Movie Parents: Dad’s a Tool, Mom’s a Saint

Category: Families & Generations


The best family movies, kids movies, and movies about parents and family, have undergone some radical changes in my lifetime.  Scene: Woman in wedding dress, sick to her gills, runs out of immaculate dress store into street. She can’t “hold it” any longer and sits down, in the middle of the street, and craps her pants. Those are her words in the dialogue she expresses moments later, though she uses another word for “craps.”

Was it funny? Yep.  Was it the worst the movie had to offer in the way of graphic language, sexual situations, and bathroom humor? Nope. Was the movie successful? Yep. Would you as a dad or mom really want to sit with your 11-year-old son or daughter during this movie’s opening sequence in which the lead character was humping a guy in every conceivable position and with every conceivable vocal utterance associated with sex? I doubt it.

How would you answer the inevitable questions your son or daughter would ask?  Would you be able to justify some of the extreme behavior of the movie parents portrayed in this or similar movies? Would you explain all about sexual positions, define every four-letter word used in this movie, and carefully describe what the “mile-high club” and numerous other double entendre used in this movie are to your pre-teens?

Those are just some of the tamer moments in “Bridesmaids.”  My wife was laughing so hard; I feared she’d “pee her pants.”  I was laughing pretty hard, too, but wondering what lessons this was teaching “our” kids?

“Bridesmaids” is saved by its heart, the core friendship between the two protagonists, and especially by Kristen Wiig’s central and excellent performance.  Would the movie have been as successful without its graphic portrayal of vomiting, sex, and language?  I don’t know.

Do we parents really want to have to worry about these things? How are parents portrayed in movies these days? How were they portrayed in the past? Is the “anything goes” philosophy that is prevalent today good for them? Is our kids’ innocence being taken away from them ever sooner with contemporary movies?  At least, those not released by Disney or Pixar?

What do you remember as the best family movies? How were mom and dad portrayed? I did some research and found this list from of their “Top Family Movies, Best Family Movies:”

1.    The Lion King (1994)
2.    It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
3.    Finding Nemo (2003)
4.    Home Alone (1990)
5.    To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
6.    Monsters, Inc. (2001)
7.    The Incredibles (2004)
8.    Mary Poppins (1964)
9.    Up (2009)
10.  Beauty and the Beast (1991)

After this “top ten,” other movies on their list included, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971),” “Toy Story (1995),” “The Little Mermaid (1989),” “A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965),” “Miracle on 34th Street (1947),” “Lady and the Tramp (1955),” and “Bambi (1942).”

On another list, from, their five all-time best parenting movies were, “Finding Nemo,” “Life Is Beautiful,” “The Pursuit of Happiness,” “ Freaky Friday,” and “The Lion King.”  Do you think Disney/Pixar has a monopoly going on here?  Do any of these movies resemble “Bridesmaids” or any similar R-rated movie in recent years?  Would “Mary Poppins” even be made today with such a strict “nanny,” let alone a dad or mom?  Imagine “Mary Poppins” going through the PC police? Would it be the same?

For that matter, what is the last movie you saw in which a dad character, such as George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was portrayed in a heroic and loving manner rather than the boob-dads we more often see in contemporary film and television?  The only somewhat recent movie that comes to this dad’s mind is “Mrs. Doubtfire.” I’m sure there are other examples, though no one would dispute that the vast majority of contemporary film and television tends to portray the dads in the Homer Simpson mold.

It’s sort of ironic that it is open season on making caricatures of dads while most maternal characters still possess some degree of competency and parenting know-how!  I don’t know which film started the trend of misfit dads, but I do remember “Three Men and a Baby” as an early example.  “Kramer Vs. Kramer” was a movie in which the dad was actually shown as a victim and good guy.  When is the last time you saw anything like that in a movie?

But, they dare not touch the moms as that would just be too un-PC in these confused times of gender roles and models.  Moms are invariably portrayed now, and in the past, with loving care though “Bridesmaids” may be an example in which a mom was at least a bit blemished, given the quirky mom portrayed by Jill Clayburgh.

We all know that Disney films employed a relatively familiar and repeated formula in which a parent dies early in the film and the orphaned “child” would go on to surmount that horrible loss, learn marvelous lessons, and “save the day.”  Frankly, I almost never recovered from “Bambi” when her mom died in that forest fire and I got teary-eyed when Mufasa, Simba’s dad, was trampled to death in “The Lion King.”

Have I just become a prude?  Where was the rebel with a cause that I was in the sixties?  Am I becoming the fuddy-daddy I thought my parents were when they were horrified by The Beatles long hair on their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show?”

Again, I don’t know.  I do know that the movies I grew up with were such that my parents didn’t have to worry about my seeing them.  The very first movie I saw, at night, was the original “The Parent Trap” with the incomparable Hayley Mills in the dual role of the twins.  To my eight-year-old sensibilities the scene where one twin cut the back of the other twin’s dress, revealing her very big undergarments that showed nothing, was quite scandalous!

