Thank you, all, for bearing with me as we steered the When Can I Watch column into uncharted waters over the past few weeks to cover a trio of back-to-school-themed classics (Diary of a Wimpy Kid
, Mean Girls, Spellbound
) and a family-friendly drama (Dolphin Tale
) that was opening in theaters. Let’s get back to the heart of the column, though, and tackle a beloved film from our own childhoods that you’re no doubt anxious to share with your kids.
Several readers have asked about Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride
, wondering if I’d consider covering it for a weekly When Can I Watch.
As you wish.
Bride isn’t one that I watched a whole heck of a lot growing up, so it was a pleasure to revisit for the purpose of this piece. Man, is it smart. Reiner was firing on all cylinders when he shot Bride in 1987. He’d already shown a penchant for dry, offbeat humor in This is Spinal Tap, but learned how to actually develop characters with The Sure Thing and the seminal teenage “road” picture, Stand By Me. Iconic screenwriter William Goldman elevates what could have been a predictable fairy tale with his clever, pulled-from-the-pages narrative approach. And Reiner rides those inspired coattails, pulling the whimsy right off of Goldman’s script pages and placing it directly on the screen.
On top of that, Bride is just funny. Really, really funny.
So, repeat after me. Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to figure out when you can watch The Princess Bride with your kids.
Red Flags: Inconceivable!
Children grooving on the new adventures of Disney Channel’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates or other iterations of Peter Pan’s legend could make a seamless transition into the swashbuckling thrills of Reiner’s Princess Bride, with some cautions. The film closely follows the rules of fairy tale fiction, and if your kids aren’t familiar with the likes of giants, fire swamps, evil kings and troll-like sorcerers, some of this might comes across as shockingly strange.
For instance, I’d suggest preparing kids in advance for Andre the Giant. But how do you explain “The Eighth Wonder of the World” to a child? He turns out to be a gentle giant in Reiner’s film, so it’s best to just introduce the intimidating figure through the film and, if necessary, explain acromegaly as you go.
Similarly, Reiner casts comic actors throughout his film but taps into their darker sides. Wallace Shawn cuts a fairly nasty cloth as angry bully Vizzini, who’s no match even for his cohorts, Fezzik (Andre) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Christopher Guest takes pleasure in torturing Westley as the dread Count Rugen – and dies at Montoya’s hand when it’s revealed that he is the six-fingered man who took his father’s life.
Up to this point, your children probably have been dealing with cartoonish villains such as Captain Hook or the assorted Pixar baddies. Guest, Shawn and Chris Sarandon, however, pose legitimate threats to our Princess Bride
heroes, and much like the Fratellis in Richard Donner’s The Goonies
, their wicked performances – while comical to parents – could unnerve young audience members.
In addition, The Princess Bride packs a few legitimate fantasy terrors. Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) faces shrieking eels that feed on human flesh. Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup encounter extremely disturbing Rodents of Unusual Size in the Fire Swamp. Oh, and – SPOILER ALERT – Westley is tortured by Rugen until he dies. But he’s really “only mostly dead,” and Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max eventually brings him back to life.
As Peter Falk says, “I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.” But parents, take a good long look at young Fred Savage, clutching his bed sheets tensely as he waits to see what happens next. Your children may be equally engrossed by The Princess Bride … and equally terrified. Make sure they are old enough to handle the oddities Reiner includes on screen.
Green Lights: Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.
That being said, the ideas driving Reiner’s Princess Bride are ones we wholeheartedly support. Reading to your children (or grandchildren, as is the case in Reiner’s bookending passages). Passing stories down from one generation to the next. Captivating a child’s imagination with the written word.
OK, ok … I know that flies in the face of what a movie column’s supposed to preach, but you can’t watch movies 24 hours a day, and books are an ideal diversion for parents and children.
Back to The Princess Bride. There’s a palpable synergy between Reiner’s playful direction and Goldman’s outstanding script. The writer – whose credits include such masterpieces as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men – expertly understands how to soar above the inherent clichés of his chosen genre. But he never forgets that the story’s being told to a young boy stuck in bed with an illness, and Bride’s at its best when it puts us in Savage’s adolescent shoes (“Is this a kissing book?”) and reminds us how Reiner’s action should be viewed through a child’s eyes.
Not that The Princess Bride is a children’s movie.
There are tales of vengeance, of treachery, of true love dashed and destinies discovered. It’s mature material, though its handled mostly with kid gloves and delivered by an in-tune ensemble. Plus, our heroes get to ride off into the sunset on dazzling white horses, Westley and Buttercup engage in history's most passionate kiss, a grandson bonds with his loving grandfather, and Shawn -- in a dizzying dance around the poisoned wine goblets -- reminds us to “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” All things considered, Bride delivers.
The Princess Bride earned a PG rating back in 1987, and while the fantasy creatures and the swashbuckling violence raise a few red flags, I’m willing to bet that most 10-year-old kids can handle the action in Reiner’s film.
Bride also appeals to boys and girls, meaning parents with curious sons and daughters can turn Reiner's fairy tale into a family movie night. If it’s your child’s first experience with fantasy, however, I’d suggest a pre-screening to determine if such elements as the Rodents or Montoya’s battle with Rugen will bother your kid. If they find Bride too tame, upgrade to The Dark Crystal or Willow (two titles I aim to get to in the column soon).
I haven’t watched it Bride my sons yet, but plan to soon. Knowing them, the Buttercup-Westley kiss will provoke a stronger reaction than the forest creatures. Inconceivable.
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, Mean Girls, The Monster Squad, Spy Kids and The Sound of Music, to name just a few.