When I took my kids to see The Little Mermaid recently, my kindergartener was immediately enraptured with the trailer for the new Barbie movie. Pink, pink and more pink — but with real people? It totally looked like her jam. She doesn’t leave the house without her little plastic sidekicks, and creates elaborate play scenarios that remind me of a Days of our Lives plot, so of course she would want to see this movie. As the trailer ended though, I noticed the rating: PG-13. I told her we would need to wait and see if she was old enough first, which left her totally confused. “Mom,” she said, “it is about Barbies.”
The thing is, though, Warner Bros. and Mattel did not actually create this movie, which opens July 21, for their tiniest fans. There are scads of animated Barbie movies and television shows — I should know, I’ve been forced to watch them for hours — but Barbie earned its more mature rating because the target audience is teens and adults who are past playing with the dolls but still hold a soft spot for them. This has left many parents wrestling with the decision about whether they should let their younger kids see the movie or not.
What are parents thinking?
It turns out lots of parents are on the fence like I am. Those with preschoolers and kindergarteners assume most of it will go over their heads, like I do. "I am not planning to take my 6-year-old Barbie lover to see it before I can assess," Laura Rihn of Pittsburgh says. "It doesn’t seem like a kid movie.” She herself will be in the theater, though. “I’m excited for it and plan to see it. If I feel like the adult stuff will go over her head, I’d be fine with her watching it at home.”
For parents of kids just a few years shy of that magical age of 13, I found a lot planned to see it and don’t rely much on the rating system when choosing content. “I am letting my 9- and 10-year-olds see it,” says Becca Miller in Baltimore. “But I think the rating system is generally super-outdated and they get exposed to far worse in public school.”
In New York City, LaToya Jordan has no qualms about taking her 11-year-old daughter, for the same reasons as Miller. “PG-13 means nothing to me as far as a rating goes and I don't pay attention to that. We're New Yorkers; she sees R-rated stuff just walking down the street. But seriously, we watched the trailer together and it looks cute. She'll probably whisper questions to me regarding anything that comes up that might be too adult and over her head.”
That’s a likely scenario, say some who are familiar with the film. While there’s likely little that will shock older elementary kids in the movie, some of the themes may not be relatable. A source who attended an early screening of the film told Yahoo Life that some of the film's deeper messaging may fly over young viewers' heads and didn't consider it particularly "family friendly."
Many parents said they will watch it first — most of them after dinner and drinks with their adult friends — and then decide if they are taking their early elementary-aged kids. That’s my plan, too, but mostly because I want a night out with my bestie.
What do the experts say?
Whenever I am unsure about a book, film, or show for my four kids, I usually check the review on Common Sense Media, an organization that pre-screens and rates content for kids. They have an early preview of the movie up right now, and will release the full review once the movie drops on July 21. I reached out to their team to see what they could tell me about the film to help me make my decision. Common Sense Media’s executive editor Danny Brogan says the film has received its PG-13 rating due to “suggestive references and brief language,” and gave a few examples without spoiling the whole film.
“One scene shows Ken asking Barbie if he can stay over as they’re ‘girlfriend and boyfriend.’ When Barbie asks ‘to do what?’ Ken pauses before saying ‘I’m actually not sure.’ It’s a funny line and kudos to Mattel for letting director Greta Gerwig have some fun with the brand,” says Brogan.
Chances are, the bedroom humor would go right over my 5-year-old’s head, but my 4th and 6th graders will definitely catch the reference. Barbie also slaps a man in the face when he touches her butt (a lesson I am fine with all of my kids learning, to be honest).
According to Brogan, there are also a few stronger words such as “bitch” and “crap,” as well as a bleeped-out “motherf***er” to be aware of, but nothing overtly graphic. “I think Gerwig has included all this maturer content knowing that a large portion of the audience will be millennials and members of Generation Z — people who grew up with Barbie during the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s — looking for that nostalgia but also to be entertained,” Brogan says. “They’re no longer that 8-year-old who took Barbie everywhere with them.”
For parents who do choose to take their kids of any age, Brogan suggests some talking points for before and after the film. “Although the movie has an A-lister, Ryan Gosling, playing Ken, this is Barbie’s movie. Indeed, Ken quite literally takes the back seat. Talk to your kids about the significance of a female-led summer blockbuster and whether they find this inspiring," he offers.
There are also a lot of discussion points about beauty standards, aging and even mortality — Barbie questions death in her immortal doll world. “These can be difficult subjects to raise with kids,” Brogan says, “But they’re also important and this movie can be the perfect springboard to getting those conversations started.”
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