 PM | Report abuse

"there are" Sorry for ther typo.

Posted by: Irish girl | July 24, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

"there is some adults there who are annoyed when the kids laugh or get excited. "

That should be there ARE some adults...

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey pATRICK, let's all virtually meet up sometime for a movie and some virtual flan afterwards, OK?

Posted by: catlady | July 24, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Sue and Others: I've removed the "retarded" comment. Whenever you see an inappropriate comment on the blog, please flag it to me at I do check regularly, but the more everyone can help me out, the better and more on target our discussions can be.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | July 24, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Hey pATRICK, let's all virtually meet up sometime for a movie and some virtual flan afterwards, OK?

Posted by: catlady | July 24, 2007 03:54 PM

OK CATLADY, I have been dying for your flan! Hope you and yours are doing well. Flan and a movie, who could turn that down? ;)

Posted by: pATRICK | July 24, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

we rent old movies - the ones that came out before the rating system. They frequently have plots that are entertaining to both children and adults, without graphic violence or sex. Gives us a chance to enjoy a movie that isn't narrowly pitched at some prized demographic, and the kids are a little more challenged by the plots without being disturbed by the imagery..Marx Brothers are a huge hit.

Posted by: lurker | July 24, 2007 4:47 PM | Report abuse

"there is some adults there who are annoyed when the kids laugh or get excited. "

That should be there ARE some adults...

Can you read, she corrected the typo.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 25, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to endorse the various comments that recommend reading the book first, then seeing the movie (if you have to). Our two youngest kids (boys) are 5 and 8. Until this summer, we had not read or seen the Harry Potter series, as the older one is given to very vivid nightmares, even after seemingly innocuous movies (e.g., a throw-away comment in the ancient Disney movie "The Cat from Outer Space" about the White House being taken over by aliens caused bad dreams for nearly a week). However, I read the first Harry Potter book with him, then we watched the movie at home, and he wasn't at all frightened, because he knew what was coming. That said, the original question was how we choose movies for our kids, and I'd welcome additional advice about that. Our kids attend a Quaker school, and we've worked very hard not to engender the notion that violence is entertainment. Unfortunately, our movie choices are really slim with that as a basic criterion. I've been appalled at the casual violence, even in Disney and other kid movies -- the opening scene of "Ratatouille" unnerved all of us. Many of the "family fare" movies are dull and didactic, and carry a specific religious message that we're uncomfortable with, because it's exclusive. So, other than asking the advice of more entertainment-savvy parents, prescreening everything, and saying no, a lot, what's a parent to do? Thanks for whatever advice people have to share.

Posted by: Schelling Out | July 27, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

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