Thanks to all who wrote in following our debut column asking, “When Can I Watch That With My Kids?” The positive responses confirmed what we expected all along: There’s a vibrant community of parents interested in cultivating the next generation of film geeks who are eager to discuss which movies are appropriate, and why.
We seemed to strike a nerve by leading off with Star Wars, so we’re keeping the discussion in the Lucas-Spielberg wheelhouse for at least another week. Let’s tackle the first name in adventure and figure out when you can watch Indiana Jones with your kids.
The Discussion: How Should Your Kids “Meet” Indy?
Brendan, my three-year-old son, is obsessed with Indiana Jones. He has the kid-sized fedora, the plastic whip, and a satchel for his “treasures.” (Read: A tennis ball and one of his older brother’s baseball trophies.)
He’s even able to hum John Williams’ theme song as he runs through the house. Then again, movie scores appear to be Brendan’s specialty. We were driving in the car one day listening to the “E.T.” soundtrack on Sirius/XM’s Cinemagic channel and Bren asked, “Is this Darth Vader or Indiana Jones?” Initially I laughed, because Williams occasionally recycles his riffs. But then it hit me: The beloved archaeologist is ingrained in my son’s fiber.
That’s strange. He’s 3, which is way too young for face-melting Nazis, heart-ripping Thuggees, fridge-nuking Communists and the embarrassing sight of Shia LaBeouf swinging with CGI monkeys. And Indiana Jones never had a cartoon. That statement, in and of itself, really surprises me. While Lucas and Spielberg attempted to expand their cherished character with the live-action Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television series, Indy never starred in a Saturday morning animated program … ironic when you consider the hero, himself, was born of Saturday matinee serials from the 1940s.
But we found an “in” to Indy’s world: the LEGO Indiana Jones video games. The initial release (not the overly complicated second installment) does an excellent job of working its way through the original Jones movie trilogy, showing off the major set pieces from each film as it familiarizes kids with the key characters.
Because we played that game straight through – with my 7-year-old helping and my 3-year-old basically absorbing – the boys had a strong point of reference by the time we popped in the films. So if you haven’t yet, and you have the means to do so, introduce your kids to Indiana Jones through the LEGO Indiana Jones video games. They’re also an excellent refresher course for parents who haven’t seen the films in years.
Of the four existing Indiana Jones films, the ironically titled Last Crusade’s probably the only one you can pop in and watch uninterrupted with your kids from start to finish. The inclusion of Sean Connery as Indy’s father makes this quest for the Holy Grail softer and more kid-friendly than its immediate predecessors. Also, the circus train sequence (with the late River Phoenix as a teenage Jones) is a perfectly encapsulated introduction to the bravery, whimsy, heart-racing danger and physical comedy that define the entire series.
Parents can surf through Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom, of course, but keep that remote control handy. Why? Let’s talk about it in the red flags section.
Red Flags: They Created the PG-13 Rating For A Reason
Two major issues stood out while watching the Indiana Jones films with my kids, one that was obvious and the other I didn’t expect.
• These are gritty, violent films.
Spielberg has made kid-friendly films, for sure, but the Indiana Jones films weren’t made with children in mind from the onset. Ironically, Raiders might be one of the last Indiana Jones films you’d want to watch with your children.
While Brendan was enamored with Indy dodging the “big ball,” as he called it, I always had to distract him from the sight of a bloody Alfred Molina impaled on a spike. If your kid didn’t have a snake phobia yet, Raiders can cure that. In fact, most of the Raiders fight sequences have a malicious element of danger, from Indy being shot in the arm before being tossed onto the hood of a truck to the shirtless, boxing Nazi headbutting an airplane propeller. Brutal.
That dark, dangerous streak continues through Temple of Doom, a film that directly led to the creation of the PG-13 rating because parents complained that the violence and disturbing themes pushed the envelope of a family friendly PG. Boy, does it ever. Brendan thinks Temple of Doom’s only 15 minutes long, consisting of a life-raft escape, a mine car ride, and Indy bringing a bunch of strange kids back to their moms and dads.
The violence (and language) in the Indiana Jones series is bound to be an issue, and it will be up to each parent to decide how tolerant you’ll be of certain scenes. Just as every kid wants to pretend he has a lightsaber after watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones is going to create an army of jumping, swinging, whipping and punching Indy clones in your house. Hide your breakables.
• There’s a lot of exposition.
Aside from the action, there’s a healthy amount of exposition, particularly in Raiders and Doom. The deep, rich mythology conceived by screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz and Jeffrey Boam sets this franchise apart. No other series so nimbly trots the globe (personified by those memorable red lines across sepia-tined geographic maps).
