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Managing Summer Movie Mania

by Sandie Angulo Chen

Sandie Angulo Chen

Sandie Angulo Chen is a senior movie reviewer for Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides parents with comprehensive media reviews. Read more »

Sorry, Sandie Angulo Chen is no longer taking questions.

With the start of summer comes a burning desire to fill the days with air-conditioned entertainment, sending movie attendance soaring. And who can blame families? Some of my favorite memories of summer involve seeing the season's biggest and best movie releases. At 33, I can still recall the excitement of waiting in line with my brothers to see "Batman" when I was 12 years old, and chances are high that your media-savvy kids, tweens or teens are also dying to see this summer's blockbusters.

The problem, of course, is that whether you have one child or multiple children, it's difficult to manage all of the requests for movie outings. Your 13-year-old daughter (or, cough-cough, you) wants to see The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, but what about your 8-year-old? And just because your under-10 kids love talking animals and want to see Marmaduke or animated sequels like Shrek Forever After, your teens are likely too old (or at least think they're too old) for some of those features.

So what's a busy parent to do? Here are three tips for managing summer-movie mania.

  1. Pick and Plan: Depending on how old your children are, browse through a calendar of this summer's movie releases. Read the synopses, watch trailers and figure out which ones are must-see movies for different members of your family. (Be warned: Not all of the summer's titles have been rated yet.) Once you've identified the ones that look like winners, put them on the family calendar and decide who gets to go when. That way you know ahead of time if your summer travel plans will make it difficult for your Team Edward and Team Jacob daughters, for example, to see Eclipse on opening night. (I'm not even joking. I know one set of parents that had to buy advance tickets in another state just to appease their Twihard tweens.)
  2. Divide and Conquer: Don't try to see everything together if your kids are in different ages and stages. Instead of forcing older kids to "suffer" through a movie they'll consider babyish, or taking the risk that a younger sibling might not be ready for a tween or teen-oriented story, split up and see movies separately. For every Diary of a Wimpy Kid or How to Train Your Dragon my 8-year-old son is desperate to catch, there's a Horton Hears a Who or Princess and the Frog he'd rather leave to his slightly younger sister and me. Movie-going, even for a movie reviewer's kid, is a treat, and I don't just automatically take my kid to any movie marketed as family-friendly. By dividing up movie duty among kids, we make each of them feel special -- especially if we take one of their friends along -- and we don't have to worry about exasperated whines all the way to the movies.
  3. Family Movie Nights In: Going to the movies as a family (of four) every weekend this summer would cost more than $400 (not counting concessions or 3-D fees), so once you've planned ahead and decided which movies you're going to pay to see at the local multiplex, institute a weekly Family Movie Night of your own. Whether it's On Demand, Netflix, a video rental shop or your personal DVD collection, there are dozens of ways to watch movies that didn't exist when I was growing up. (Remember VHS stores that required you to rewind?) Let a different family member pick the movie each week, or have a double-feature of a particular genre or the same actor or director's work. It's the perfect opportunity to expose your kids to older movies from your own childhood. I know my oldest loves E.T. and The Princess Bride because of he knows they're among my childhood favorites.
How do you handle your children's movie requests? What kind of movies does your family enjoy watching together?

Sorry, Sandie Angulo Chen is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Wife and Mommy writes...

Do you have any tips for handling a child who gets restless half way through a movie? Even if the movie is interesting to him, our eldest child Bito simply does not like sitting still and will quit paying attention simply because he doesn't want to sit still a moment longer. Contrast this to our daughter Cupcake who remains glued to any sort of video/tv/movie as long as it is on!

Thank you!

Sandie? writes...

I get this question often, and it's quite the dilemma, especially when the kid(s) who *will* sit still is younger than the fidgety one. If his behavior is really disruptive, I suggest going to the movies as a family, so you or your husband can explain to him that if he cannot sit still, he will need to go to the back of the theater/outside until he can calm his body down. But I'm not a behavior "expert," so I'll go back into movie critic mode and suggest you try only shorter movies that are 90 minutes or less and that you know will appeal to him. Don't even bother if it's over an hour-and-a-half.

My oldest son was also way less attentive/more disruptive than his younger sister, so we did "time trials" of a sort. I started off seeing if he could sit (relatively) still through one 30-minute episode of a show; once he did that, we tried a 45-minute video, and from there he graduated to a movie at home. After that, he was allowed to go back to the movies. Maybe you can try that "experiment" too before taking him to the next movie.

Harris writes...

People sometimes like to complain about American culture as wholly accepting of movie violence but critical of movie sex or nudity. But if you think about it, movie violence is fake, whereas naked breasts are really naked breasts. So in the end, what's worse for kids? Obviously fake, cartoonish violence (like in the Transformers movies), or obviously real nudity?

Sandie? writes...

