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A GUIDE TO WATCHING SCARY FILMS WITH KIDS

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Katie Taylor offers some scary, sad and basically safe options....

Picture the scene. Your child has just reached an age where he can not only sustain an interest in, but can also enjoy a full-length film. You start to cherish your time together spent curled up on the sofa, and even brave a trip to the cinema. One evening you snuggle under a blanket to watch the latest animated hit. Your attention drifts. Let’s face it, you’re probably finding a WhatsApp thread with your friends more amusing than the action on the bigger screen. Next thing you know, your child has let out a shriek, or worse, burst into tears. What has happened?!  

All kinds of things in seemingly innocuous children’s films can upset them. A friend’s niece recently dissolved into sobs when an animal companion died in a film before they’d even had a chance to let it get going. And one young friend can’t abide anything with any level of threat or the sinister; for now his parents are restricted to watching Cars with him. And Cars 2…

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has helpful guidance on its website about how it classifies films, with details about elements to be wary of, but the fact is, all children are different. We can only use our judgement about what our children might find upsetting or scary.    

Here’s my pick of the otherwise inoffensive films which those of a sensitive disposition might find troubling.

Surprisingly scary kids' films

I’m not talking about the films which are intended to build tension and make our eyes widen in fear and anticipation, a la Jaws. These are some of the moments in films aimed at kids which take you completely by surprise.

My little boy loved Zootropolis, but I would exercise caution with this one if your child scares easily. Some of the animal characters have a condition that looks a little too like rabies for comfort – and that’s not just scary for kids; I mean, have you ever read or seen Stephen King’s Cujo? No? Well, if you’re easily scared, don’t! Zootropolis is rated ‘PG’, as opposed to ‘U’, and the BBFC has a podcast on its website explaining why.

Rolling Stone ran a great article about the scary moments in children’s films that stay with us well into adulthood, and I would second its words of warning about The Little Mermaid, for Ursula the sea-witch. I would also add caution for Aladdin, for the baddie Jafar, if Junior scares easily. And don’t go near Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; the child-catcher is quite simply, terrifying.

Surprisingly sad kids' films

It was only when thinking about this article that I realised just how many great children’s films are peppered with death, and more often than not, that of a parent. Whether it’s an animal or a human character (or in the case of Inside Out spoiler alert an imaginary friend), children might be easily upset or confused by a number of films. Those that most readily spring to mind include Big Hero 6, Finding Nemo, The Good Dinosaur, The Lion King and do I even need to mention Bambi?!

Kids' films which should be basically ok

Disney movies from the middle of the last century seem to be quite a safe bet – earlier and you have some very scary villains – particularly female ones - in Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians and the wicked queen from Snow White.  I think you should be safe with The Jungle Book, (the more recent, CGI remake is much darker, give this one a wide berth if in doubt), Robin Hood, Peter Pan, The Aristocats and their ilk. The Shrek and Toy Story franchises are also relatively safe. Up, (although a lot of parents will shed a tear at the introduction) Frozen (if you can gloss over the girls’ parents ‘going away’) Happy Feet, Madagascar, Rio, Cars, and Planes have very little frighten or worry a small person. Personally I think Brave and How to Train Your Dragon are fantastic and not too scary, but the BBFC begs to differ and rates both ‘PG’.

Ultimately, no one knows your child better than you do. Trust your instincts, if in doubt, research and ask around, and, enjoy.   

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