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Is That Movie Okay For Your Child?

In The Saturday Early Show's "Family Weekend Guide": What parents should know about the movies their children want to see. Ratings alone don't always give you enough information. And that's where Nell Minow, "The Movie Mom," comes in. She gives practical advice on the big movies that are coming out in May.

Sooner or later, just about every parent will have that queasy feeling as their child heads out the door to see the movie that "everybody else" is seeing. How do parents decide if the movies their children want to see are really okay for them?


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Nell Minow wears two hats. She is an expert on managing corporate fiascos and has been widely interviewed about the Enron collapse. But she is also a film critic and a mother. Her book, "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies," and her Web site, moviemom.com, spell out guidelines for selecting the films that will be right for a child's particular age and developmental level.

Minow lives in Virginia with her husband and two teen-agers. She has a weekly radio show which airs on several stations in the U.S. and Canada.

No doubt parents will be pressured by kids who want to see "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones." Both will be released in early May, followed by the animated film, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" and "The New Guy," which is being marketed toward teen-agers.

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From Hollywood.com, here are thumbnail sketches of those films, followed by brief comments from Minow.

"SPIDER-MAN" (PG-13 for stylized violence and action) / Columbia Pictures (Sony)

Peter Parker is a student who, after being bitten by a genetically-altered spider, gains superhuman strength and the spider-like ability to cling to any surface. He vows to use his abilities to fight crime, coming to understand the words of his beloved Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Minow says: Parents might want to think twice about the violence in films like "Spider-Man." Hollywood likes to call it "action violence" or "stylized violence," which is supposed to somehow make it seem less scary, but also can desensitize kids to violence. It's important to realize that each kid reacts differently, and some children will really be bothered by these types of scenes. So you have to know your child and how they'll react.

I don't believe in taking a child under 5 years old to a movie theater at all. It's just too much for them, no matter what the movie is; they can't sit through it. But once they're 5, if you decide to take them, you need to give them a vocabulary for letting you know if a certain scene in a movie scares them. Talk about this ahead of time. You can say, holding up your hands a little bit apart, "If you're scared this much, you can sit on my lap." Then move your hands apart and say, "If you're scared this much, we can leave the theater for awhile." Give them an "out."

"STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES" (Rating tbd - 20th Century Fox)
Starring Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayden Christensen, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Directed by George Lucas Written by George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

Ten years after the events of "The Phantom Menace," the galaxy has undergone significant change, and so have familiar heroes Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). They are thrown together again for the first time since the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo, and Anakin has grown into the accomplished Jedi apprentice of Obi-Wan, who has transitioned from student to teacher. The two Jedi are assigned to protect Padme, whose life is threatened by a faction of political separatists. As relationships form and powerful forces collide, these heroes face choices that will impact not only their own fates, but the destiny of the Republic.

Minow says: What concerns me is that parents have such warm feelings about the original "Star Wars" movie, which they probably saw years ago. We go into this new movie with our adult heads, not realizing that we shouldn't necessarily push an 8-year-old to go. "Star Wars" has a sense of peril about it that might be unsettling to some children. It's set on another planet, and kids may be scared by certain scenes. Even the bar scene in the original picture had characters that were a little creepy.

"SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON" (Rated G) Starring Voices of: Matt Damon (narrator), Bryan Adams, James Cromwell. DreamWorks / Genre: Adventure / Release Date May 24, 2002

When he's captured by soldiers, Spirit, a wild and rambunctious mustang stallion, defies being broken at all costs. His only human friend is the remarkable young Lakota brave, Little Creek, who realizes Spirit's true majesty and beauty are only possible in his natural habitat. Spirit uses his strength and will to protect, rescue and assist animals with less brawn than his own, becoming one of the greatest unsung heroes of the Old West.

Minow says: Even fairy tales can be scary to kids, and Hollywood has been doing this for a long time; think of "Bambi," for example. It's important to remember that everybody at one time or another has been scared by a movie. Films are in the theaters for just a few weeks, but they're on video forever so you really should avoid pushing a child to see something before he or she is ready.

And a lot of G-rated pictures recently have had some really frightening scenes in them ("Tarzan," for example). Things that used to be in PG films are now in G-rated pictures. So you have to make sure your child is ready for that and be prepared to talk with them about it afterward.

"THE NEW GUY" Genre: Comedy, Teen. Release Date May 10, 2002. Rating PG-13 - for sexual content, language, crude humor, and mild drug references. Starring DJ Qualls, Zooey Deschanel, Eliza Dushku, Eddie Griffin, Ross Patterson, Lyle Lovett Directed by Ed Decter Written by David Kendall Studio Columbia

After sealing his uncool reputation with an embarrassing ninth-grade accident, Dizzy Harrison decides to switch alma maters during his senior year for a final stab at popularity. His transformation includes changing his name to Gil, boosting school morale and winning the hand of Danielle, the gorgeous girl-next-door. Life seems great for the new guy until someone from Gil's past threatens to ruin the present.

Minow says: In the no-man's land of PG-13 movies, that rating is given for everything from one bad word to extremely raunchy language, bodily harm, and otherwise skanky behavior. For example, the filmmakers made a marketing decision to put one bad word in "Ever After" to get a PG-13 movie so it could be considered a date movie. Then, when it was released on video, they took out the word to get a PG rating.

Sometimes you'll see that a movie is rated "PG-13 for thematic elements." What does that mean?? To find out why a movie has been given a particular rating and exactly what to expect, you can go to some Web sites (like screenit.com), which will tell you exactly which curse words and how much skin are in the movie, which is more information than the Motion Picture Association will ever give you.

On the other hand, you shouldn't automatically rule out all R-rated movies for teen-agers. Some are given an R because of language alone. Maybe you'd rather that your teen-ager hear the language than see a PG-13 movie that contains a lot of violence or sexual innuendo. Again, that's where those Web sites can come in handy.

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