Posted by: Kyle M. | December 1, 2009

Alice in Wonderland: Rated R?

-When You Mix a Cup of Carroll…Part 3-


Of all the colorful adjectives used to describe the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) over the years, ‘consistent’ has rarely been among them. Its standards are constantly varying parallel to the whims of society; for example, the once-subversive Fritz the Cat, initially granted with a hard X rating, was recently released on DVD baring an R. The same circumstances unfolded with another minor cult classic, Midnight Cowboy (It was awarded an R rating upon theatrical re-release).

While there’s a fair amount of logic to these decisions (the films are nowhere near as shocking today as they were upon original release), the institution’s criteria hasn’t always been so readily comprehensible. The 2007 Oscar contender There Will Be Blood, in spite of its title, contained very little in the way of graphic violence, it but was purportedly rated R by means of the director’s request (a choice highly lacking in integrity, if you were to ask me). There have been other cries of favoritism alleged against the board as well, with the small, relatively tame war movie Saints and Soldiers receiving a dubious restricted label*, placing it as an equivalent to Steven Spielberg’s much more violent Saving Private Ryan (which some have claimed only avoided an NC-17 due to namesake).

Regardless of any hearsay, it’d be hard to contend that the MPAA is a predictable and inert body.

A prime example of their fluctuating nature resides in Alice in Wonderland, a thoroughly G-rated film in the 50s and, apparently, to this day. However, it contained a scene what would no longer be considered wholesome by any stretch of the imagination: a caterpillar smoking with a hookah ( pipe useful for consuming all sorts of dangerous substances). If one is to peruse the MPAA’s website, the following can be found under their criterion for PG-13 ratings**:

“Any drug use will initially require a PG-13 rating.”

Though I do not possess a copy of their film rating standards from the 1950s, it’d be safe to say that they were a far cry from how they stand at the present time. According to their website, if Alice in Wonderland was to be released tomorrow, it would brandish a PG-13 bullet point.

Why is this the case?

America’s standards towards tobacco usage have shifted, for one; with the discovery of its immensely harmful effects, smokers are typically looked down upon (Though obesity is a far greater cause of death in our country…I wonder if depictions of eating voraciously will justify PG-13 ratings someday?) by the general populace. Coupled with the government’s ongoing “War on Drugs”, sheltering children from drugs has understandably become a growing concern. One can’t help but wonder, however; if Alice was to be re-released in, say, 2050, would it be boasting an R rating? If the current trend was to continue, would that not be a valid conclusion?

Is that morally correct? Does the film deserve an R rating in the future simply because it depicts the usage of a hookah pipe? Or even a PG-13 rating, for that matter?

Fire away, comment users (or if you want to continue remaining silent, that’s fine, too).






  1. some points that i have as to why it should be rated R:
    “Mad” characters
    the walrus (tricking oysters to come with him then eats them)
    all the tempered characters (teaches kids its ok to act like that)
    the underlying reference to drugs (drink me, eat me, grows tall, shrinks, highs and lows of tripping)
    basically the subject matter and language

  2. Im doing a five page essay right now about how the movie should be rated R (for college assignment) ; though i am a huge fan! seen the movie countless times, read the books, have done character based drawings.

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