skip to main content
  • Visit us on Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • watch us on YouTube

Film case study - Disney's A Christmas Carol

Rating changed

Complaints lead to rating change from PG to M.

Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, if a film receives an unrestricted rating in Australia (such as G, PG or M) then it is automatically given the same rating in New Zealand. This is why Disney's A Christmas Carol was released in New Zealand with the rating 'PG some scenes may scare very young children'.

Find out more about the cross-rating process

The plot

The film is a retelling of a classic Christmas story.

Disney's A Christmas Carol tells the story of an experience which changes a horrible, grumpy, mean old man into a kind and compassionate person.

Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, who tells him that he will be visited by three more ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge visions of his youth and how he became greedy and obsessive about his own wealth; the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge that Tiny Tim, the son of his employee, is sick and will soon die; the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the consequences of his greed.

Scrooge wakes to find that it is still Christmas Day. A changed man, he runs into the town giving donations wherever he can. With the guidance of the three ghosts, he has realised the importance of family, happiness and the Christmas spirit.

Complaints

When Disney's A Christmas Carol opened in cinemas in December 2009, the Classification Office received complaints from parents who had taken their children to see the film. They told us their children were frightened by the film, and that the scary content was not suitable for a PG rating. Parents also felt that advertising for the film had been misleading as it did not show any of the scary or dark parts.

My children were reduced to tears and we left after about an hour of the movie. They have been anxious and not slept well since. They have seen numerous PG movies and some M... but have never been exposed to such disturbing and terrifying images. I am concerned that this film is marketed at young children and their parents, but is simply not suitable. I think this film may be doing real emotional harm to children 10 and under.

Parent of 6 and 9 year-old children

This movie is not suitable for children under 9 at all. I was under the impression that, yes, there would be ghosts (I know the Dickens' plot) but that it would have good morals and be light-hearted. It is a dark movie with dark atmospheric music. It is also so realistic that the characters are more scary than your average animation. It is also not the sort of scare (like a sudden noise) that you get over. There were images in that movie that could stay with you well after you've gone to sleep.

Parent of a 9 year-old child

Classification submission

A member of the public submitted the film for classification.

Because Disney's A Christmas Carol had been cross-rated, it had not been examined and classified using New Zealand's classification criteria. The Classification Act allows members of the public to ask the Chief Censor for permission to have cross-rated films assessed using our criteria. That's what happened in this case.

In his submission to have the film classified, the member of the public explained that the content of Disney's A Christmas Carol film was not of the same level as other PG films:

Despite the PG rating comparable with movies such as Alvin And The Chipmunks and other similar movies, this movie contains prolonged scenes of horror imagery. It is a disturbing and frightening movie and quite unsuitable for children. It is marketed as a Christmas family movie and this is most misleading. We attended the movie based on the benign trailer ad expecting it to be like other PG family films. [My children] were very disturbed and we left mid-film. I think this movie's classification should be raised to M given the violence and disturbing content.

Parent's submission to have the film classified

Classification Office staff viewed the film and assessed it using the criteria set out in the Classification Act.

We considered the impact of seeing the film in 3D at the cinema. Seeing the film in 3D increased the impact of the frightening scenes. The classification decision on the film noted that:

After finishing work, Scrooge walks to his house. As Scrooge approaches the door he is startled by a green semi-transparent face with flowing hair in the place of his doorknocker. He reaches out to touch it and it screams at him. Several teeth fly out toward the viewer. This scene is among several that place emphasis on giving the viewer an unexpected shock, which is enhanced with the 3D format.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

The film at times uses frightening images to tell the story. The Classification Office decision also noted that:

The film is reasonably frightening, with brief moments of pathos and humour to lighten the tone. There is considerable focus on Scrooge's terror and fear as he is led on an uncontrollable journey that includes, at one point, being shot into the stratosphere and then left to fall to earth. Scrooge's redemption at the end is uplifting but, overall, the film chooses to focus on the supernatural and frightening aspects of the tale.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

Classification Office decision

The Classification Office concluded that the film was well-made, using cutting-edge computer technology to create a haunting, yet exhilarating, retelling of a classic story. However, it has elements that would scare children and material of an adult nature that children would not understand. These factors led to a New Zealand classification of 'M contains content that may disturb'.

'M' labels signal that a film has content that is more suitable for audiences aged 16 and over. 'M' is an unrestricted classification, so anyone of any age can still see the film. However, the 'M contains content that may disturb' New Zealand classification for Disney's A Christmas Carol will help people here decide if they want to see the film or show it to young children.

Classification Office's M classification for Disney's A Christmas Carol (PDF, 188KB)

Other film case studies

Disney's A Christmas Carol poster

The real nightmare before Christmas - way too scary for the kiddies and not nearly warm enough for audiences of all ages.

Richard Knight, Windy City Times

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of an old man - Ebenezer Scrooge - angrily pointing with a quill pen
Ebenezer Scrooge
A still image from the film of Scrooge in bed, reaching out in fear
Scrooge is frightened by a visitor in the night
A still image from the film of a bearded man dressed in furs - The Ghost of Christmas Present - talking to grumpy old Scrooge in his pyjamas
Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present
A still image from the film of terrified Scrooge riding the top of a church steeple through the skies
Scrooge is taken on a wild ride
A still image from the film of Scrooge shivering in his pyjamas in a snowy, windswept landscape
Scrooge is left out in the cold

Classification

M classification label
M: contains content that may disturb

Glossary

Descriptive note
The extra wording on a classification label which warns people of content in the film e.g. 'M: contains sexual references and offensive language'.
Cross-rating
A system of rating unrestricted films where the unrestricted classification from Australia or the UK is given to unrestricted (G, PG, or M) films in New Zealand.
Rating
A consumer advice statement given for films and DVDs by the Film and Video Labelling Body: G, PG, or M. Ratings can be overturned by classification decisions from the Office of Film and Literature Classification.