It's that time again. You can almost smell the merchandising before you ever see the movies...it's summer and there are a whole crop of films geared towards your five year old but are rated PG or PG-13. Movie studios will argue that they are meant for older kids but older kids don't eat Happy Meals. Older kids aren't a size 4T, but a preschooler is. So what's a parent to do with their budding Jack Sparrows and Spidermen? Take them to see things rated G or PG but don't let the rating be your guide.

This weighs heavy on my mind as our four and two year old begged to see Shrek the Third and we obliged them last week. The two year old fell asleep two-thirds into the movie but the four year old hung on happily to the end with loads of questions. There wasn't anything too inexplicable: What's the frog doing? Is he sleeping? What's a villain? How come they're mean? Can I have more popcorn? There was probably more adult humor than kid humor in this one and that's always a dangerous tilt to slide on. Still, it wasn't my favorite of the three installments though I did like the take on the princesses becoming women who run with the wolves. The kids want the DVD and we have to explain it isn't out yet.

The soundtrack wasn't nearly as inspired as past Shreks but there wasn't anything overtly offensive or too violent. I was a bit bored in parts. And looked happily forward to week two of summer movies and the new Pixar delight Ratatouille.

And as our family generally falls head over heels for Pixar fare, our reaction was no surprise. My favorite Pixar was The Incredibles and this was directed by the same director Brad Bird, so I immediately knew I'd probably like it. I appreciate the fact that they don't try and rush out more than one movie a year and that they actually work on a script. I knew the first viewing I'd probably miss something as I took turns with my husband taking toddlers to go pee. But I was unprepared for the fight that took place in the lobby between a mother and the management of the theatre. The mother was yanking her four kids out of theatre and demanding a refund half way through. It seems she didn't think Ratatouille was appropriate for children.

Which meant during the second half of the movie I couldn't enjoy it as a movie but had to look more critically to see what was bothering the mother and why I apparently wasn't bothered. This is what it comes down to:

Most concerned Christian American parents are squeamish about sexuality, the consumption of alcohol, and the idea of questioning authority figures but do not seem squeamish at all about violence, battles, and painting the world in clear black and white of good and evil. Most non-Christian or alternative leaning Gen-X parents seem to censor out the violence and the categorizing the world into good and evil but are okay to varying degrees with all the rest-and of course celebrate questioning authority. And the rest of the parents out there operate either on oblivion to any sort of censor and inappropriate material or pick and choose.

For my part, I censor out the violence. They just flat out usually don't see anything with live action violence, guns, or simplistic decision-making. As an English teacher and former Women's Studies student, I also censor out anything that will teach my children poor grammar habits (most cheaply produced films using comics of the moment, double negatives and unconjugated verbs) and movies that supply the idea that happiness only comes to those orphaned girls who wait patiently for the right guy with perfect hair to kiss them (which means a good deal of Disney is off limits). And as added good measure, any media that provides wise-cracking kids that don't speak to their parents respectfully is also off-limits. Which means no Talk Radio either.

Even though my kids love super heroes, they aren't allowed to see any of the super hero movies yet-that can wait until they are older. Ditto the PG-13 violence of George Lucas films and the confusing message (correct me if I'm wrong but isn't the Empire a WTO/G8 country sort of stand in and by taking the side of the rebels means we are on the side of Sandanistas, the IRA, terrorists in general, and freedom fighters everywhere? Talk about a confusing message). And this should all seem like a no brainer but my husband and I have been continually amazed at the sort of movies that seem to play non stop in other parents' houses we've visited. I've seen From Dusk til Dawn playing in front of two year olds. The Lord of the Rings series was a blood gore fest and I've got eight year olds related to me that own the movies. And I've heard pre-schoolers quoting lines from R rated movies that I love but would never let them watch at this age.

And at the same time, my son loves the original John Water's Hairspray,

all films by Miyazaki, Edward Scissor Hands (end bullet edited out), Nightmare Before Christmas, and an assortment of British programming including Thomas the Tank Engine, (which is where he learned "lorrie" for truck and an assortment of train lingo I'm not really sure of), <i>Shrek 2</i> and the Pixar catalogue. Also this Johnny Cash DVD called Riding the Rails-an American history of trains sort of documentary. There are adult themes and childish aspects to all of these films-all of which join a long legacy of literature that rides the same difficult line between adult themes and childhood fantasy.

I'm pretty sure the woman in the lobby yanking her reluctant children out of Ratatouille would not agree with at least half of this list. Or a woman I know who was happy to let her sons watch any number of slasher movies but banned Harry Potter whose body count is considerably low.

The mark of a good children's story has always been a story told on multiple levels. The Wizard of Oz, a fantasy adventure and political satire all rolled into one. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory showing us that what passes for normal is often what's really abnormal and shameful and what is made to look weird might really be more explainable. This might even explain the popularity of Shrek and the franchise's continuing post-modern exploration of our standard western civilization fairytales. Not letting your child watch something complex and multi-leveled is to rob them of their ability to navigate our culture intelligently later.

And so back to Ratatouille.

I'll try not to be a spoiler here and hopefully half the country has already seen the movie. It takes place in Paris except for a brief scene in the French countryside. The French drink wine. It might be a stereotype, but it's an honest one. How would one present a movie set in France about gourmet food without wine? Wouldn't that just be deceitful and lying? Like anyone ever ordered a Coke with a good meal in Paris. Wouldn't that send a message to children that it's okay to drink Kool-Aid with meals? So yes, there is wine drinking in a few places-and the villain uses a 1961 Latour as a means of trying to get someone to talk. What else would one use in a restaurant? Perhaps if it was an American setting the chef would just use a knife or a gun and then the mother in the lobby wouldn't have made the kids leave.

Secondly, there are predictably a few scenes with stolen kisses. Again. Wouldn't it go against everything we've ever stereotyped about Paris if there wasn't any kissing? A bold move on the part of the writing sets up the protagonist human as the long lost son of the late great chef. Which for a sophisticated audience means that, oh my goodness, someone somewhere had sex outside of marriage? I don't think any toddler was stumbling over that one; they were too busy watching the movie. But in a society where most children are not living in an Ozzy and Harriet existence with the exact same two parents they were born to, why is this even an issue? Jumping on the touchy feely bandwagon of the baby boomers, wouldn't self-identification in this sense be a good thing? And that tiny minority with their first family unit still together might get a window into another world.

Other than that, I can't think of any reason why someone would not take her children to see the stand out movie of the summer-if there's an angle I'm missing, let me know. We'll be seeing it again at least a few times this summer on days that reach over 100 degrees and air-conditioning sounds like the greatest escape along with a mouse with a dream, a vision, self-doubt and human frailty combining to cook up a satisfying end. Now, what is more appropriate for a child to view than that?