This week, Paramount released a new animated film entitled Rango. A film full of reptiles with cowboy-type roles, strong voices and adult choices. It’s an animated film marketed to and geared for kids and families. It’s rated PG. In the television trailer I saw last night, they specifically dubbed it a “family movie.” The movie had a great opening weekend, it turns out, but not without some controversy.
The film is full of tobacco imagery, where many characters use and play with cigars and cigarettes. And as I hear it, the hero of the story swallows a cigar at one point and subsequently breathes fire in the face of a villain. Funny. Silly even, maybe. But potentially instructive, too.
As most parents know, many animated films contain content, language, jokes, and plays in plot that go right over kids’ heads. These are cleverly designed to keep parents, adolescents, grandparents, and chaperons “stuck” in the audience, entertained as well. And to keep us coming back.
Problem is, it turns out not every theme goes over childrens’ heads as we’d like to believe.
Effects of Movie Tobacco/Smoking Images on Kids:
- Research has found that, “Celebrity use and movie images of smoking can be even more powerful than commercial advertising.” We know that a number of epidemiologic studies of adolescents have found direct evidence that viewing more movie smoking increased the likelihood of smoking initiation.
- Rigorous research finds that grade-schoolers exposed to on-screen smoking are much more likely to start smoking as teens. Further 80% of the movies that kids age 9 through 12 saw with smoking images were rated either G, PG, or PG-13. This particular study found that exposure to smoking images as a young child even has influence on choices later in life. The researchers suggest that, “Although the peak period of smoking initiation is during adolescence, the desire to smoke may develop at much younger ages.”
- One study has found that when “bad guys” smoke in the movies, it has more influence on kids than when the “good guys” do. It doesn’t matter if kids and teens don’t like the characters, they are influenced by both pro and antagonists. Daredevils, strong figures, bad-guys, and even “heroes” like Rango, they all hold instructive power.
- Fortunately, in part due to efforts of Legacy, The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the AAP, and a host of other advocates, it may be getting better. The CDC released a statement in August outlining new study results proving a reduction of tobacco images in the movies. “The number of tobacco incidents depicted in the movies during this period [ 1991 to 2009] peaked in 2005 and then progressively declined. Top-grossing movies released in 2009 contained 49% of the number of onscreen smoking incidents as observed in 2005 (1,935 incidents in 2009 versus 3,967 incidents in 2005).
- We’re certainly not to zero. The AAP asserts that, “A surprising number of kid-rated movies feature cigars, which may be attractive to new young smokers.” Rango being a good example.
- Many groups that advocate for children feel the film industry has an obligation to its viewers. If while reading this, you’re thinking about or worried about the freedom of film, the freedom of directors, and the need for free speech in art, consider reading this meaty transcript of a 2007 presentation from Barry Bloom, Dean of Harvard School of Public Health where he stated, “We believe that filmmakers, too, need to take the consequences of their work into account and act appropriately.”
What do you think? Do you think there should be legislation outlawing the use of cigarettes and tobacco in movies with a G, PG, or PG-13 rating? You gonna see Rango? With your kids?
My husband is really looking forward to Rango. He’d like my daughter to see it too, but I think it looks too grown-up and intense for a two year old. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what some other parents have to say about it.
Legislation outlawing specific content in movies? That would seem to run afoul of the First Amendment. If the MPAA wants to slap an R rating on any movie with cigarettes and tobacco in it, of course, that’s their prerogative. Cigarettes are still a part of life, though… it’s a tough one. The MPAA could keep them out of G movies, perhaps.
Its all about how you market it. No, I don’t think content should be “outlawed,” and I doubt many people would. Its a much more palatable thing to make MPAA ratings more strict rather than to mandate that an entire industry ban a certain activity from their entire repertoire. Fact of the matter is, these ratings are highly subjective and would be better replaced with something more descriptive, such as a list of all of the potentially objectionable things found in the movie so that parents could better decide what to let their child watch.
A friend just posted this helpful website with information for parents regarding “what to watch out for” and gives a specific age rating they recommend based on the content of the film: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
Our first movie outing with our 4-yr old lasted about 10 minutes since the first scene of “How to Train Your Dragon” was so violent. Will definitely check this website before taking him to another flick!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Susi, Thanks for this incredible link. I love the link and the help it provides. Although each child is different, Common Sense provides a great starting point for many of us! Kristen mentioned the exact same link to me last night. Maybe she’s your source 🙂
We’ve not done a real movie yet, but there is talk in our house about Cars 2 (coming out this summer). I’m excited about the prospect of going but look forward to learning more about at prior to going…F really may not be up for it (particularly if scary scenes) at 4 1/2. But we’ll see and we’ll talk about it prior.
