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Chocolate Covered Movies

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With Universal Studios’ The Hulk recently unleashed on theater screens, parents are dealing with the mixture of marketing and mayhem left in the wake of his path of fictional destruction. From minivans to Slurpees, it appears Marvel Comics and Universal Studios have left no licensing stone unturned.

But the vast majority of products, like toys, suckers, chocolate bars and lunchboxes, are squarely aimed at the elementary playground crowd: an interesting marketing ploy for a PG-13 movie.

I praise The Hulk for throttling back on language and sexual content. Relatively speaking there is little in either category – other than a few moonlit seconds of Eric Bana’s posterior. However, comic book style violence and mature themes make this adventure a poor choice for children. This fact was attested to during the promotional screening I attended that was punctuated by parents leaving with frightened youngsters.

So why did these families bring their kids?

Just like The Hulk’s personality is transformed by large doses of gamma radiation, I suspect parents' reasoning can also be altered by weeks of subjection to intense marketing radiation.

By associating a movie with specific products whose qualities families are already familiar with, parents may subconsciously begin to link the two, triggering a belief that the film will follow in the products’ footsteps. In other words, if The Hulk is being represented by lollipops, it makes sense to assume The Hulk should be suitable for the lollipop crowd.

This doesn't just happen in the entertainment industry. One of my favorite examples comes from the grocery store.

The granola bar started out as a health food choice. Then raisins were added. Okay… raisins are a little sweet but they still fall into the fruit category, so that’s a healthy choice. Then came the chocolate chips and marshmallows… hmmm… I guess a little chocolate is all right with my fiber. Finally, some marketing guru got the ultimate idea – coat the whole thing in chocolate and add a caramel filling.

What we really have now is a chocolate bar (with a few oats in it), but you and I still believe this thing is really good for us simply because it’s still called a granola bar and it sits on the shelf with other “healthy food” as opposed to being in the sinful candy section.

When a movie like The Hulk is promoted with products intended for children, our subconscious response (supported by childhood memories of the innocuous television show along with the comic book) is to assume it’s family friendly fare.

Like the relatively inconspicuous ingredient panel on the side of the granola bar box, the PG-13 rating on the bottom of The Hulk poster doesn’t prevail against the months of conditioning we've received prior to the film's release that quietly says “this is a movie for kids.”

Making recommendations about age appropriateness is a tricky business at best, as all children are different. But in an effort to fill theater seats, the industry is continually pushing the doors open to younger and younger crowds. While many parents may find the content in a movie like The Hulk to be suitable for their teens, they could feel betrayed when they take their six-year-old and discover a very different film than what they have been lead to expect.

Rather than assuming, families would be well advised to check entertainment "ingredient labels" found at various Internet sites beforehand, so they know when they are dealing with a chocolate covered movie.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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