How Young Is Too Young to Watch Movies in Theaters?


Shrek at Alamo South, by Jette Kernion

On Twitter today, Marla Erwin (@marlaerwin) was annoyed with Alamo Drafthouse. She wanted to take her kids to see Ice Age 3D at Alamo Village this weekend, but some of her little ones are under 6 years old. And at Alamo Drafthouse, children under 6 are not allowed at the theater, even for matinees of kids' movies, except at weekday Baby Day screenings.

Marla ended up taking her family to see the movie at what she called a "mall chain" theater in town. She likes Alamo so she wasn't happy about this, and wants the local chain to consider changing their policy for children's movies.

On the other hand, you might remember an aside I made part two of Jenn's theatergoer rant about the "Ratatouille Rule." It really happened -- Chip and I spent our Ratatouille theatergoing experience having to deal with a 2-year-old behind us who kicked our seats repeatedly, pulled my hair, and grabbed Chip's shoulders (who thought it was me being romantic, hilariously). The mom apologized at the end of the film, but the child should never have been at the movie in the first place.

Since the theater was full, we couldn't change seats. And at Alamo, you can't move if you're near an obnoxious child (or adult), you're stuck. You can alert waitstaff, of course. But I noticed when I watched Up at Alamo South that before the movie, we didn't see a "don't talk" house ad or the new "This is a Quiet Zone" ad. Alamo apparently assumed that kids will make a certain amount of noise, and I wonder if they're more reluctant about kicking out families with small children as opposed to rowdy drunks. It didn't matter, as the kids in the theater were all fairly well behaved.

And why shouldn't small children be allowed in movies that are made for them, like Ice Age 3D or Night at the Museum 2? I can't imagine many grownups require absolute silence during those films to hear every syllable of witty dialogue. On the other hand, a theater can't allow children only into the crappy kids' films and not into movies that many grownups also want to enjoy without disruption, like Pixar and Miyazaki films.

So do you think Alamo should lift its under-six policy for all family films? Maybe change it to under-two or under-three? At what age are most kids able to sit quietly through a feature film? I can see several points of view here, so let's hear yours.

Moderation in all things

Jette, thanks for raising the issue. I hadn't meant to make quite such a big deal about it -- mostly just venting to my pals on Twitter -- but as long as we're talking about it, here's my take:

I really, truly feel the pain of anyone who has been kicked in the back by a toddler for two hours, whether in a movie theater or on an airplane. I've been there, and I understand the Alamo is a refuge from that. I also suspect there are legal issues they have to navigate because they serve beer and wine.

So I'm not proposing they throw open the theater to all ages, all the time. What I would like to see is a relaxing of their policy for movies that are indisputably aimed at children, such as Ice Age, Shrek, and yes, Ratatouille.

They have a great idea in their weekday "Baby Day" shows, when parents can bring in kids age 0-6 for the first matinee of the day only. Why not extend that to Saturday mornings so that parents who work weekdays can enjoy the same experience? Nonparents aren't all that likely to hit an 11am show; there won't be beer or wine service before noon anyway; and it could be selectively applied: Ice Age yes, Bruno no.

I'm curious to hear how many other folks feel this way and how many believe that Alamo should remain their toddler-free sanctuary. (My children, by the way, are 7 and 3-1/2.)

Another Non-Parent Perspective

I notice the age limit is not consistently enforced at the different Alamos (at least Lamar and Village).

As someone with no kids, and who doesn't spend any time with small children, I do think there needs to be some leeway with children and child-oriented films. At the very least, daytime shows of G and PG films should allow younger children. I'm leery about toddlers, but if a child is old enough to attend public school, I would hope there'd be more self control than a two year old would have. Even so, a saturday pre-noon show for something like Up or Ice Age seems reasonable to me.

Unfortunately, it depends on the kid

I completely agree with the Alamo's policy because you never know how kids are going to behave. However, there are kids who can sit through movies and enjoy them without a problem. (I personally used to go to plays and musicals in Dallas under the age of 10 and loved every second of them.)

But the theater can't ever know which kids will behave and which ones won't, so a blanket rule needs to be in place so that no one has to worry (unless you go to Lake Creek where kids seems to run wild). And even if the kids do get in, parents should keep them quiet and still or leave. Not everyone is as taken with children as their parents are (or can ignore them as well as their parents can), and I say this with a near-to-bursting baby belly ... fully understanding that my movie-going will be restricted to Tuesdays for quite some time.

All of this is part of the joy of going to the Alamo. There are plenty of other theaters in town that don't have these rules, and I'm just ecstatic that I'm lucky enough to be able to take advantage of Baby Day.

Considerations for Kids

A couple of things I've noticed about the Drafthouse that I hope has changed -
I've been to quite a few Saturday matinees with young ones, and was surprised the pre-show and bumpers were more adult-oriented.

Secondly, the complaint I hear from kids the most? The sound is most often too loud, to the point that they'll cover their ears. Don't get me wrong, these are kids that have been raised on movies.

And on another note -
I am SO looking forward to G Force, hope it lives up to the trailers! "What do I do?" "Poop in his hand, poop in his hand"!

Relax the policy for kid shows

I think Marla's got the right idea. I've got a 10 year old, 6 year old and 3 day old. I generally like that Alamo is a refuge, but I think they can relax the policy for kid shows and maybe add a Baby Day on the weekend. I want to say that we've taken my daughter to a few things when she was under 6. For instance, we all went to Iron Man last summer at Alamo South Lamar. I totally understand people getting pissed at parents who bring toddlers and babies to movies that aren't kid films.

I can see Alamo's point of view as well. You can take your little ones to any old theater in town. They're trying to cater to a certain audience. I like that I can go there and know that there probably won't be any noisy kids.

I think this is ignoring that

I think this is ignoring that the definition of kids films has changed. These days, CG animated films have just as big an adult fanbase, many of which still enjoy knowing they can go to the Alamo to see these without having to deal with an upset child. If the Alamo was having trouble filling their screenings for these, I imagine they would have changed or relaxed the policy by now.

Kids Policy at the Alamo

Having had my movie experience disturbed more than once by children, I have to say that I am a huge fan of the Alamo's policy. I frankly wish they would extend it even further upwards.

In all fairness, kids in movies are usually just being kids, you can't expect much more out of them. Some parents are definitely better at discipline than others, but still, they are kids. Kids act up, kids act out, kids make noise, kids do what kids do.

Those of us without kids, or those who are seeking a break away from their own kids, deserve to have a place or two in this town that are relatively kid free. I feel for you, parents, but that doesn't mean I don't want to escape your progeny sometimes.

Movie Day Care.

I cannot comment without sounding insensitive.

All I know is when my wife and I are in a movie theater--take your pick--and a rather adult-oriented film hits the screen, say, "Body of Lies," or "Bruno," and here comes clueless Susie with her screaming kid(s) not even making an effort. I always say, or, think to myself, the same thing: If that young woman came to me before hand and told me she had nine kids, I would gladly hand her a few quid for daycare. I would rather pass a collection plate than sit through little Billy's running commentary. Waitress: "Sir, would you like to donate five bucks for little Ricky's babysitter?" Absolutely sweetheart!

Let's hope Tim League, when he's building his new facility down there on South Lamar, puts up a Kid's Corral for the little ones.

A babysitter tax. A Corral. There's an idea. Somebody run with it. Gratis.