Trope Talk: PG-13 as a forbidden fruit in kids cartoons

TheMisterManGuy

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It's a trope that pops up a couple times in kids shows, especially when the protagonist is under 13. A kid sees a cool movie, but it barred from entering because of its PG-13 rating. Even if the character is close enough to the suggested age range. In children's cartoons, PG-13 is sometimes portrayed as this elusive, forbidden fruit that young children are barred from consuming by society. A diet R-rating if you will.

However, in the real world, that's actually not how PG-13 works. The PG-13 rating, according to the MPAA's description, is just an extension of the PG rating, stating

"PG-13 — Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them. A PG-13 motion picture may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category. The theme of the motion picture by itself will not result in a rating greater than PG-13, although depictions of activities related to a mature theme may result in a restricted rating for the motion picture. Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous."

Unlike an R rating, which specifically requires parental accompaniment for kids under 17 when entering, anybody of any age can purchase a ticket and get into a PG-13 rated movie. If a theater does decide to bar underage kids from entering, it's usually rare and more the theater itself being a prude (What legit ID would a 13 year old have anyway?). What PG-13 actually is, is a much stronger warning to parents, telling them it might not be a good idea to send their 7 year old in unsupervised. If a kid in real life is unable to go to a PG-13 movie alone, that's usually the decision of their parents.

So why is PG-13 sometimes treated like this elusive R-rated-esque forbidden fruit in kids shows? My guess is that writers and the censors don't want any of the impressionable 6-year olds watching getting any ideas about watching films that their parents don't want them watching yet. Because 6-11 year olds are the target audience for most children's cartoons, PG-13 is used instead of R, because to a 6-year old, PG-13 sounds edgier than it really is. Never mind the fact that PG-13 movies get advertised on all the major kids networks, all the time. So in the end, that entire message is undermined.
 
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Pooky

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I do remember Pepper Ann, who I believe was supposed to be 12, being stopped from watching a PG-13 film by her mother. I remember being confused as I thought this wasn't really how parents treated the rating, but not being American I wasn't sure.

I know Arthur is also stopped from seeing the "James Hound" movie because it's PG-13, a bit more logical as he's meant to be 8 (even though he always seems a bit older).
 

SweetShop209

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I think it could be more a reflection of real life and how PG-13 movies are more common than R rated movie. As such, most media would portray getting into a PG-13 as something like getting into an R rated movie in real life, and treating it as forbidden even if anyone can attend PG-13 movies.
 

TnAdct1

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I can think of a couple of reasons for why a PG-13 rating can be considered forbidden fruit in kids cartoons.

The first reason is that a film can be rated PG-13 for different reasons, with it having effects with viewers. For instance, it's one thing for a film to be rated PG-13 for sexual humor, which could easily fly over the heads of younger kids until they grow up, while another film is rated PG-13 due to scary content (especially if said film is horror-based). If the PG-13 rating is for the latter, then I can understand the reason some parents would be concerned (after all, when I first saw the trailer for Batman Returns when I was 11, the way the film depicted the Penguin had a feel that this film could leaning towards hard PG-13).

The other reason is that this that the PG-13 mindset that adults in cartoons have is more in tune to the type of mindset people had of the rating during its first decade or so. These days, most PG-13 films feel like the equivalent to the PG films of the 1980's and 1990's, with it feeling as if parents are being more overcautious these days.
 

TheMisterManGuy

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I know Arthur is also stopped from seeing the "James Hound" movie because it's PG-13, a bit more logical as he's meant to be 8 (even though he always seems a bit older).
Yeah, that's what annoys me sometimes. Letting an 8-year old see a PG-13 movie unsupervised is obviously going to raise some eyebrows to people, so it was a bit more believable when Arthur did this trope. It's a bit more nonsensical when this trope is being done with characters who are 12. Is a 1 year difference really THAT controversial to some people?
 

Dr.Pepper

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I’m guessing it’s because young kids are more likely to be aware of PG-13 films than R ones. PG-13 movies are regularly advertised on kids channels, there are fast food promotions for them, and lots of merchandise. Also typically R rated movies wouldn’t even interest kids regardless of content. There are exceptions however.
 

Sam the Cartoonist

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I’m guessing it’s because young kids are more likely to be aware of PG-13 films than R ones. PG-13 movies are regularly advertised on kids channels, there are fast food promotions for them, and lots of merchandise. Also typically R rated movies wouldn’t even interest kids regardless of content. There are exceptions however.
During the 80s-90s, there were kids merchandise and cartoons based on R-rated films including the likes of Rambo, Robocop, Terminator, etc, something you wouldn't see these days except for maybe Deadpool.
 

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