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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, September 16, 2001

G-rated movies remain scarce

By Breuse Hickman
Florida Today

From left, Larry Miller, Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews in "The Princess Diaries." It was a box office success if not an artistic one.

Advertiser library photo • July 30, 2001

Think back. When did you last hear about a G-rated film that wasn't animated?

That would have to be "The Princess Diaries," with no violence, swearing, nudity, cruel humor or sex talk. Rated — rarest of all — G.

Before that, what?

"Stuart Little" perhaps? Or "Mouse Hunt?" Wrong. Both films, though aimed at families, were rated PG.

The last live-action picture was 1996's "101 Dalmations," a film so stylized that it might as well have been animated. Before that, 1995's critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated "Babe" found an audience among both children and adults.

Despite that film's critical and financial success, however, it didn't start a revival of high-quality and inventive G-rated movies.

Back in the '60s and '70s, G-rated films were commonplace. Films such as "Herbie the Love Bug" and "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" reigned at the box office.

But during the '80s and '90s, the G-rating was considered "the kiss of death," notes Dick Rolfe, CEO of the Dove Foundation (www.dove.org), a nonprofit organization established to encourage the creation of wholesome family entertainment.

That could change if Hollywood bigwigs confer credibility to a 1999 study by the Dove Foundation in which it was suggested G-rated films are more financially successful than their R-rated counterparts.

"The Princess Diaries," starring Julie Andrews, could further support the case.

The film, which opened Aug. 3, collected $22.9 million in its opening weekend — the second-highest opening for a live action G-rated movie, topped only by "101 Dalmations" ($33.5 million).

"I believe this ("The Princess Diaries") is an experiment to test the waters to see if there is a market for truly wholesome family entertainment at the theaters," Rolfe says.

His foundation's study might support the contention there is.

The 1999 study looked at the profitability of films based on their Motion Picture Association of America rating.

Because they have a longer shelf life, G-rated films were found to be more profitable than R-rated films.

G-rated films "usually last longer in theaters and get more television and cable exposure," says Rolfe. "They sell much better at the video level and do very well in the foreign markets."

A month after the Dove Foundation report was released, Disney's then-studio chairman Joe Roth announced the company would reallocate $600 million for family-oriented films.

But Rolfe says the new crop of films must be of high quality if the stigma associated with G-rated films is to be overcome. He critically rates "Princess" as average, but says at least it shows that Disney is trying.

Industry insiders say Disney helped erase the G-rated stigma by smartly marketing "The Princess Diaries." "People have been looking at G as excluding a group rather than being inclusive," Nina Jacobson, head of the Walt Disney Picture Group, said in a USA Today interview.

"Princess" director Garry Marshall also had his doubts about the G rating. "When I used to take my daughters to them, they weren't so good," he says. "Parents dozed off."

Industry officials say families are rediscovering classic films that are being re-released on DVD with restored visuals and enhanced audio.

"More and more parents are going back to the films they loved, and they're finding DVD to be a great format," says James Rocchi, senior editor for online DVD movie guide Netflix (www.Netflix.com).

"Families are always hungry for good entertainment, and that can mean going back to the classics," Rocchi says. "A lot of classics are available now that weren't a few years ago. Great titles such as 'National Velvet' are getting reissued and look terrific."

The direct-to-video approach has become a "release valve for every genre," says Rocchi, adding that more G-rated entertainment follows this path because its easier — and cheaper — to market.

But G-rated animated films are not without problems. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study last year noting that all 74 G-rated animated films released between 1937 and 1999 contained at least one violent act. Researchers advised parents not to "overlook videocassettes as a source of exposure to violence for children."

The Dove Foundation's Rolfe agrees animated feature films contain a level of violence. But he noted that they are devoid of adult content such as discussions of sexuality.

He also disagrees that the MPAA has gotten more strict with its rating system.

"Just look at the fact that 'Midnight Cowboy,' which originally was released with an X rating' — would get a PG-13 today," he says. "You can now say the f-word in a PG-rated movie as long as it's used as an expletive, but you can't use it to describe the act of copulation. There's an example of hair-splitting."

Rolfe doesn't believe quality family entertainment has to be aimed at children.

"I would like to see the day when Hollywood can appeal to each of the three age segments — children, teenagers and adults — with different films, but all with good taste," he says. "That way you could have an action comedy, a mystery or a fairy tale — all appealing to different audiences, but with good taste."