A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pleasantville contains lots of messages about living life to the fullest, the need for passion, and the courage to accept change. Sexual situations are frequent (including some loud moaning and paintings of nude figures), but a fair share of the references will go over young kids' heads. The term "Jesus Christ" is audible; words like "hell," "bitch," "s--t," and "f--k" are used a few times, too. Intolerant behavior leads to some riotous behavior (and a bloody lip). Teen smoking is briefly visible. All this being said, the main teen characters are strong and become positive role models.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are well aware of the messy complications of the modern world. David retreats into reruns of "Pleasantville," an idyllic black and white 1950s television show. And Jennifer is something of a self-described "slut." When they get ahold of a magic remote control, David and Jennifer are changed into Pleasantville's Bud and Mary Sue. The twins can't help reveal Pleasantville's limits, and begin to transform it. Mary Sue mischievously introduces the idea of sex to classmates, and then, more sensitively, to her Pleasantville mother (Joan Allen). Bud tells them about a world where people can go against status quo. As the characters begin to change, they and their surroundings bloom into color. But some residents of Pleasantville are threatened and terrified by the changes. "No colored" signs appear in store windows, new rules are imposed, and tensions mount.
Is it any good?
Parents and teens alike will find many things to think and talk about after watching this engaging movie. Pleasantville draws parallels to Nazi Germany (book burning) and American Jim Crow laws ("No colored" signs), and the challenges of independent thinking. High schoolers may appreciate the way that the twins, at first retreating in different ways from the problems of the modern world, find that the rewards of the examined life make it ultimately worthwhile.
Also intriguing is the path of Jennifer's character. At first, she thinks that it is sex that turns the black and white characters into color. But when she stays "pasty," she realizes that the colors reveal something more subtle and meaningful -- the willingness to challenge the accepted and opening oneself up to honest reflection about one's own feelings and longings.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how sex is portrayed in the movie. Is it exploitative or educational? Even though much of the sexual activity is implied, what messages does it send about sexual situations, especially among teenagers?
Parents: What are some of the ways you can talk to your kids about some of the issues presented here?
Would you prefer to live in the 1950s, or in modern times? Which does the movie seem to prefer?
- In theaters: October 23, 1998
- On DVD or streaming: June 1, 2004
- Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy
- Director: Gary Ross
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements emphasizing sexuality, and for language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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