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Here's why the 'Mary Poppins' age rating was just changed to PG

"Mary Poppins" will soon celebrate its 60th anniversary, but it'll have a different age rating when it hits limited theaters.
Here's why the 'Mary Poppins' age rating was just changed to PG
Posted at 7:38 PM, Feb 26, 2024

"Mary Poppins" is no longer fit for just any child; the iconic Walt Disney film and its leading nanny are instead only advised for children whose parents have deemed it okay — at least, in the U.K. 

The British Board of Film Classification has upgraded the age rating of the Julie Andrews classic from U, meaning it contains no material likely to offend or harm, to PG, meaning some material may not be suitable for children and parental guidance is suggested.

The shift is due to "discriminatory language," the BBFC said. The board didn't specify where this occurs in the film, however, multiple outlets report a BBFC spokesperson cited the film's two uses of the word "Hottentots" as the reason for the change.

The derogatory term was first used by white Europeans to refer to the Khoekhoe, an indigenous South African group. In "Mary Poppins," Reginald Owen's character, Admiral Boom, uses it once to refer to people off-screen and again to reference the chimney sweeps, whose faces are covered in soot.

"We understand from our racism and discrimination research… that a key concern for people, parents in particular, is the potential to expose children to discriminatory language or behavior which they may find distressing or repeat without realizing the potential offense," the BBFC spokesperson said. "Some language or behaviors are therefore not permitted at U or PG in any circumstance or are wholly dependent on context. Content with immediate and clear condemnation is more likely to receive a lower rating." 

SEE MORE: 'Mary Poppins' star Glynis Johns dead at 100

The film, set in 1910 London, follows Andrews as a lovable family nanny whose unique style brings a magical shift to a disciplined family. It became Disney's highest-grossing film at the time of its release and received 13 Academy Award nominations, winning five. 

In celebration of its 60th anniversary, the 1964 film will soon be re-released in limited theaters, which prompted the shift in rating. This will only affect the U.K.'s cinema version, however, with home entertainment versions still rated U.

This isn't the first time a Disney film has had to change its rating. The BBFC changed Pixar's Ratatouille from a U to a PG rating, citing "mild bad language" and "comic violence."

Meanwhile, many other kids' films now carry a disclaimer ahead of viewing as part of Disney's "Stories Matter" initiative. On its website, it says these stories contain "negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures."

"These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now," the site reads. "Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together."

One of the involved films is "Aristocats." It now carries an advisory due to a cat's depiction as a "racist caricature of East Asian peoples with exaggerated stereotypical traits such as slanted eyes and buck teeth." 

There's also "Peter Pan" which Disney says portrays Native people "in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions."

Other films that now carry on-screen content messages include "Lady and the Tramp," "Jungle Book," "Dumbo" and "Swiss Family Robinson."

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