Parental Guidance Suggested

When we went to see Moana, they showed the trailer for Hidden Figures, and Caroline turned to me and whispered, “I wanna see that!”

“Me, too!” I said, but I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for my media-sheltered eight-year-old. Hidden Figures is rated PG, and I wasn’t sure if Caroline had enough context to understand the story of African American women overcoming great odds in the Jim Crow south.

Anyway, on Martin Luther King Day, Caroline and I joined some good friends at the movies to see Hidden Figures—Lisa and Julie and their two girls each.

Caroline liked the movie, and she had enough of an idea of what Dr. King was about to understand it. “My favorite part,” she said from the backseat, “was when the astronaut was trying to get back in the earth’s atmosphere and he finally did!” If you didn’t know John Glenn lived a long life, it was a real nail-biter.

Okay, all good. But the previews beforehand were another story. Smurfs, Dunkirk, Boss Baby, and The Shack: a grab bag for sure.

So, Dunkirk. The trailer for Dunkirk showed a devastating World War II battle scene on the beaches of France. Until the title appeared, I’d assumed it was about the invasion of Normandy. Caroline, on the other hand, had no historical framework—she just saw men being shot from above, dead soldiers floating in the water, hellish warfare. She pulled her hoodie down over her eyes, waiting for it to end. When the sound of bullets finally stopped, she peeled back her hood to ask, “What was that movie about?”

“The British fighting in World War II,” I whispered.

“Did the good guys win?” She looked concerned.


Even more effective was the trailer for The Shack. I recognized this one before they showed the title because I read the novel several years ago. True to the book, the trailer showed the aftermath of a little girl’s kidnapping. I enjoyed the book but will probably not see the movie, as I tend to avoid the every-parent’s-worst-nightmare genre. She kept her face uncovered this time but asked the same question after the preview: “What was that movie about?”

“It’s about a dad whose daughter is kidnapped, and he nearly goes crazy from missing her.” I said, satisfied with my Cliff’s Notes.

“Who kidnapped her?” she whispered in my ear.

“I dunno. A bad guy.”

“But her dad found her?”

“Yes.” The movie was about to start.

In the car later, she said she really wanted to see Boss Baby and The Shack. I said they looked pretty good (only half-lying), but I thought The Shack might be too grown-up for her.

“How do you know?” The movie wasn’t even out yet. In Theaters March 3rd, it said.

“Well, I read the book, and it’s pretty intense. And long.” Surely that would dissuade her.

“I read chapter books. Maybe I can read the book first, then see the movie?”

Well, she seemed to have the order right, but there was no way I wanted her to read about what happened to the little girl. So I told her the story, as best I could recall:

“So, a mom and dad and their kids go camping.”

“How many boys, how many girls?”

“Umm, not sure. But the youngest is a girl. And a bad man kidnaps her while the dad is busy grilling or something.”

“And the dad goes searching for her. That was in the preview.” She doesn’t miss a thing.

“Yes, the dad goes searching for her, and he nearly goes crazy because he’s so sad. And he feels guilty, like if he’d been watching her then she wouldn’t have been taken.”

“Uh-huh. So does he find her?”

“He does.” Here’s the part I wanted to leave out. “But she’s dead. The bad man killed her.”

Silence in the back seat. I go on:

“So the dad goes to this shack, and he meets the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And he’s half-crazy from sadness, so God heals him.”

“Does God bring his daughter back?”

“No, sweetie. Not that I remember.”

“Oh. Now I really want to read the book.” Oy vey.

“Well, I’ll see if there’s a kids version,” I promise.

Publishers come up with the craziest brand extensions when the best-seller cash is pouring in—themed Bible studies, calendars, bath toys. But I couldn’t find a kiddie version of The Shack.

Still, I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard the end of it. I know now they mean it when they say Parental Guidance Suggested.