One big reason I don’t take my kids to the theater

Linda and I went to the local cinema over the weekend to see Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and really thought it was a delightful, inventive and darn witty movie. We even thought briefly about bringing our children to see it in the theater so they can enjoy the big screen and the “cinema experience”.
Until we remembered the previews that were shown prior to the movie. Most of them were no big deal, but one preview really stuck out as being wildly inappropriate for the young, innocent audience that would be inevitably attracted to a Wallace and Gromit movie: the preview for the film Zathura.

Zathura is positioned as a sort of sequel to the inventive and entertaining film Jumanji, and, to be honest, it looks rather exciting and inventive itself, even as it suffers from the limitations of any sequel in Hollywood.

So let me be clear. It’s not Zathura that I’m unhappy about, it’s that the preview for this film was graphic and quite frightening for small children, and inappropriate for inclusion in the Wallace and Gromit showing.

Here’s a single frame that I grabbed from the preview that seems quite cool here on the Web, but was quite overwhelming in the loud, dark and enveloping experience of the theater:

zathura monster
Imagine this coming at your child, the monster 5 stories tall and the music loud enough to feel.

Exciting, yes. Suggesting a great film, perhaps. But appropriate for a quiet, mild-mannered, pleasant, inoffensive Wallace and Gromit movie? I think not.

Since I’m rather a cineophile, I’ve read up on the economics of the movie theaters and know that the individual theaters (or theater chains) that decide what movies to include in the previews to another show, and that production companies pay big dollars to have their previews on the maximum number of screens possible. But still, I don’t care about the economics of theaters, I care about the experience of seeing the movie, and in my experience, previews are now often the very worst part of the cinema experience.

zathura houseIndeed, I vividly remember a few years ago when Linda and I would go and see the new action and adventure movies (think James Bond and the like), just to be disgusted how prior to the film starting there’d be a spate of what I can only call “satan movies”, previews of films that were shockingly, disgustingly violent and aggressive, with flashed scenes of demons, tortured people, blood, and all with such pounding music and scream tracks that we’d just close our eyes, cover our ears and wait for the movie to actually start.

As I said, I love movies, and I particularly love the experience of seeing a movie in the theater. I’d love to share that with my children, especially with such innocent fare as The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but I’m not about to pay good money to have my children exposed to previews that are as shockingly inappropriate as Zarutha along the way.

What do you think? Are we over-protective, or is this a definite problem with modern cinema?

17 comments on “One big reason I don’t take my kids to the theater

  1. It is definately a problem. I took the kids to see Madagascar last summer and I literally covered my daughter’s ears and had her close her eyes through at least one of the previews. I don’t remember what it was for, but it scared her! Also, when we rent them a video we fast forward at least 10 minutes to get to the actual start of the film. That seems very excessive to me. Thankfully previews are optional on DVD’s.

  2. Dave,
    I am an entrepreneur who just built my first theater. As a theater owner and new parent ( Daughter just turned one) I can tell you your thoughts are not out of line. A couple of things for you to think about:
    1. I don’t know where you get your information but we do not get paid to show previews. Maybe this is something at the big chains ( They are much tighter with Hollywood) but I don’t experience that at all.
    2. It is very difficult to figure out what is going to upset people. I have been in business for 1 month and already have heard some customers love what some have disliked. Some think the theater is freezing and some want us to turn up the air. That being said, we don’t want to disappoint our customers. We want you to have a great experiene so you will come back.
    Anyway, what I am trying to say is that while you found that monster to be inappropriate for your child, there could be 10 others that thought is was “way cool”. With Wallace and Grommit we do have a ton of families, but I also have film professors and people of all ages buying tickets. Where do you draw the line? It is a tough question.
    The only answer we have come up with is to work hard to communicate with our customers the best we can. We are not going to be perfect, but we hope to be better than the big chains.
    I hope I didn’t bore anyone.

  3. We haven’t taken our child to a regular theatre. We’re fortunate in this cruddy little town to have a Drive-In. Which is a completely different world from the screaming children, talking teenagers, ringing cell-phones, and obtrusive volume of a regular theatre. We’ll lay the seats down in the back and she and I can play and watch the movie as loud or as soft as we want. Theatre experiences for me as a child were wonderful…and I want them to be that way for Willow when she’s older…but I’m not in any hurry to mess with all the rigamarole of Megaplexes or Stadium Seating. It was nice when I was single and childless…but as an AP parent, one of the things I’ve learned is: Know Your Limits, Know Your Child’s Limits.
    And my mantra for the next few years? Wait for the DVD. 🙂

  4. While I agree with the theatre owner, who says it’s basically difficult to please everyone, that doesn’t mean the preview was appropriate. I did take my two children to see the movie, since it was rated G. My older son, age 8, thought the preview for Zarutha was very cool. My younger son, who just turned 3, was scared by it.
    While it’s difficult to know what’s going to *please* people all of the time, I think it’s common sense that you don’t put previews that include scary scenes before movies meant for children, both large and small. I’m sure the film professors and adults would also have enjoyed other previews, such as ones involving sex and nudity, so it’s not a good argument to say that since other people enjoyed it, it’s too bad the kids are scared. It should always, as a society, be our top priority to make our children feel secure and safe at all times. I thought by going to a rated G movie I could offer my children some enjoyment, not fear.

