Should you watch Back to the Future with your kids?

Ian Mendes plans a movie night with his daughter, but finds that Back to the Future isn't as kid-friendly as he remembers.

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Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily with wife Sonia.

Last weekend, we had a rare evening where just Elissa and I were at home alone together.

Sonia had been coerced into a Mommy-Daughter sleepover at a senior citizen’s home as part of the Sparks program with Lily. And yes, the previous sentence makes me extremely thankful that fathers are usually not invited to participate in activities that fall under the Girl Guides umbrella.

I had not spent a night at home with just Elissa since the day Lily was born, and Sonia was at the hospital overnight with our new baby. Since six years had passed, I felt an obligation to make this Daddy-Daughter night special.

First, I carefully crafted a menu that would suit both of our needs. I opted for Shake ‘N Bake chicken wings, with a delightful pairing of root beer. (Note for foodies: You have to make sure you select an A&W Root Beer in this situation, as Mug tends to mute the flavor of the Extra Crispy coating on the chicken.)

I then decided to pick a movie that would also be enjoyable for both of us. The great thing about Elissa is that she is now nine years old, so we don’t have to always pick movies that start with words like “My Little” and end with things like “Pony”.

I opted for the original Back to the Future, which was my favourite movie growing up. I was eight years old when that movie came out in the summer of 1985, so I figured it would be suitable for Elissa.

To this day, I will often quote obscure lines from Back to the Future. Like when we’re backing out of the driveway in the car, I will sometimes stop and say, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” And everybody else in the car just groans.

I was such a fan of the movie that Sonia actually bought it for me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. I was really touched by the gesture, even though I later saw the movie priced at $7.99 in the bargain bin at the grocery store with other 80s classics like Gremlins and Tootsie. (In hindsight, the gift may have been a stocking stuffer, but I figured I would lay a small guilt trip on Sonia here with the holidays fast approaching).

Still, Back to the Future has a special place in my heart and I was excited to watch it again through Elissa’s eyes.

Would she be able to follow along with the semi-complicated plot? Would she think the 1980s special effects were lame? Would her palms get sweaty when Doc was hanging by a thread from the clock tower during the lightning storm?

Since I had watched this movie countless times before, I didn’t bother checking out the parent’s guide to Back to the Future on IMDB.com, which is actually one of the best Internet tools for parents. On that website, you can find out how many times there are swear words, scenes of violence or nudity and if there is drug use in any given movie. This tool would have also been handy when Sonia watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Elissa a few weeks ago and an F-bomb was casually tossed out by one of the characters.

I assumed that if my parents let me see Back to the Future at the theatre in 1985 at the age of eight, then it would be completely acceptable for my nine-year-old daughter to see the movie in the year 2013. However, I forgot that a lot of 1980s movies that we loved as kids are filled with smoking, swearing and references to drugs and alcohol.

While watching Back to the Future, there were several sketchy scenes that may have been a little “too old” for Elissa, including:
• Libyan terrorists pulling out a machine gun and shooting Doc Brown multiple times from close range.
• A lot of questionable language — including four times the characters uttering a word that sounds a lot like “spit”.
• The introduction of a “peeping Tom” who uses binoculars to stare in windows where young women are changing.
• The 1950s version of Biff attempting to sexually assault Lorraine in the car on the night of the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance.
• Underage drinking and smoking takes place. As well as suspected drug use — from that band whose lead singer was related to Chuck Berry.

But again, because this was Daddy-Daughter night we swept a lot of this stuff under the rug — much like the residual crumbs from our Shake ‘N Bake chicken wings.

In the future, this is where we will probably use the parent’s guide on IMDB.com to make sure we cut down on the swearing. I was stunned to learn that the movie Big — starring Tom Hanks — had 15 swear words in it, including one f-bomb that was dropped. My memory was that Big was just good, clean family fun with a fortune teller named Zoltar, but apparently there was a whole lot of questionable language sprinkled in there too. There is even some moderate swearing in E.T. – which is really bizarre.

I should point out that Elissa was captivated by Back to the Future and never lost interest in the movie. She understood the concept of the flux capacitor. She knew it was weird when the 1950s version of Lorraine was trying to make out with her future son in the car And she seemed genuinely intrigued to watch the sequel after this movie ended with the main characters heading off to the future. (Although, if Sonia ever purchased Back to the Future Part II for me, I would consider filing for divorce).

I think we’re going to be introducing our kids to a few more 80s movies in the next few months, but we’ll certainly be a little more selective based on the language and content.

And you’ll likely see me rummaging around the bargain bin at the grocery store, looking for Adventures in Babysitting — because it’s never a bad time to fire up a movie with Elisabeth Shue.

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