Today's the day. "Batman Returns" -- the year's most-hyped movie -- opens. In honor of the occasion, I've got a fun summer-movie quiz for you.
In which summer films aimed at kids do these things occur:
One kid calls another by the cute name "Penis breath?" ("E.T.: The Extraterrestrial")
A boy dog coaxes a girl dog into a one-night-stand with a bottle of wine -- that's later kicked out of the dog house, empty? ("Bingo")
A bad guy throws acid in his lover's face, gasses a roomful of people and electrocutes an unarmed nemesis? ("Batman")
Couldn't remember? Maybe it's because so many movies aimed at kids have such zany, memorable moments. Like "Hook," in which a boy of about 14 is run through the heart with a rapier. Or "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," in which a man's hand is cut off with an ax. As a mom, I've made my share of kid-movie mistakes. Like taking my kids -- after weeks of them begging and bargaining -- to the "Batman Returns" preview.
So what bothered me?
Maybe it's the way director Tim Burton -- known for his cinematic fascination with freaks -- turns kiddie favorites such as rubber duckies, clowns and circus fire-eaters into destroyers. Batman himself is robotically ruthless, exploding and setting folks on fire.
Maybe it's all the "subtle" sexual stuff, like when Penguin leers at Catwoman, "Just the pussy I was looking for!" Or Catwoman's sartorial choices: whips, leather, vinyl.
Simply put, "Batman Returns" is not a children's movie. "How could that be?" you ask. Isn't McDonald's putting the hard sell on small kids -- who else gets excited about Happy Meals and those tacky, plastic cups? Isn't every first-grade boy in the country dying to see it? Didn't my own 10-year-old say after seeing it that it was better than the first?
Later, he confessed: "I just wish they'd make a Batman movie for kids. Because we really like Batman, and these movies aren't for us." They aren't. They're for grown-ups, who have every right to see them. The millions who, like me, take their kids to the PG-13-rated sequel have that right too. But should we take them? Truly, I'm not a prude. I'm glad my 10-year-old saw "Boyz N the Hood" and "Glory" -- enlightening films whose violence made a necessary point.
Adults needn't explain why they see violence -- strangely, many folks believe grown-up minds are unaffected. But do we really believe it about our kids?
Not really. It's why many of us try to limit kids' TV watching, and use movie ratings as a guide -- though films rated PG (parental guidance) and PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) are often indistinguishable. Parents are further confused by the avalanche of action figures, breakfast cereals and lunch boxes that accompany such PG-13-rated hits as "Batman" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."
Even "safe" movies, like Disney's G-rated, "The Great Mouse Detective" can surprise you.
Ask homemaker and part-time writer Karin Chenoweth. She and her two young daughters were enjoying "Detective" until they hit the barroom scene.
"It was filled with knife-wielding mice, who were quieted by the singing of this tiny waif of a girl, who sang about how she knew what hard lives they'd had," recalls Chenoweth, of Silver Spring.
Disappearing behind a screen, the waif reemerged "wearing fewer clothes and singing, 'Let me be good to you,' " she says.
"It was so inappropriate. . . . But when I say these things, I feel like the humorless civic lady in 'The Music Man,' " who ran around saying, 'Smut! Smut!' "
I know how she feels. A day after being depressed by the Bat-sequel, I'm wondering. What if it's me? Maybe I'm out of touch; perhaps kids are more resilient than I think.
That's how they get you. Too many parents sacrifice their instincts on the altar of hipness. Too many fear being dismissed or excoriated -- like poor Tipper Gore, whose "crime" was wanting parents informed about the lyrics their kids listened to.
Mostly, we hate disappointing our kids. As if that isn't our job -- saying "No," because what looks and sounds good often isn't.
At a forum on film violence in Los Angeles last year, director Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct," "Total Recall") said: "Every human being has a nasty . . . side. Movies that portray violence bring out that side. Now if that gets played out in society that's pretty bad, but I don't think that happens as much."
Tri-Star Pictures Chairman Mike Medavoy said that to "claim that movies are responsible for violence is ludicrous."
I'm as puzzled by Medavoy's sureness as I am by the ambivalence in Verhoeven's qualifying "pretty bad" and "as much."
Let's say "only" two or three of the millions who saw the graphic "Recall" or super-ugly "Instinct" end up hurting someone due to the film's inspiration. Does it matter?
Do they care that in 1988, Angelo Regino, 18, committed robberies, shootings and a murder, wearing a disguise identical to that of sadistic Freddy Krueger of "Nightmare on Elm Street" fame? Or that a Massachusetts youth who committed suicide in 1989 after being charged with a stabbing death owned 90 horror movies -- and a goalie mask and machete like those used by his hero, Jason of the "Friday the 13th" series?
Maybe it's a long way from Jason to Batman -- though tiny kids can and do see both on cable. Maybe movie bigwigs find caring tough with so much cash on the line -- "Recall" earned $118 million; "Instinct" $105 million, so far.
As a mom and a woman, I care. And though I've heard both sides of the film-violence-and-kids issue, all I really need to listen to is my gut.
It tells me to be stronger when it comes to saying "No" to the kids in my care, who want to see every "hot" movie that comes along. To do even more screening of the films and TV shows they want to see. To write letters telling movie and TV executives what I do want my movie-loving kids to see.
But back to the sequel. The best summation of director Burton's real vision comes from his own script, when the sewer-dwelling Penguin taunts a nemesis: "You flush it, I flaunt it."
Have a nice moviegoing summer.