Viki, I agree the MPAA ratings are only minimally helpful. However they do serve as a filter and if we could get smoking and tobacco product placement to jump a rating up to R, I suppose the film industry would think twice before keeping those images intact.
And, If previewing films and knowing what my kids are watching on television or in the theater is considered “helicopter,” then I’m happy to strap on the propellers!
My older kid gets to watch commercial free preschool programming a few times per week. I don’t think Disney princess movies are age appropriate for a 4yo, let alone How to Train Your Dragon. A relative brought it to a family gathering especially for her. I guess what I’m saying is that parents’ judgement is paramount and should be exercised first and foremost. The MPAA ratings don’t mean much to me. But given the extremely addictive nature of nicotene, they should consider an NC 17 rating for smoking. As for my family: I preview everything. I read an article in the NYTs a few months back that described previewing and viewing movies and TV with one’s children (to engage, foster comprehension, screen for content) as the epitome of “helicopter parenting.” I think parents need to be vigilant about protecting their kids from advertising and merchandising schemes. I don’t appreciate the Dora branded sugary cereal, candy, and other nutritionally void food items that are placed at kid-level at the grocery store. I would definitely support laws to regulate advertising to minors, especially tweens and younger. Advertising that manipulates the self concept of young children is a multi-billion dollar industry. Those smoking scenes in Rango can be seen as product placement.
Kelly A. says
I believe as others, that parents need to be the final arbiter of what their children see in movies and on tv. I am one of those awful parents that didn’t let their kids see Harry Potter movies until they were 8 and 10 and then I was uncomfortable for my more sensitive 8 year old. Now that they are 10 and 12 they’ve seen all of them but I feel I might have compromised a bit more than I’d like. I remember when my oldest was in kindergarten and a parent told me they allowed their 5 year-old to see the live-action Spiderman. “He didn’t have nightmares,” was the justification. My inward response was that pornography might not give him nightmares but I wouldn’t let my kid watch it. I still am considered an overly protective parent because I don’t want them seeing images of alcohol abuse or smoking. They’re smart enough and old enough to know the difference but I don’t want it normalized. Fortunately, we have a very (sometimes uncomfortable for me) open relationship and they’ll ask me about anything. I can only hope that continues.
I don’t know anything about Rango except some of my 7-year old daughter’s friends are excited to see it.
I think that the smoking in Rango is the closest the tobacco industry can get to advertising to kids since it has otherwise been banned. I would be curious if they had anything to do with all the product placement in Rango.
We just watched Megamind – also a kid/family movie rated PG. They were so careful not to place anything in the movie that was conventionally controversial – they even went so far with the theme song “Highway to Hell” to cut the song off before the word “Hell”. It looks like Rango is put out by Nicklodean and Paramount and I would imagine such giant companies would probably like some sponsorship by the tobacco industry.
For our family we’ll probably see it and I’ll talk to our daughter about how bad smoking is for the characters and “isn’t it sad they don’t realize how much it’s hurting them?” But it’s unfortunate that I have to do damage control on a kid movie at all. And we’ll wait till its on Netflix because if Nicklodean and Paramount are getting sponsored by the tobacco industry I don’t want to support them myself.
In responses to Viki – I can’t believe an article actually *put down* knowing what your kids watch on tv! My daughter is 7 years old and I still watch tv and movies with her and if something comes up that is wildly inappropriate (like cartoon characters smoking in a kid’s movie) we talk about it. I do think that “helicopter parenting” is bad for children – in the real definition of the term. But being involved in a your young child’s life and helping them to navigate a culture inundated by advertising and consumerism is just plain good parenting. Unless of course you want your child to be swayed by everyone who says they need this or need that. I’m hoping that educating my daughter at a young age to the B.S. of advertising will help her to be more prepared to not be swayed by peer pressure as she gets older. I do let her watch more movies than you let your kids watch, but that’s just my opinion for my child (she saw How to Train Your Dragon when she was five but she saw it with us – just like everything she watches is with us … I’m soooo sick of Disney shows by the way …). More power to you for putting effort into parenting instead of just trusting that anything on tv is fine!
We considered seeing Rango this weekend, but after reading about it on commonsensemedia.org, we decided not to. Our kindergartener pretended to smoke with a pencil the other day–he said someone at school did it and he thought it looked “cool.” We had a long discussion about the dangers of smoking, and he seemed impressed by our fear tactics, but afterward he still said that he wished it wasn’t so unhealthy. The last thing we need is another example of how “cool” smoking looks!