Last Sunday, Paul B, my two brothers and I went to see Paddington (2014). Directed by Paul king, written by Paul King and Hamish McColl, based on the long lived creation by Michael Bond, the film ended up being a very enjoyable watch. Despite the doubts put forward by several people I know, who have fond memories of the stop-animated children’s TV series, I found it to be one of the best kids’ films of the year. It was exciting and interesting, thoughtful and provocative, but mostly really good fun. But this isn’t meant to be a review piece, for as I said last week: I wanted to find out if Paddington deserved the PG rating it got from the BBFC.
The audience and the BBFC
In our group of four, only one of my brothers was technically of an age that put him in the film’s target audience. At age ten, my youngest brother could have seen the film without the rest of us. He watched the entire film and says that he really liked it. But was he scared by any of it? How did he find the parts that the BBFC had picked-up on? You can find the BBFC’s reasoning here.
The dangerous behaviour that the BBFC discusses (Paddington hiding in a fridge; skateboarding while being pulled along by a bus; a boy strapping fireworks to his shoes) would perhaps have encouraged dangerous behaviour in younger kids. My youngest brother is old enough to know better on all accounts and in the case of the boy strapping fireworks to his shoes: we were quickly shown the consequences of his actions, with him laid-up in hospital – a leg in plaster. But I can’t be too sure if younger children wouldn’t at least try mimicking the fridge scene.
Scenes involving Paddington being in danger were mainly a bit creepy and scary. My youngest brother handled these scenes fine, however during the moments that Paddington was most in peril, where it looked like the villain would win, younger children in the audience did start crying. While I cannot confirm the exact age of the younger audience members who did cry in this part, the tone of cry put them at least three years old – the minimum age for viewing a PG film without a parent or guardian in attendance is eight.
The scene involving a man flirting with a man who was dressed as a woman, was generally well received by youngest brother and the rest of the audience. Most of the children had a giggle at this very awkward moment and I heard no tutting from parents. And the one bad word that made it into the film? Personally, I think that’s personal taste as to whether that’s really a bad word, but I heard no children mimicking it upon departure.
Raiders of the the Lost Ark
Why am I suddenly talking about an Indiana Jones film? The afternoon after seeing Paddington, having learned that youngest brother had not seen Indy’s first outing, everyone came round to my house to watch/rewatch the Blu-ray version of the film. You can read the BBFC’s reasoning for that film’s PG rating here. Yes, that’s right, the film with face melting, bodies impaled on spikes, several bits of real swearing, flirting, hints at awkward past sexual relations and creepy skeletons was, in 2012, reissued a PG rating by the same BBFC that this year gave Paddington a PG rating.
I won’t describe my youngest brother’s reactions to the key age ratey parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but suffice to say, except for the relationship stuff (which appeared to go over his head), he was pretty squeamish about the rest and did cover his eyes during several parts. During the third act’s decisive moments, I provided audio description for him. This was a completely different reaction to our cinema trip earlier that day. For me this is indicative that there is something a tad too arbitrary about the things that the BBFC rates films on. (For those wondering: youngest brother did, overall, enjoy the film.) But I woudn’t say that this Indy outing needs to be classified as a 12.
The loss of Uc
Until 2009, there was a Uc age rating, however this was abandoned in favour of having the BBFC write about why films were being given the ratings they were being given from U and above (a.k.a. BBCF Insights). This is, I think, where part of the problem lays. The Uc certificate allowed for films for children to be classified as not needing any adult intervention whatsoever, because they were the dullest of the dull when it came to plot, peril and relationships. For me, the U rating allows for kids’ films to have a degree of peril, plot and relationships (as evidenced by most of Disney’s animated back catalogue) in their films.
Should Paddington have been a U rated film? Yes it should have been, especially if the BBFC are happy to rate films like Raiders of the Lost Ark as PG when they’re re-released. That 1981 classic has a lot more in it to give kids nightmares and lead to dodgy re-enactment than Paddington’s first big screen outing.
But in all of this, I think the lesson here is that if you have children or much younger siblings and they’re watching a particular film for the first time: watch it with them, so that you can be on hand to comfort, celebrate or explain.