  5. One thing I’ve become more aware of since becoming a parent is how often children are harmed or threatened in the movies in the name of entertainment/drama. Since I first tried to watch The Mission four weeks postpartum, I have found it very difficult to watch movies or previews without encountering some such scene. I cried through The Incredibles. People have told me that it wears off after a while… but I wonder why it needs to wear off. Why do I need to become blasé again about children being hurt? I’m limiting my children’s access to media; I’m also limiting my own for the same reason.

  6. I agree – but I also refuse to let that type of thing stop me from giving my kid a fantastic experience with his all-time favorite characters (W&G). That’s why when we go to the theater, we go at least 15 mins. late. These days the 1st 15 mins. to 20 mins. are all ads. We skip those and enjoy the movie – problem solved!

  7. Goofin has the best answer – go late. It’s for each parent to decide what each child can or can’t handle. We go late because frankly my daughter has a hard enough time sitting through a movie without adding on another 20 minutes.
    I’ve still only seen the first 45 minutes of Madagascar, and I thought sitting through that much movie before playing the ‘run and scream’ game in front of the first row of seats was phenomenal for a 22 month old.

  8. As parents, we have a responsibility to watch out for the best interests of our children. You asked if you were being overprotective – well, ask rather if your reaction to the preview provoked a gut response of “that’s scary to me – am I okay with this?” As adults or teens, the answer would be based on our life experiences and probably a “Yes, I’m okay even if I don’t like what I just saw.” A small child doesn’t have the experience yet to ask if they are okay, they just know they aren’t until they see otherwise. Meanwhile, they will be scared. Being protective means thinking forward (pro) so that what is to come does not become a problem. Isn’t it nice to know that you, the parent, can make a choice to help your child grow in their experiences in a safe and supportive manner. Going late is an option, waiting for the movie to come out on video/DVD is an option. So to is going to the cinema manager and letting them know the previews were inappropriate for the children with you. I’ve often wished they could put “lighter” previews during the daytime shows where small kids are more likely to be and save the loud/scary ones for the evening shows where the teens and adults could appreciate them. Meanwhile, we parents will watch and think about the effects of these previews on our children and not consider ourselves overprotective – the time will come when they will see these things and our task is to prepare them as best we can.

  9. I couldn’t agree more with your comment about the preview. My oldest daughter is 4, and this was our second time to the “big movies”. And while I told her about previews, she was surprised and scared by the Jumanji previews. She clutched at me and covered her eyes, and kept saying that it was really scary (even with her hands over her eyes, the music was loud and scary).
    I wish that the movie industry would really think about the ages of the kids that these kind of movies attract and only play previews that won’t scare littler kids. I know a large part of it is money, but they also may just be so desensitized to visual media that they don’t step back and consider that a 4 year old, or older child, may well be overwhelmed by this kind of fairly intense preview. It just is kind of disheartening to finally have a movie to take your young child to (and the movie itself was very gentle and funny – and she loved it), but have the previews be so inappropriate for the young audience they are trying to attract.

  10. I recently took my 5 year old neice to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had seen it with my husband and had permission from her mom to take her to the show, she was very excited for this outing. Popcorn in hand, we sat down together and were greated with the preview to another Johnny Depp movie, Corpse Bride. As if the title isn’t enough, this is another Tim Burton animation about a man who marries a dead woman. Creepy and very scary for a five year old. The previews used to be my favorite part.

  11. I took my daughter to Willy Wonka and there was a preview for King Kong. I wanted to take her a second time to the movie and she didnt want to go in the actual theatre. She said the monster was going to get her. When we went to Chicken Little I was careful to stay outside until the previews were over.