But your youngest might not be as fascinated with the myths and legends Indy often spews near the end of the first act in all of these structured adventures. Of course Indy needs to set the stage for the adventure that’s on its way. But kids, understandably, will want to get to the action. So do we, so let’s jump to some green lights.
Green Lights: Putting the “Action” in “Lights! Camera! Action!”
From the department of obvious statements comes this:
• Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films have some of the most memorable, inventive and cleverly choreographed stunts in film history.
No matter the age, your kids are bound to marvel at the nonstop action sequences that power the Indiana Jones franchise. My favorite remains the mine car ride through Temple of Doom (as well as that film’s tense standoff on a rope bridge … though really, Indy, did you have to tell Mola Ram you’d see him in Hell? Thanks for that, Spielberg). The tank fight in Last Crusade and Indy’s pursuit of a transported Ark in Raiders also rank as the series’ best. Even Indy and Mutt evading Russians on a motorcycle breathed a little life into the otherwise superficial Crystal Skull.
For kids who have been raised on exaggerated stunt sequences in animated fare, seeing such impossibly physical actions brought to life in the Indiana Jones franchise will be an awakening. Just be sure to stop by the Talking Points section underneath this to read about potential consequences of these cool action set pieces.
• Who runs the world? Marion.
“But Indiana Jones is a masculine film franchise that won’t interest my daughter!”
Not true. In fact, one could argue that Indy’s feminine side feeds his intelligence, contemplation, and compassion (which drives all of Temple of Doom). Yes, that side’s often overwhelmed by Indy’s impatience and brash behavior (total male characteristics), but I think plenty of young daughters out there will connect with Indy’s need to help those in need.
And if they don’t click with Indy, they’re certainly going to love Marion, a positive force for young, female audience members. Oddly enough, Marion’s personality is best developed in the inferior Crystal Skull. While she’s a bit of an impatient spitfire in Raiders, there’s also the traditional “damsel-in-distress” role Spielberg forces beautiful Karen Allen into. But it’s nowhere near as one-note as the part Kate Capshaw was asked to play in Doom. At least as a consolation prize, Capshaw got to become Mrs. Steven Spielberg, ensuring she’d never have to work another day in her life.
• Bringing the kids to the party.
One other thing I want to commend Spielberg and Lucas on in these films is the inclusion of young characters when the stories didn’t necessarily call for them.
Short Round’s not just an excellent sidekick for Indy, he also humanizes the demonic elements of Doom (to a certain extent). As mentioned, the decision to launch Last Crusade with a young Indiana in the circus-train sequence was inspired. And yes, Mutt is a favorite with my boys, yet even they think the monkey-swinging scene looks silly. Smart kids.
Talking Points: Brains As Well As Brawn
A bespectacled hero who works as a university professor? A book-smart protagonist who relies on his puzzle-solving skills as much as his fists? Indiana Jones is a multi-faceted role model for kids of all ages.
We’ve nicknamed our boys “The Brain” and “The Brawn.” My older son is contemplative and clever, while my young son never met a person he didn’t want to tackle. It struck me, while watching the Indiana Jones films with my sons, how Ford imbued his hero with both of these qualities, and the character’s better served because of it.
Take the time during the text-heavy parts of the Indiana Jones series to discuss the importance of puzzle-solving, of applying one’s intellect when obstacles arise. School your children on the subject of archaeology. It might open them up to new subjects. Reiterate the importance of education, a vital component in Indy’s environment.
Use these films as an opportunity to explore your family’s past. Particularly after Last Crusade, discuss relationships between parents and children – the driving theme of that third film.
From a filmmaking standpoint, the Indiana Jones films can -- and should -- be used to help educate your children on the role of stunt men in movie making. Use this knowledge to explain why they can NOT duplicate some of the spectacular leaps and climbs Indiana tries, because Lord knows they are going to want to try.
The Indiana Jones films grew more audience-friendly with each new installment, meaning parents hoping to introduce the legendary character to their children will want to start with the later films and work backward. Sure, that’s going to mess with the continuity of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Be prepared to explain how old Marion turned so hot, all of a sudden.
But I was surprised at how mature these films are, mainly because I only remembered how fun the standalone action set pieces from each individual film could be. It’s the material bridging those sequences that will challenge parents, because it’s in those asides that Spielberg and his screenwriters were allowed to expand their fictional world.
The Indiana Jones franchise is appropriate for kids ages 10 and up. Wait longer for Raiders and Temple, which inspired the PG-13 rating for a reason.
If you’re really anxious to introduce Indy to your kids, watch the films first and pick out a scene or two that you feel they can handle. Each film boasts a memorable action sequence that’s bound to thrill your budding film geek. And as mentioned, if you have a gaming console, try the LEGO franchise. It helped us open our kids up to Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Batman and Harry Potter, characters I know we will be discussing with this column in the coming weeks and months.
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