Thursday, August 31, 2006

Are you old enough to buy that Happy Meal? Part 1

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part one in a four-part series examining McDonald's decision to promote a PG-13 movie (Pirates of the Caribbean II) with their Happy Meals.

This story began about two months ago when a large box in the back of the McDonald's where I worked over the summer caught my attention. The box was labeled as a brand-spanking-new shipment of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Happy Meal toys. The toys weren't to be distributed until early July (July 7th, according to Mickey D headquarters), but it got me to thinking - had McDonald's ever used the Happy Meal to promote a PG-13 movie before?

After looking over Wikipedia's (admittedly poor) list of past Happy Meal promotions, and seeing no other PG-13 affiliated toy noted,* I was led to ask a more pressing question: are the children targeted by McDonald's Happy and Mighty Kids Meals an appropriate audience to push a PG-13 movie upon?

A little background: according the Motion Picture Association of America, a PG-13 movie is described (in part) as the following...
Parents, by the rating, are alerted to be very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children. A PG-13 film is one which, in the view of the Rating Board, leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, or other contents, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. -taken from
In my opinion, there's no question that there is content in PG-13 movies that simply isn't suitable for younger children. In short, it's no secret that even relatively small amounts of the three S's of cinema (sex, swearing, and slaughter**) can have a significant impact on younger audiences. Heck, I had some nasty nightmares when I watched The Ring a few years back.***

Granted, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is not as scary as The Ring, as violent as Alien vs. Predator, or as crude as something like Scary Movie 3, but there certainly is enough content to make me think twice before I'd give the flick a resounding review on Sesame Street.

While sending your young 'un to a PG-13 movie probably won't turn him or her into a serial killer or obliterate his or her innocence, the rating system was created for a reason; PG-13 movies contain content that simply isn't relevant to or appropriate for younger audiences.

It certainly wasn't a life or death issue for me, but it did strike me as a little off - exactly who does McDonald's think it's targeting with it's PG-13 orientated toys? I didn't know and I wasn't interested in wasting my time searching the web for second-hand information. So, I did what any sensible fellow would do - I asked them.

The results were...interesting.

Click to visit the more compelling Part 2!

*While no PG-13 movie was listed, the page does substantiate that McDonald's ran a Simpsons promotion in 1994. The Simpsons have in various episodes received a TV-14 rating according to the TV Parental Guidelines.

Under a TV-14 rating: "
Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended." -from TV

That being said, I have yet to find any corroborating evidence that McDonald's actually had a Simpsons Happy Meal promotion. In my mind, it seems especially unlikely given that Burger King has run various Simpsons promotions with their Kids Meals, as well as with regular value meals (see here and here).

**Yes, I did make the "three S's of cinema" thing up just then. Get over it.

***True story.


Carol said...

The three S's of cinema, that is one sleek phrase! Add the 4th S word and you get the summers big financial flop.

Reel Fanatic said...

Though I get personally offended by almost nothing (and am a fan of the potty-mouthed Kevin Smith), I am constantly at how much crap they are able to cram into PG-13 movies and get away with it .. it's easily where R was 10 years ago

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what the box office says, Carol, I thought Superman was a solid flick. But then again, I'm an abashed Kevin Spacey fan so I may be a touch biased.

I have to agree with you, Reel Fanatic - I saw The Benchwarmers when it first came to theatres and I was kinda stunned with how much garbage they were able stuff into it. In my experience, most PG-13 movies are not particularly family friendly.