Pleasantville Movie Poster Image




Thought-provoking look at past and present teen life.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1998
  • Running Time: 124 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The series underscores the need for living life to the fullest, the beauty that comes with making individual choices, and about the importance of recognizing both the idyllic and the ugly in order to do so. Tolerance of change and of difference, marriage, and divorce are also themes.

Positive role models

David (a.k.a. Bud) takes responsibility for gently leading Pleasantville out of its naive existence, and tries to be a positive role model. Jennifer (a.k.a. Mary Sue) is less gentle, but begins to redefine who she as a result of the experience. Some Pleasantville community members promote intolerance. David and Jennifer's mother is having relationship issues.


Intolerance leads to some angry, riotous behavior, including the smashing of windows, looting, and a fist fight. A bloody lip is visible.


Mostly we see flirting, kissing, and couples making out in cars, with perhaps some feet sticking out of a car window. (These teens are just becoming aware of sex.) A mom character masturbates in a bathtub and moans loudly. She is married, but begins an affair with another man; he paints her nude and displays the painting in his shop window. A character uses the word "slut" to describe herself. Overall, the movie manages to imply sex-on-the-brain without resorting to talk, such as showing the image of a double-bed in a store window, complete with a concerned crowd of onlookers outside.


Language is somewhat strong, but isn't frequent. "F--k" is used once, and "s--t" can be heard a few times. The term "Jesus Christ" is frequently used. Words like "hell," "bitch," "goddamn," and "s--t" are occasionally audible.


Logos like Buick and Cadillac visible on cars.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A teenager is shown smoking; a reference is made to "dying for a cigarette."

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 23, 1998
DVD/Streaming release date:June 1, 2004
Cast:Reese Witherspoon, Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy
Director:Gary Ross
Studio:New Line
Run time:124 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some thematic elements emphasizing sexuality, and for language

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Teen, 15 years old Written bybananalover March 6, 2011

to look at the past and the present teen life

this movie is so funny
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written bylucas201 March 30, 2011

My opinion

I thought this was a good movie,its not one of my favorites but i own it and i watch it once in ahwile at my grandmother's house.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Great role models
Teen, 17 years old Written byHazel Li May 3, 2011

Recommend for teenagers >= 15 years old

Changes, as we all know, are necessary. Without changes, we cannot even identify who we are, what are our real characters and what are our own mistakes to be washed away. Even in Pleasantville, a town of perfection in a TV show with the same name where things are supposed to be always perfect, had to change no matter the way it is changed into. That is the message that Gary Ross, the director of the film Pleasantville, wanted to tell us. Set in the common modern family background of the 1990s, Pleasantville features David and Jennifer “Jenny”, the twin children of a broken marriage who live with a mother who’s always away from home. They are quite different from each other. David is introvert, shy, kind and mainly likes to watch the b&w (black and white) 1950’s TV show Pleasantville while Jenny is an extrovert, kinky, lazy and flirty girl who only likes dating and kissing boys. One day, a mysterious TV repairman comes and gives David a special TV remote control which he and his sister then fight upon. During their fight, they are strangely transferred to be the main characters, Bud and Mary Sue Parker, in the b&w TV show. They had entered the place of conformity where parents are always caring and protective of children, basketball players never miss a shot, the weather is always sunny, everyone treats each other kindly and sex as well as profanity is forbidden (George and Betty’s beds can be seen separated from each other). David got thrilled about the changes but then excited about them as Pleasantville has always been his favorite TV show. Jenny, on the other hand, is horrified and wanted to go home immediately. However, since they cannot get back until the repairman shows up again, they have to get used to this new life. Soon after, their futuristic, 1990’s ideals bring such changes into Pleasantville as colors start to fill in the b&w scenes. Such extreme and negative feelings appears (the resident and David argue angrily upon each other in the court). Eventually sex starts emerging (can be seen in scenes such as Skip and Jenny make love with each other, Betty masturbating in a bathtub and the picture of a naked woman is shown). Besides, even Jenny changes herself (it was not until her appearance in Pleasantville that she read books in a library) and the old family values also begins evolving to be more 90’s. Above all, perfection has begun to slip away from Pleasantville since David and Jenny appeared. Pleasantville, as considered by many audiences, is one of the few films which are both thought-provoking and entertaining. The director has skilfully implicated thinkable lessons behind hilarious scenes. This implication can be seen when Pleasantville residers are curious and a bit horrified about the rain falling down in the town for the very first time. This scene is thoroughly funny for most audiences, but on a deeper scale, it means the Pleasantville people are starting to learn how to accept changes. Not only themes of changes and sexuality as mentioned before are clearly shown, other themes, though auxiliary, are secretly implied. Examples of these can be identified as the themes of personal freedom (a list of rules mentioning some particular colors and music Pleasantville people are allowed to use or listen to is read aloud at the court) or discrimination between people (‘No coloreds allowed’). Another massive, important factor contributing to the film’s success is the visual technology effects. Throughout the movie, color is used impressively and effectively. As Pleasantville starts to change gradually from partly-colored (a red rose growing against the other b&w ones) to fully-colored (when the local kids are gathering in a park), the theme of change is emphasized stronger as more colors are filling the b&w vistas. According to the producers, the film needed a highly-technology type of digital special effects which is almost new to the current-time cinematography, and it should be seen more than once to absorb how the color scheme has been built and carried out. Moreover, all the actors performed in a solid, deep and meaningful way. Tobey Maguire (Spider Man) played a comfortable and charming boy whom audiences can hardly dismiss. Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line) is successful in playing both a typical American “bad girl” in the 90s modern society and another “good girl” in the 50s Pleasantville despite their opposition. William H. Macy is successful as the Father-knows-it-all who is frightened upon the town’s changes as well as Joan Allen as the amorous, protective Mother. The supporting casts, Jeff Daniels as Bill the soda shop owner, Don Knotts as the mysterious TV repairman and the late J.T.Walsh as the resident who reject all changes are all highly appreciated for their performances. In brief, Pleasantville can be said as a modern-time fairytale, but it’s unlike the other old-fashioned fairytales which only take us to have-it-all realms. In fact, it not only entertains us with its extraordinary plot and excellent visual effects but it also encourages us to think about its themes and learn the lessons derived from such situations. I myself have learned a valuable lesson from what David told his real-life mom at the end of the film – “There’s no right house, no right car, no right husband.” In fact, there’s no Pleasantville. Nothing is perfect. We should learn to accept changes as well as identifying who we are and what we mistake so we can grow up and complete ourselves.
What other families should know
Great role models