Dick Van Dyke’s notorious attack on the Cockney accent, considered for years the only jarring element in the beloved 1964 film Mary Poppins, has been eclipsed. Because the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has found something even more offensive than Bert the Chimney Sweep’s dubious vocals.
The BBFC has decreed that the Disney classic, one of the most popular and successful children’s films ever made, and soon to be re-released to mark its 60th anniversary, must shed its long-held ‘U’ rating and be raised to ‘PG’.
Which means our little cherubs can now sit back and enjoy the adventures of Jane and Michael Banks and their magical nanny, played immortally by Julie Andrews, only under the constraints of “parental guidance.”
The board’s source of concern is the word “Hottentot.” For the BBFC, quoting Mary Poppins herself, the sound of this is “quite atrocious”.
However, he appears only twice in the film and goes almost unnoticed. . . At least that’s how it was until this latest example of “woke” madness, which shines a spotlight on an archaic expression that the Board would presumably prefer no one hear.
The BBFC has decreed that Mary Poppins, one of the most popular and successful children’s films ever made, must shed its long-held ‘U’ rating and be raised to ‘PG’.
Censored: Admiral Boom (Reginald Owen)
Julie Andrews with Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber
If we didn’t know before this completely unnecessary fuss, we now know that Dutch settlers in southern Africa used the word “Hottentot” to refer to a nomadic tribe called the Khoekhoe.
It came to be used pejoratively, but even by 1964 it had become dated, and that is precisely the point: absurd Edwardian naval veteran Admiral Boom (played by Reginald Owen) confuses sooty-faced chimney sweeps with ‘Hottentots’ simply to illustrate. what kind of He’s an old idiot and out of touch.
Like the deluded Admiral Boom, the BBFC has chosen the wrong battle. There are strong arguments for adjusting the ratings of certain children’s films, but while the smug board members (chaired by former news anchor Natasha Kaplinsky) tiptoe around their own liberal sensibilities, they overlook much more serious examples. of what could really scar children under 12 years of age.
Take Robert Helpmann’s terrifying Child Catcher in another ’60s children’s classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s a charming movie (in which the great Van Dyke, thankfully, maintains his Midwestern accent) but, remembering my own childhood nightmares about the pointy-nosed kidnapper, I wouldn’t object if they raised its U rating to PG.
However, there is a strange anomaly. Images that might scare children, not to mention scenes containing sex, violence, profanity and profanity, don’t seem to matter as much to the BBFC as any words that could be interpreted as racist.
This is true even if the very presence of the word in a script is intended to satirize the character who utters it, such as Admiral Boom, in the same way that the confused Major in the 1970s comedy Fawlty Towers was lampooned as a racist. antediluvian.
Among the U-certified films (in other words, those now considered more appropriate for young children than Mary Poppins) are Steven Spielberg’s monumental 1982 hit ET The Extra-Terrestrial and the fourth film in the Star Wars series, Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999).
The film’s new ‘PG’ rating means that children can now sit back and enjoy the adventures of Jane and Michael Banks and their magical nanny, played immortally by Julie Andrews, only under the constraints of the ‘parental guide’.
The Disney classic will soon be re-released to commemorate its 60th anniversary.
However, the latter contains stabbings and beheadings, while in ET there are words that in a family newspaper can only be cited with asterisks, including ‘s***’.
And Elliott (Henry Thomas), the boy who befriends an alien, refers to his brother as “penis breath,” while his brother makes the inevitable “Uranus” joke.
The AU movie, just to remind you, is considered suitable for viewers ages four and up. The U stands for “Universal.”
Another U-rated film is the 2004 Pixar animation The Incredibles. By any measure it’s wonderful, a dazzlingly entertaining story about a family of superheroes trying to live a quiet suburban life.
But in what world is it more appropriate for young children than Mary Poppins? There is a suicide attempt, references to genocide, and numerous depictions of violence.
In the United States, the film is appropriately rated PG. Here, the BBFC is content to let four-year-olds watch it unsupervised. The hypocrisy would be astonishing if it weren’t so dishearteningly predictable. With new releases, censors are much more tolerant than with older films, because it implies a commercial imperative.
So the BBFC routinely errs in the opposite direction, without risking the wrath of powerful film corporations by awarding a 15 certificate to a film that its distributors see as a potentially much more lucrative 12A.
Until about ten years ago, 15s were more common than 12As (movies intended for ages 12 and up, which younger children can only watch if accompanied by an adult).
But that has changed as the BBFC (weakly citing a changing society) has become increasingly docile.
While we wait, interminably, for the new James Bond to be announced, let’s consider Daniel Craig as 007 in Specter (2015).
That film contained some truly disgusting violence: one evil henchman rips out another’s eyes with his thumbs, and Bond himself is tortured with a robotic drill. But he was a 12A. In the company of an adult, a six-year-old child could have gone to the cinema to see it.
The only thing we ask is consistency. There is no reason why the BBFC should not examine long-held children’s film certificates, as it has done with Mary Poppins, but why should a perceived (and somewhat dubious) example of racism be considered more dangerous or harmful than graphic violence?
Twenty-odd years after my friends and I were scared to death by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Child Catcher, a scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Robert Zemeckis’ accomplished blend of live action and animation, made the same with the next generation? .
When the evil Judge Doom, played by Christopher Lloyd, murdered an anthropomorphized cartoon shoe by throwing it screaming into a drum of acid, children around the world were traumatized.
Today I have no doubt that their children would be too. However, the film has retained its PG rating. So has the Oscar-adorned film Kramer vs. Kramer, which is disturbing in a completely different way.
The 1979 legal drama stars Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman as a couple going through a bitter divorce and custody case, and its devastating impact on their young son can be deeply disturbing for children, especially those who have suffered similar experiences.
I have a divorced friend whose vulnerable teenage daughter came across this on TV a few years ago and was so distraught she needed counseling. But Kramer vs. Kramer is still a PG, in the same category as Mary Poppins.
Other PGs include Grease (1978), with all its implied sex, teenage pregnancy and strong innuendo, and Woody Allen’s 1973 sci-fi comedy Sleeper, which features a machine called an ‘orgasmatron’.
As for the ‘Hottentot’ rage, of course racism is a scourge on society and inflammatory language on screen must be carefully monitored.
Although I generally disagree with current sensitivities being applied retrospectively, I can understand why the N-word (the name RAF hero Guy Gibson gave his black Labrador, who died in a road accident the same day Gibson led the “bouncing bomb” raid) has been carefully edited from the 1955 epic The Dam Busters.
But you have to apply common sense. Changing the classification of a film on the basis of a word that is not in modern usage and has no meaning to today’s children is in itself incendiary.
It exposes the BBFC to the accusation that it is as hopelessly out of touch with reality as silly old Admiral Boom of Cherry Tree Lane.