Film & TV

Do you think he’s compensating for something? – Adult Humour in PG Films

Maddy Trigg

There are many benefits to watching children’s films as an adult. You suddenly gain the authority to publicly shame the teenagers who decide that the perfect time to discuss Chantelle’s new fringe is during Mufasa’s tragic death scene in The Lion King. You also revel in the chance to pretend that you are not an adult plagued with deadlines, household bills and thoughts about whether or not the dry mould on your wall is giving you lung cancer. The most rewarding aspect, however, is finally realising why your parents would laugh at scenes that didn’t contain slapstick, talking animals, or various mishaps involving passing gas.

Whilst the earliest Disney animations, such as Snow White (1937) and Cinderella (1950), remain very much in the realm of the classic children’s fairytale, more contemporary animated films have begun to entice older audiences with the lure of adult humour. Largely considered one of the most popular children’s animations of the last century, Shrek is the perfect example of the way in which the use of adult humour can transform a children’s film into a timeless classic. During the scene wherein Shrek and Donkey approach the castle of Duloc, Shrek jokingly enquires as to whether the owner of such a colossal castle is perhaps ‘compensating for something’. Whilst younger audiences struggle to make sense of the word ‘compensating’, their older peers cannot help but chuckle at the subtle mockery of Lord Farquaad’s supposedly small ‘turret’. 

Another famous example appears in the hugely successful sequel to Toy Story, in which the toys find themselves trapped in a large retail store whilst trying to rescue their leader, Woody. One particular scene which caters for a definitively adult sense of humour occurs during an interaction between Mr Potato Head and a group of glamorous Barbie dolls. After ogling the ladies with an open mouth, Mr Potato head wrestles with his conscience, battling his amorous demons by repeatedly whispering the mantra; ‘You’re a married spud’.


Once again, the adult theme of infidelity and sexual temptation would go largely unnoticed by a child viewer, whose experience with members of the opposite sex is likely to consist of nothing more than holding hands and occasionally sitting together during breaktime.  

By injecting the odd filthy joke or inappropriate gag into an otherwise child-friendly film, animators ensure that their film transcends the boundaries of age. Not only do parents and young adults have the chance to enjoy the film alongside young children, but they are also encouraged to reminisce on their own childhood experiences with such films. Whilst titles such as 1917 and Little Women provide gripping drama that addresses important cultural issues, there is nothing quite so comparable to the experience of reverting back to a state of childhood glee.The initial embarrassment of sitting amongst a crowd of children who are younger than most of the tins in your cupboard shortly vanishes after hearing of Robin Hood’s schemes to rescue beautiful maids for the reward of getting… well, ‘paid’. 

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