After seeing Marley & Me, with its skinny-dipping, canoodling, postpartum depression, and stabbing of a young neighbor, Jim Judy was taken aback by the PG rating.
"I was shocked it wasn't PG-13, which, I've heard, is the same reaction from many parents who took their kids," said Judy, who runs the screenit.com Web site for parents looking for details about movie content.
"I think the biggest issue is that it was marketed as a family-friendly holiday film about a mischievous dog and turned out to be something a lot more complex than that."
That may be why it's grossed nearly $140 million, but it's also a sign that the PG classification might be undergoing some ratings creep.
In 2004, the Harvard School of Public Health released a study that found more violence than a decade earlier in PG and PG-13 movies, more sexual content in PG, PG-13, and R films, plus more profanity in PG-13 and R releases.
Now, PG seems to have become an even bigger and more desirable umbrella, given recent movies such as New in Town, Inkheart, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and two that opened Friday, Coraline and The Pink Panther 2.
Judy, for instance, was surprised by the violence in the Kevin James mall-cop comedy. "Had it been in the bumbling-Home Alone-crooks mode, that would have been one thing, but shooting at the hero with real guns (and the intent to kill) in a PG film?" he asked.
The Motion Picture Association of America, however, insists there has been no loosening of standards.
"The PG rating hasn't changed; it's the same criteria as it's been for some time now," spokesman Elizabeth Kaltman said. In 2007, there were 105 movies rated PG and in 2008 there were 107, and it's obviously too early for 2009 stats.
"The key to the PG is that parents need to use guidance. ... The descriptors provide reasons why it was given the rating it was, what they should be looking out for, what they're cautioned about," Kaltman said.
The descriptor for Marley & Me is PG for "thematic material, some suggestive content and language."
"PG urges parents to use guidance," Kaltman said. "PG-13 urges parents to be strongly cautioned and to learn more about elements of the film that might give them pause, that might make them decide that this one isn't appropriate for their children."
Neil Gaiman recently has been answering questions about the animated movie Coraline, based on his novel about an 11-year-old girl who discovers a secret passageway in her house to a near-identical world with her "other" mother and father. Its PG rating is for "thematic elements, scary images, some language, and suggestive humor."
Gaiman said that he has been asked if the movie is too creepy.
"If you have a kid who can cope with Disney's Snow White, they will have no problems with Coraline. It's just the same amount of scary, possibly less brutal than that."
Box-office expert Paul Dergarabedian from hollywood.com agrees that PG is the new PG-13 in terms of its growing appeal, acceptance, and potential for ratings creep.
He credits the 2001 blockbuster Shrek with removing the stigma.
"It was just so great, it sort of bridged that gap where parents could enjoy it as much as the kids. That really kind of ushered in the era of the cool PG movie," Dergarabedian said.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Barbara Vancheri is the movie editor for the Post-Gazette.
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