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Is the G rating dying out in movie theaters?

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 4:59 p.m. MDT

"The Secret World of Arrietty."

Studio Ghibli

This past summer, a decent amount of media attention was directed toward the all-but-inevitable demise of the Motion Picture Association of America's adult-oriented NC-17 rating. Film critic Roger Ebert, via his Twitter feed, called NC-17 “as dead as the X.”

But at the other end of the spectrum, another film rating is gradually dying out in movie theaters with barely any acknowledgment.

If the NC-17 is in its death throes, the G rating — for “general audiences” — is, for entirely different reasons, bedridden and in need of serious medical attention.

For the bulk of the summer’s movie season — a four-month period still marketed primarily toward younger audiences on break from school — not a single G-rated film played in theaters. Parents with children too young to sit through some of the more intense kids’ movies like Pixar’s “Brave” were completely out of luck until the last week of August, when they were finally given one G-rated option: “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure,” which tanked instantly.

Entertainment meant for all ages isn’t just drying up in the increasingly crowded summer months, though. According to the official website for the Classification and Ratings Administration, or CARA (the division of the MPAA responsible for evaluating a film’s content and assigning a rating), a total of only 16 films have been rated G so far in 2012.

Although the year isn’t over yet, that number is substantially less than last year (43 G-rated movies) or, in fact, any year since 1990 (which saw a scant nine movies receive the G rating).

Of course, 16 is just the number of movies assigned ratings in 2012 and doesn’t necessarily reflect everything that’s appeared in theaters so far this year.

For example, “The Secret World of Arrietty,” the excellent animated feature from Studio Ghibli that played in wide release last February, was originally rated in 2011 in time for a limited theatrical run. Similarly, “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure” was rated way back in 2010 and just delayed two years.

But it’s also important to note that the vast majority of those 16 films so far in 2012 are straight-to-DVD or video-on-demand titles like “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3” and “Flicka: Country Pride.”

In fact, only three of the 16 will ever play theatrically. One of them, “Finding Nemo 3D,” is just a re-release of a film many audience members already know by heart. The other two, “Chimpanzee” and “To the Arctic,” are IMAX nature documentaries.

Parents are right to wonder where all the original G-rated films have gone.

Unlike the NC-17, however, there isn’t a completely logical answer for why G-rated movies should be dying out in theaters.

As Los Angeles Times entertainment writer Steve Zeitchik discussed in his article “High hopes, low notes for the NC-17 rating,” many theater chains won’t even play a movie branded an NC-17. Because of that, the “unstigmatized” rating, as MPAA founder Jack Valenti called it when it was conceived as a replacement for the X in 1990, has become largely unmarketable since its inception and is now viewed as a kiss of death for a film’s box office (no matter how famous the movie’s star may be).

In sharp contrast, G-rated films are often among the most lucrative to be released in any given year. Just look at recent hits like the “Cars” movies (which both earned in the neighborhood of $200 million) and “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” ($155 million).

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