Yes, in Europe, movies tend to be rated more harshly for violence than for sexuality, but I can't really answer this question except to say that it's up to you as a responsible parent to make a choice about what you're OK exposing your children to in a movie. Every parent has to make these decisions based on their personal beliefs. There's no right or wrong answer. At Common Sense Media, for example, my movie reviews provide you with the tools to make informed decisions. We give parents a general overview of how much violence (whether it's cartoonish and "fake" or gritty and realitic), sexuality (again, from mild flirting to full-frontal nudity), language, and substance use there is in a movie. But then I go on to review the movie for its artistic merits. Ultimately, you have to figure out whether you're more bothered by your child seeing, as you say, "real" nudity or "fake" (albeit realistic seeming) violence. I'm sure many parents aren't OK with either, but again, that's a parent by parent decision.

Stimey writes...

If you had to choose one movie for the 5-8 year old set that is coming out this summer, which one would you recommend?

Sandie? writes...

Hey Stimey! Personally, I would use my summer-movie budget for tickets to "Toy Story 3" (June 18), because Pixar has yet to disappoint me, and I'm a huge fan of the "Toy Story" franchise. If your boys aren't Buzz & Woody fans, however, there's also "Despicable Me" (July 9), which is about a mad scientist (voiced by Steve Carell) who ends up the guardian of three orphaned girls, and "Ramona and Beezus" (July 23), based on the amazing Beverly Cleary books. Not sure if boys like those Ramona stories as much as girls, though (at least not in my house!).

Samantha writes...

Could you please provide guidance on selecting appropriate PG movies for a preschooler? Clearly, the G is fine but I've noticed some PG ratings are totally appropriate and others are not. Any thoughts other than word of mouth? Thanks.

Sandie? writes...

Hi Samantha, The ambiguity of the MPAA ratings is one of the reasons parents read the reviews at Common Sense Media. One of my favorite recent examples is the PG-rated movie "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." While I loved the film, I found it baffling that as one of the darkest in the series, it received a PG, while the two previous installments received a PG-13. A parent unaware of these nuances might have taken a 6 or 7 year old to the movie, thinking, hey it's PG, it can't be that bad, only to see a major character killed, a group of undead Inferi trying to drown Harry, and a whole lot more snogging than in previous HP movies.

So, yes, some PG movies are appropriate for younger children and some clearly are not. I suggest watching trailers and reading lots of reviews (including those at Common Sense!) before taking your kiddos to a matinee.

Caron writes...

Great tips! What kind of recommendations do you have for 2-3 year olds?

Gana writes...

I have a 2 1/2 year old, are there any movies that are appropriate for him? I worry that he might get bored sitting through a long movie or that the sound and big screen might be way too much for him. Am I jumping the gun on wanting to introduce movies to him?

Sandie? writes...

Hi Gana and Caron,
Many two-year-olds are not ready to sit through an entire movie. At 2.5, my firstborn could only handle 20-30 minutes max. I might stick to DVDs of shows your boys might enjoy (Clifford, Sesame Street, Dora, Diego?). From there try a short movie -- 75-80 minutes tops -- at home. We like the Scholastic storybook collection, which is narrated children's books, for example. If you do try a G-rated theatrical release, be prepared to leave your seat if he's too restless or the music is too loud. You might want to wait until the boys are 3-3.5 when they're more apt to sit still and pay attention for a longer period of time. For us, one kid was ready at 3 and the other at 4.5. It all depends on the kid.

Sandi writes...

I have two kids and one of them is a step-child. My other kid likes tosee movies about family but the other gets sad abd very mad because see knows that she has step parent. How do I control that.

Caroline writes...

I really appreciated Mulan for my daughter, not only because I'm Korean (her father is French), but also for the lead character's strength. Are there other examples like this for her? She's three and half...

Sandie? writes...

Hi Caroline, Thank you for your comment. My children are half-Latino, half-Asian, so I too appreciate movies like "Mulan" and "Lilo & Stitch" and "Spy Kids," where the protagonists are ethnically diverse. As for strong female characters in animated films your daughter might like, I am a fan of Belle from "Beauty and the Beast," Fiona from "Shrek," and Alice from "Alice in Wonderland." Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki always portrays strong female characters, but your little one is still too young for his imaginative adventures. Keep his name in mind, though!

brian writes...

What about good young children's movies that aren't animated? In a recent interview, Emma Thompson was talking about the nanny movie she made and said that there are not enough real-actor children's films, and that children react differently if the characters they are watching are flesh and blood like them...

Sandie? writes...

Brian, There are plenty of live-action movies that are wonderful for kids, especially once children are 8 & up. Just to name a few from the past few years: "Bridge to Terabithia," "Enchanted," "Night at the Museum," "Bedtime Stories" and the "Harry Potter" series. Don't forget all of the live-action movies you grew up with or classics dating back to "The Wizard of Oz." Have fun watching movies with your kids!

Stewart writes...

There are some wonderful outdoor movie night in my town that I plan on attending. They take the side of a building and project a movie like the Goonies. Watching the children behavior is fascinating to watch they are amazed when they see a movie so large and in real life.

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