Theatrical Animation Needs A Rating Below ‘R’

IFCO - 16_cinema

Neil Emmett over on Cartoon Brew has a post where he discusses how to make animation more adult. The issue is incredibly complicated and Emmett chooses to base his analysis on the televisual side of things. Back in 2011, I published a post looking at the theatrical side of things; namely the ‘R’ rating used in the US and how it actively hurts the chances of animation that isn’t overly ‘adult’ but is certainly incapable of being seen by kids.

The Current Setup

As I discussed in my post, the R rating is a bit of an anomaly in the world of ratings. It prohibits anyone under 17 from seeing a film unless they’re accompanied by an adult. Other countries systems provide for unaccompanied teens through intermediate ratings like the 16 one from Ireland, above.

By permitting teens to see films by themselves, you are facilitating the time-honoured teen pastime/social event that is going to the cinema. The R rating eschews that entirely by mandating an adult presence. Furthermore, the only other rating is the NC-17 one which practically all the major chains refuse to screen.

Lastly, the R rating represents a dramatically smaller potential audience for films than the next lowest one, PG-13. So much so, that studios perform a bit of a dance around it. A film is either going to be a very close PG-13 or a very close R. The middle ground is quite thin when it comes to film. The logic here is that if your film is going to be R, you might as well go whole hog.

A Proposed Rating System

The issue currently at hand is that the entire business model surrounding films and TV is changing, Ratings exist on TV merely as a guide to viewers and parents. Theatrical ratings are similarly voluntary but are a hangover from the days when the government threatened regulation.

The internet has no such ratings (although Netflix provides them anyway). While things are almost certainly heading that way, there remains a lot of money in the theatrical market and likely will be for some time.

Animated films can still flourish for older audiences. All they needs is a fuller ratings system that permits teens to see films by themselves. A 16 rating is a good step in that direction.

The reason is obvious, teens have shown no bones about simply finding alternatives to theatrical entertainment. Live-action films don’t suffer because they don’t encounter the same stigma that animation does when its audience ages.

By facilitating the screening of films that are not suitable for kids but not mature enough for an R rating, studios and cinemas could greatly improve the market for animated features.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or is it a case of too little, too late?

The ‘R’ Rating Hurts Animation: Here’s How We Fix That

IFCO 16 Rating via Wikimedia.org

Film classification is a bit of an interesting topic because it highlights the cultural differences that exist from country to country, even those that lie next to each other! The whole purpose is to classify films into categories to give (ostensibly) parents a quick heads up as to what the film is likely to contain.

The US is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to film classification because, unlike many other countries, classification is not government-mandated. As a result, it is undertaken by the MPAA for its member studios. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest sussing out “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” by Kirby Dick which looks at the process and the secretive way in which it is conducted.

Via: Gawker

Above is the MPAA rating system which anyone reading this in the US should be familiar with. As you can see, there is no intermediate rating between PG-13 and R. What this means is that once a film goes over the PG-13 rating, viewing requires the accompaniment of an adult. It also leads to the somewhat bizarre scenario where a child of any age can see anything they want as long as someone over 18 is with them.

In many other countries though, there is an intermediate rating for ages around 15/16. Taking Ireland as an example, a 16 rating means that anyone that age or older can see the film at the cinema, unaccompanied. While 2 years does not sound like much, it is forever when you are a teenager, especially if you want to see a film without a parent looking over your shoulder.

The end result is that some films are classified as R when they probably could get away with being 16. Never mind the fact that some films that are rated 15 in Ireland are PG-13 over here, but that’s a discussion for another day. At the same time, such situations exist precisely because an R rating greatly reduces the potential audience size for a film and is avoided if at all possible.

How does this hurt animation?

It means there is a bit of a glut when it comes to animated films that are a bit more mature in stature than what we’re use to seeing. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of animated material out there that is perhaps a little too mature [wink, wink] for the average person. However, you will never see an R rated animated film on general theatrical release.

My hypothesis is that if an extra rating were added (say 16), we would be more likely to see animated films that bridge the gap between being for everyone and being for adults only, in other words, suitable for unaccompanied teenagers. Arguably Princess Mononoke would come fairly close to such a rating as it is a bit scary for younger kids but more than suitable for teenagers.

If such a move were enacted, it would also have the handy side-effect of encouraging more animated films to be made that target the so-called [Adult Swim] crowd. In other words, teenagers and young adults. Such a result could only be beneficial to the animated industry.

Have you any thoughts? Please share them below, I’m curious to see what others think of the idea.