Just the title of “Meet the Fockers” reveals a choice to shock and titillate that, frankly, I find obnoxious and not the least bit clever.  Judd Apatow has made a full career out of going for the best gross-outs he can create, with “The Forty-Year Old Virgin” ushering in yet another round of breaking-the-limits in movies and another round of trying to explain these things to my at-the-time 10 and 13-year-old boys.

As a dad, and parenting writer, I do tend to moralize, judge, and wonder about the effects popular culture has on our families and lives.  I don’t think kids have the positive role models I had growing up in either real life or film and television.

Looking at what I’ve written in this article, I do feel I’m sounding like a priggish prude.  But, parenting today means often becoming the proverbial “helicopter parent,” not just due to the over-controlling nature of boomer parents but due to the harsh reality that our kids face more assaults on their innocence than our parents faced when we were growing up.

I love movies. I worked in the television business for a quarter century and when anyone would ever disparage this medium I loved and worked in, I would challenge them to give me any copy of a TV Guide and I’d show them something good to watch, any time of any day.  While that is still true for both television and movies – I won’t even touch contemporary music – the sad reality is that “helicoptering” our kids is, to some degree, necessary.  To paraphrase the great saying about Joe DiMaggio, “I wish it weren’t so.”


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  • SAHDto4kids24-7

    Where is Fred MacMurray when we need him?  I guess “Father Doesn’t Know Best” anymore…sad…

    • Bruce Sallan

      I remember watching “My Three Sons” and I still can hear that theme song – and ‘see’ the tapping foot!

  • DonnaReedWannaBe

    I hate to admit it after all the discrimination against women and moms, but you got it right.  Dads get the short end these days and rarely get credit for when they do do a good job!

    • Bruce Sallan

      I couldn’t have said it better myself, Donna Reed (?)!

  • Bill Draeger

    How did “Bridesmaids” even get into this discussion. It’s R rated. If you take your kids to see it and have to explain stuff, maybe dad is a boob. 

    • Bruce Sallan

      “Maybe dad is a boob” – Bill…well, BD, you know me so you know I’m a boob.  But, you try and tell a 14 and 17-year-old they can’t go see this kind of movie!

  • Weberdcom

    There are differences among “family movies,” “family movies” and “family movies”…what I mean is, there are (a) movies that are suitable for all members of the family to see that are not necessarily movies ABOUT families, (b) movies that ARE about families that may NOT be suitable for all members of a family to see, and (c) movies that ARE suitable for all members of the family to see that ARE about families. 

    A movie in the “a” category could be any one of many movies made before, say, 1970.  What makes so many movies since then NOT movies that the whole family can just go out and see are the inclusion now of elements that were banned, either by custom or regulation, back in the day.  I am thinking of explicit sexuality, extreme or graphic violence, and crude language.  I have a relatively high tolerance in each of those areas.  Yet I would not go on a family outing to see “Gladiator,” let’s say, whereas “Ben Hur” might work for the whole family, since its sexuality, violence and language were tame by today’s standards, and (if I remember) were not particularly shocking or unsettling as to be inappropriate for a family even in the late 1950s.  Any number of classic film musicals would fit into this category–one that immediately comes to mind is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” from the late 1940s.

    The classic example of a movie in “b” territory would be “Ordinary People.”  I love this 1980 (or so) movie, always have.  It is about a family in deep distress, but it’s not one “for the whole family.” 

    In “c” territory would be several of the movies mentioned in the article, “The Parent Trap” being just one (and which I happened to see part of over the weekend).  I don’t think these movies are particularly common today, although “Trap” itself was remade a few years ago.  Would movies such as “Parenthood” or the Steve Martin remakes of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Father of the Bride” be in this category? What about the early-’80s movie “Mr. Mom”?

    I think that one of the complaints about Hollywood since, again, 1970 or thereabouts is that there are so few movies made in “a” territory. 

    • Bruce Sallan

      There are differences among “family movies,” “family movies” and “family movies” – Weberdcom – Oh?

  • Anonymous

    Having grown up in the era of the Cosby Show and The Wonder Years, I can attest to the sea change of content now being passed off as family entertainment.  When it comes to movie choices, DisneyPixar certainly reigns supreme in terms of consistent quality for kids.  Yet other studios have gravitated towards the mainstream where the surefire monetary gains can be found.  Look at the DreamWorks film “Shrek”, an anti-fairy tale, Disney parodying production.  It’s rating is PG which can attributed to language and mild violence.  The dialogue is clearly written for teens and adults and not children.  Still, parents, attracted by the colorful characters and heavy marketing push by the studios in all the usual places young kids roam (toy stores, fast food franchises, etc.), end up taking their young kids anyway, better judgement be damned.  Over time, parents for lack of discipline accept this genre as the new normal and become desensitized to any detrimental effects to their offspring.  

    Bottomline:  As long as the studios make money, they’ll keep churning out questionable films.  Parents have a choice.  They always have.  Stop the influx of cash to the studios, they’ll change tactics.  After all, movie studios are profit oriented businesses, aren’t they? 

    Great topic Bruce!

    Vincent | @CuteMonsterDad |  

    • Bruce Sallan

      @CuteMonsterDad says that as long as the studios make money, they’ll keep churning out questionable films (re: parenting models)…boy, are you right Vincent! Thx much for the comment!