As announced last week, John Carter has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA. This is not surprising; nevertheless it is significant because this places it in the category of a relatively few Disney films to be so rated. Outside the Pirates of the Carribbean franchise, the only Disney PG-13 title is Prince of Persia — not an auspicious omen for John Carter, but then again, it would have been unrealistic to expect John Carter t get a PG raiting given the level and amount of action and adventure involved. To water it down to the PG level would be a mistake – and Disney hasn’t done that,which is a good thing.
Brett Nachman writing at Fused Film today notes:
PG-13 identity definitely limits the audience and raises questions over who it is targeted for. An average adult looking for a good action film may be swayed away by the Disney name, whereas the nine-year-old boy who thinks this looks awesome would be turned away from obtaining a ticket – unless his parents accompany him and think this looks age-appropriate. We know John Carter is edgier fare, compared to the typical Disney film, as the trailers have suggested a heavy load of non-stop energy. Surely that is reflected in the PG-13 rating for ”intense sequences of violence and action.” John Carter doesn’t seem to reach the darkness of Pirates – remember when children were hung by noose in At World’s End? – and I hold confidence that if the marketing strikes the right note, both adults and even pre-teen boys will check this out.
Nachman is on to something when he notes that an average adult looking for an action film might be “swayed away” by the Disney Logo and Disney is surely aware of this – yet has displayed the Logo prominently within the body of each trailer. I think this is a clue. Another clue is word that has been bubbling out around town that at test screenings for John Carter, Disney is making sure to pack the audience with as many 10-15 year olds as possible–an indication that ‘tweens’ are a key target.
This makes eminent sense. The Edgar Rice Burroughs books that provide the underlying material for John Carter famously enthralled a number of, well, famous 10-15 year olds in their time: James Cameron (who cited Burroughs’ martian novels as the source of inspiration for Avatar), George Lucas (Star Wars) and even scientist Carl Sagan speaks glowingly of how the Burroughs books inspire him to take up science. The point being — 10-15 years olds are a good core demographic for the movie, and this opens the door for “family” success since kids in this bracket frequently go to the movie with their parents — who will also enjoy the movie.
In sum–it’s pretty clear that Disney is going for the same crowd that Pirates of the Caribbean has succeeded with, and they’ve got underlying material that gives them a chance to make it work. It will have to resonate beyond the 10-15 year old age group, but that group — if it gets behind the movie — can be an important driver.
One last thought — in the teen and young adult demo, “PG” is a negative and “PG-13” is a positive — meaning, if you’re a cool 15-17 year old and you see that a film is rated “PG”, you say “no thanks, I’m too old for that”. So the PG-13 rating, while restrictive at the lower end of the teen bracket, is a marketing plus for teens, and presumably Disney is aware of that an will work it to its advantage as the promotion progresses.