A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The War with Grandpa is a family comedy based on Robert Kimmel Smith's 1984 book about a resentful boy named Peter (Oakes Fegley) who pranks his grandfather (Robert De Niro) in hopes that he'll move out of his room. Eventually, Grandpa engages, and the two start a "war" that actually ends up creating a bond between them. If you can suspend your disbelief, it's funny enough, and it promotes the value that a relationship with grandparents can add to kids' lives. But Peter's tactics come off more mean-spirited on-screen than they did on the page. His "pranks" cause many accidents for Grandpa and his elderly friends, including electrocution and falls that in real life would cause broken bones, cracked skulls, or even death. A recurring joke involves Peter's older sister being caught kissing her boyfriend (though the actual kissing is never shown), and the older characters have a couple of jokes about drinking (and they spike their own drinks). Mild language includes "hell," "boobie," and "wiseass"; there's also some potty humor, a glimpse of a character's underwear, threats, and remarks about a bully punching a kid in the face.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THE WAR WITH GRANDPA stars Robert De Niro as Ed, an older man who moves in with his daughter, Sally (Uma Thurman), and her family. Mayhem ensues when Ed's grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley), is forced to give Grandpa his bedroom. Peter is determined to reclaim his room and enlists his friends to pull off a series of increasingly outrageous pranks to scare his grandfather away. But Grandpa isn't easily intimidated. He gets his own friends (Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour) on board to wage an all-out battle.
Is it any good?
This impish comedy brings the whole family together with a nod to appreciating their elders just a little more. In other words, there's a winner in this War -- and it's grandparents. More than 18% of the U.S. population (about 57 million households) live in multigenerational households, and The War with Grandpa is one of the few mainstream films to represent that reality on-screen. That number has actually doubled since the movie's inspiration, Robert Keller Smith's popular children's novel, was first published in 1984. But that's not the only thing that's changed. Many people now have a greater awareness of how we treat one another -- and, as a result, some of the prank scenes are more wince-inducing than laugh-creating. The page vs. screen delivery system also has an impact. Reading about an 11-year-old tricking his grandfather into dropping marbles all over the floor plays differently than watching a 75-year-old man slip and fall flat on his back. That's a big part of why the cartoonish violence here is more heart-stopping than in, say, Home Alone: The targets in that movie were hardened, 30-something scoundrels, while here it's an older man who's so fragile his family thinks it's no longer safe for him to live alone.
If Peter going after his grandfather feels unlikely, it's far more believable how Grandpa decides he'll defend his territory, particularly thanks to De Niro's charming performance. With his gentle, soothing voice and attitude, Grandpa never boils into rage (although it would be hard to blame him if he did), and he even shows a sense of respect for Peter's tactics: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, it seems. Ed is having fun with the war, and his attitude lets viewers know that it's OK to laugh and enjoy the film. Moreover, every family member ultimately realizes how much they gain from giving up a little space for Grandpa. While a nice lesson is inserted at the end about why we should avoid war, it's pretty apples to oranges. The better, stronger message lands much more clearly: Spend some time with Grandpa; you won't regret it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they think the slapstick violence in The War with Grandpa is funny. Is it ever appropriate to laugh when someone gets hurt?
Can you think of other movies that feature comical relationships between grandparents, adult children, and kids? How does this one compare to those?
Why do you think Peter acts out? How would you feel if you were Grandpa? How does putting yourself in someone else's shoes help you resolve conflict? Do you think the characters could have come to a solution without going to "war"?
If you have grandparents (or friends/neighbors of a similar age) in your life, what do you know about them? What achievements are they most proud of? What was their childhood like?
- In theaters: October 9, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: December 22, 2020
- Cast: Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley
- Director: Tim Hill
- Studio: 101 Studios
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor, language, and some thematic elements
- Last updated: December 22, 2020
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