Here’s quite a weird story. Because Disney has banned smoking in its movies (Ironically, lots of smoking in Pinocchio and 101 Dalmatians), in a new about Disney founder Walt Disney, smoking cannot be shown, even though Walt Disney was a four- to five-pack-a-day smoker who always had a cigarette in his hand.
(Walt Disney also died of lung cancer at 65. Not passing judgement, just passing on the facts.)
The Walt Disney movie, called “Saving Mr. Banks,” stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. It takes place in the early 60s, at the height of the Cigarette Empire, during the making of “Mary Poppins.” Supposedly, the one scene where they got away with showing Walt smoking is when someone walks into his office and he is seen putting a cigarette out in an ashtray.
Smoking has been all but removed from PG-13 movies because of pressure put on the MPAA a few years ago to crack down on all the smoking in kid and teen movies (I wrote a few emails myself). There was actually MORE smoking in PG-13 movies in 2008 than in 1998, when the Master Settlement Agreement supposedly abolished tobacco payouts to studios for product placement of cigarettes in teen movies. In my opinion, it was Hollywood simply stuck in a rut with the idea that smoking was cool and smoking made its characters more cool — never mind the fact that Humphrey Bogart died of throat cancer in his 50s, Hollywood still considered smoking cool. The reason this was such an important issue is many studies and surveys showed that where teens got the idea that smoking is cool came from smoking looking cool in Hollywood movies.
The MPAA hem and hawed and obviously was afraid to make a change, and a number of influential Hollywood directors railed against the ruling (James Cameron is one who was annoyed by it), but eventually the MPAA put in a milquetoast ruling that “pervasive” smoking would result in an R rating, unless it was in a historic setting.
As I hoped, that milquetoast ruling was enough to convince most studios to eliminate smoking in PG-13 movies, because they simply don’t want to bang heads with the MPAA over the definition of “pervasive” or “historical.” (Keep in mind how movie ratings work. Ultimately, movie ratings are all about marketing, and studios determine what the rating they want for the movie before production even begins — basically R ratings are avoided at all costs because they limit the audience to adults and parents with kids. Teens unattended by adults are a huge movie market.)
Anyway, I digress (sorry, I find this stuff SO fascinating). Disney likely could have gotten away with showing plenty of smoking in “Saving Mr. Banks,” because Jesus Christ, 1965 was the height of the smoking era, when more than 60 percent of men smoked, and therefore, it would have fit under the “historic” determination. However, this is a studio-wide policy of absolutely no smoking in Disney movies, end of discussion.
As an aside, recently read a story about a study showing that PG-13 movies actually have as much gun violence if not more than R rated movies. I get this a lot when I talk about smoking and movie ratings … “well, why is it OK to show violence in PG-13 movies?” Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re not wrong … there is a shocking amount of violence in PG-13 movies, but that’s got nothing to do with Hollywood’s long and sordid history of pimping cigarettes to the public (and specifically kids.) Totally another extremely valid, yet separate battle to fight, and I can’t fight every battle.