  12. Hello Dear Mothers and Fathers,
    I have read a few of the beautiful and precious emails from parents whose children are growing into fully healthy and functioning human beings because of loving, nuturing and touching parenting who are still parenting with skill in our society.
    Our adoptive daughters are from Russia and have a very common, but still unknown condition, Reactive Attachment Disorder, which disables them on many levels, most importantly, emotionally, but also socially and psychologically. Our children were predispositioned with this disorder due to their inability to form trusting and loving relationships with their biological mother (or father) during their first few months – years of life. Needs, such as bonding (trust), should occur first, followed by attachment (love) soon thereafter. Our children did not expereince these needs and, therefore, emotional, psychological and physical gaps exist in their lives. Difficult as it may seem, it is a challenge to fill these gaps even with love and time.
    There is a travesty occurring as I write this because many unsuspecting parents are adopting children with this preexisting condiition, who have been deliberately uninformed about their children’s conditions until after they have adopted. In fact, in our case, we were deprived of critical information until actual seconds prior to our adoption in order to proceed with the adoption. This vital information may have allowed us to research our children’s diagnosis rather than to be hoodwinked into believing that our children were healthy. It was not until years later that we became parents in action and sought help for our daughters, seeing warnings almost every waking hour of the day.
    Now, as many thousands of parents in the U.S alone, we are responsibly left to care for our children’s disorders without any support of government, schools, authorities, etc. I am not feeling sorry for myself, as I have already processed that stage of recovery as a parent who has been traumatized by this lie. My wife and I must get the word out to the public that you should learn all you can about Reactive Attachment Disorder so that you can make an informed decision when adopting in order to help your children if they have been diagnosed with this disorder. You did not create this in your child and it is not due to your poor parenting or nonexistent love for your child. On the contrary, it was created before you adopted your child. RAD’s symptoms are not endearing, whimsical or charming, as many would like to have you believe. These notions are ill-advised. The disorder is often hidden by obstinate and defiant disorders and often contains many emotional and psychological aspects that can destroy families and leave parents feeling hopeless.
    We will continue to pray and to offer our hope and confidential support to anyone who might require it. Be prepared, you will not receive much support from society because society does not understand the disorder nor does it want to understand or empathize. Others will not see the, sometimes, latent behavior, despite it being as overt as any criminal action can be. Many adults choose to see children as not having evil intentions, despite many adult criminals beginning their lifelong criminal history as children. Try to redirect these children with love, yes, but with zero tolerance for their bad behavior that is often over the edge of healthier and less wounded children. Oft times, these children with RAD are acting defiantly because of deep emotional wonds that can only be corrected with firm loving parenting, but also tough love. They will know you love them when you mean what you say. They do not respond well to kindness, usually viewing it as weakness, an obstacle they can penetrate and destroy. What works for other children will often not work for these children. It is best to work in opposites with these kids.
    If your child has RAD, please read as much as you can under Nancy Thomas, an expert in the field of RAD. I thank those of you who read this and for your attention to this matter, as we are only trying to make a difference for our beautiful, but wounded children.
    God Bless All of You,

  13. I think it is definitely a problem, and one where my husband and I do not agree. He has no problem with letting his almost-7 year old son watch the Harry Potter movies (which give him nightmares if he watches them at night) and the Star Wars movies – I had specifically requested that my stepson not watch the last Star Wars because of how graphic it is, but nonetheless I came home to him watching it yesterday.
    Why can’t the movie moguls understand the effects their wares can have on children? The only thing I have been watching lately is Finding Nemo (my 21 month old son’s favorite movie) and you wouldn’t believe the insane dreams I’ve been having lately – completely unreleated to the movie. I can only imagine what kind of dreams my stepson has been having..

  14. My child can barely sit through the preview of a Disney movie like Madagascar or Finding Nemo or the new Pixar films Cars or Over the Hedge. They SCARE him. The PREVIEWS of those “cute” little “children” movies (which are always filled with way too much scary suspense and adult “humor”) scares him. Why can’t someone make a movie that is just nice? People told me that Curious George was “nice” but after viewing the trailer for it, I knew that even THAT movie would be scary for my 3 year old son. Plus, he did not understand the adult humor including a bathtub scene where George scares a woman. SCARES a woman…. so anyone out there have a suggestion for a sweet, not scary, non-suspenseful kids movie?

  15. I couldn’t agree more with most of these posts. Long ago, when Disney released The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I took my children (and those of my sister-in-law) to see this film. When it was playing, and after it was over, I was horrified to have found that the entire movie was about lust…it was dark and gritty, and not at all what I would have considered a movie for children. I felt horrible as a parent for taking the kids to see a film that I had not first screened myself, and worse for taking someone elses children.
    After that I made the decision to first screen any film that my children might watch, and I’m perfectly happy with waiting until the film is released on DVD prior to them seeing it. We do not have TV or cable at home, so the children are not continually baraged by ads or previews for movies that I may have to veto. Our children do not watch very much television or movies at all, and when we do watch films we do it as a family (after they have been screened by my husband and myself and deemed worthy for my children).
    My children are now 10 & 13…they don’t miss television shows, and both feel strongly that having their minds continually attacked with advertisements and commercials is wholly unsatisfactory. They are happy to live our quiet lifestyle, and feel safe and secure in our home. They don’t seem to miss when they can’t see a particular movie, even when their friends have seen it. I’m proud of them, and of my new abilities to protect them from harmful movies, television and commericialism.
    I’m pregnant and due any day with my third babe. We’re very excited about attachment parenting with this one as well, and continuing to enjoy our farm/country lifestyle and limited hollywood influence for our children. Many blessings to this site, and to your readers! Vashti

  16. My niece, 5 now, has been watching yellow submarine for years. It’s her favorite. Can’t say it’s without scary parts, but she loves it. And a version of Alice in Wonderland that is acted (not cartoon).

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