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Film Mom: When Hollywood Wants to Scare Your Kids

Family Film Mom is a weekly column about family entertainment for parents with kids (and kids with parents) by Tara McNamara, the editor and founder of

As parents, we take our kids to see movies for an amusing diversion that hopefully gives us two hours of peace in a cool, relaxing theater. The last thing any mom or dad wants is to have that two-hour experience extend into 3 a.m. when a crying child screams that the film’s villain is coming to get them. Kids don’t appreciate nightmares, either. At, “too scary” is the No. 1 complaint kids have about movies. So, as ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie roll out over the next few weeks, parents may wonder: why do filmmakers even make scary movies for kids?

Kids do enjoy the empowerment of surviving a spooky experience. It’s a badge of honor to get through haunted houses, R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” book series and ghost stories. But let’s be clear--these all fall into the category of “fun scary.”  On the other hand what is obviously fantasy to adults might come across like a frightening reality to young ones, if  the imagery is vivid, the situations are intense and it seems like it could really happen.  

But, there's good news. ParaNorman quells the fright factor by presenting the scary stuff from 11-year-old Norman Babcock’s point of view. Norman can converse with spirits, who he appreciates as just people who happen to be dead– nothing freaky about it. A zombie uprising and an out of control witch do give Norman the willies, and thus, ParaNorman dips into “scary scary” territory for a while, but ultimately it uses levity, understanding and resolution so that tweens won’t take the movie to bed with them that night.  

Hotel Transylvania director Genndy Tartakovsky assures parents that his film, which brings literary and cinematic monsters together at a vacation resort, is funny, not chilling. He has called it “a monster fun movie that has no real scares in it; it was a very conscious choice to put it in a more fun direction.”

Even creepy Tim Burton may be harking back to his last stop-motion animation movie for kids, The Corpse Bride--which was spooky and grotesque but not scary--with Frankenweenie, about a boy who uses science to reanimate his dead dog.

Bringing kids to see a hair-raiser is risky business, but if they emerge unscathed they’ll feel stronger for it. The question for parents is, looking ahead at 3 a.m., is that a risk you’re willing to take?

Here are three movies for families to see this weekend:

ParaNorman. An 11-year old who talks to the dead is really a metaphor for the millions of kids who feel like outcasts, even in their own families, because they are “different.” Two warnings: a) it’s not for children’s whose age is in the single digits and b) bring Kleenex.




The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Everyone sees Timothy Green as odd – except Timothy Green. What is most enchanting about this magical movie is how Timothy’s self-confidence teaches the people around him to accept who THEY are. Also, bring Kleenex.




Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Greg Heffley’s adventures are scary because he makes decisions that are so wrong and yet, so relatable. A laugh-out-loud movie for the entire family.


To find out what kids think about these movies, go to, where all kids are movie critics.

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