When Can I Watch 'Ghostbusters' With My Kids?

When Can I Watch 'Ghostbusters' With My Kids?

Feb 21, 2012

The last few When Can I Watch columns have focused on movies currently in theaters, from the WWII drama Red Tails and the found-footage superhero thriller Chronicle to George Lucas’ recently revamped Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, now in 3D. 
Those were chosen by readers who sent e-mails or Tweets asking about specific titles, and I love doing what I can to answer inquiries and help parents plan. Trips to the movies aren’t cheap, by any means, and paying for a dud hurts. 
But when the column launched, I wanted to run through cinematic classics from our own childhoods … movies that helped us become the movie geeks that we are today, and films that we eventually want to share with our own kids so they can dial into a portion of this passion. 
I’m getting back to that focus this week with Ivan Reitman’s original Ghostbusters, and I swear it has nothing to do with this cake (which is awesome). The first Ghostbusters has been top of mind lately as original stars Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd duke it out – in the headlines, sadly – about the need for a third Ghostbusters. Before that ever happens, your kids should know where the franchise began. But are they ready?  
Let’s find out. It’s time to tell Gozer the Gozerian we are gods, introduce the Key Master to the Gate Keeper, cross the streams and figure out when you can watch Ghostbusters with your kids. 
Red Flags: “We came. We saw. We kicked its ass!”
How scary is Ghostbusters? And how crude is Ghostbusters? These are the two questions I wanted answered for the Red Flags section of this column. And I was marginally surprised by what I discovered about both. 
Reitman’s comedy involves the supernatural, obviously, but the horror components of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ script often are played for silly laughs, as when Slimer “slimes” Bill Murray’s Dr. Peter Venkman or Aykroyd’s Dr. Ray Stantz imagines the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man as the harbinger of their doom. Until his slam-bang conclusion atop Dana’s Manhattan apartment complex, Reitman keeps a number of his monsters off screen, probably to save on the special effects budget. 
Can a four-year-old tolerate Ghostbusters? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. 
Kids looking for an entertaining ghost story likely will lose interest in Murray’s flirtations with the gorgeous Sigourney Weaver. The language is objectionable, though not horrific. Ghostbusters has a lot of “ass,” “hell,” three or four “shit” drops, a “bitch” (see Green Lights) and a well-timed “dick” aimed at the outstanding William Atherton, who plays one of cinema’s all-time greatest dicks. The guys behind Stripes, Caddyshack, Animal House and Trading Places (up to that point) dialed back their sophomoric antics to fashion a comedy suitable for most members of the family. 
Most. Not all. The language could be enough for most parents to hold off on showing their kids Ghostbusters for the time being. And there’s always Ray’s dream where a beautiful spirit decides to unbuckle Aykroyd’s pants and blow him. It’s nice to be the screenwriter AND star, right? Even better: The MPAA thought that Ghostbusters still was worthy of a PG rating in 1984. Boy, have times have changed.  
Green Lights: “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown.”
Believe it or not, Ghostbusters can be the next natural step for kids who have digested a ton of Scooby-Doo or even The Wizards of Waverly Place, and are looking for supernatural excitement with their entertainment.
Ghostbusters glances over the mysticism and occult elements of its story, but gives up just enough to keep an audience interested in the idea (and act) of busting ghosts. 
Granted, it takes a little while to get going, as the Venkman and his crew lose their college funding, launch a paranormal business, and woo the poor Manhattan woman whose refrigerator is possessed by an ancient demon. A full 30 minutes pass until they actually bust a ghost. Then the bulk of their work is done during a classic 1980s music montage. 
Things pick up in the end, of course, and it’s here that the valuable lesson of Ghostbusters applies, where the carefree underdogs rise to meet impossible challenge and become heroes. There’s that uplifting moment near the end of Ghostbusters where Egon explains that the only way to melt Mr. Stay-Puft is to cross the streams, and Venkman – confident that the act will kill them all – laughs, “I love this plan. Let’s do it!” A teachable moment in Ghostbusters, where you can discuss with your children the importance of overcoming fears and doing the right thing, no matter how difficult? Who would have imagined. 
I plan on learning something from Ghostbusters, eventually. I’m going to figure out what my boys consider funny. We’ve mentioned the sarcastic anti-hero when we talked about Han Solo in Star Wars and Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’m pretty sure my boys are going to be entertained by Murray’s Peter Venkman, the way I found him infinitely quotable when I caught Ghostbusters as a kid. In 1984, I was in fourth grade. Your kids probably should be close to that, as well. As a result … 
Appropriate Age
Ghostbusters is appropriate for kids who are around 10 or 11 and up. 
A lot of that really depends on your opinion regarding language. If your kids are intimately familiar with mildly offensive curse words, Ghostbusters won’t rock their world. The thrills aren’t much more intense than what they’d see on a Cartoon Network program. It’s the language that sets it apart. 
It’s funny. My 8-year-old has kind of let me know that he knows there are “bad words” out there. He’s picking them up in school from other kids, and there isn’t a lot I can do to shelter him from that exposure. But I also don’t have to speed up the learning curve by showing him (or his brother) Ghostbusters until they’re ready.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.

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