The Dirty Dozen
Violent Toys, Video Games and DVDs to Avoid in 2003-2004
Violence for Tiny Tykes:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The toy: From the Casey Jones action figure box: "Judge, jury and enforcer! & Casey has a unique sense of whats right or wrong and you better be on the side of right or hell slapshot you upside your head with his hockey stick. This hockey mask-wearing vigilante roams the streets of New York City serving up his brand of quick justice to punks and thugs."
The brand: The seemingly cute Ninja Turtles being "relaunched" in 2003 -- actually behave according to a vigilante code, where they (and not law enforcement officials) are "judge, jury and enforcer!" The box illustration of another toy in this brand -- the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Combat Lair (for six-year-olds, by Mega Bloks) depicts a scene of gleeful mayhem as the ninjas fight "bad guys" with ninja chains, swords and overturned barrels. In addition to the TV program, this brand is marketed by three movies and a video game.
Power Rangers Ninja Storm
The toy: This years version of the ubiquitous Power Rangers also focuses on ninjas. The current villain is Lothor, who "kidnapped students at 19 ninja schools in an evil plan to take over the world. Now the battle is on!" A frightening story line for four-year-olds, who dont fully understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Yet the "Training Playset" urges pre-schoolers to "start Ninja Storm training today!"
The brand: Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this is another television-generated brand with the message that the best way to solve problems is through violence. While the Power Rangers are portrayed as "good guys," they solve problems through fighting. For example, the Tsunami Cycle toy features the Red Ranger and "Missile Firing Action!"
The toy: This robot has "projectile-launching attack wings, firing battle quills" and "launching cannons." Since this is a toy for pre-schoolers, it has "missiles [that] fit in hands for hand-to-hand battle!" To introduce even younger children to this brand, Hasbro markets a Playskool version called Transformer Go-Bots targeting three-year-olds and their parents.
The brand: This is another toy/TV program with a totally inappropriate story line for preschoolers. From the Razorclaw toy box: "In the distant future, the evil Unicron wages a final war for ultimate control of the Universe & As the enemy sides clash in the biggest war the Universe has ever seen, their bodies emit a powerful radiation known as Energon. Little do they know that Unicron is secretly harvesting this mysterious force to increase his own strength!" A tot prequel for The Matrix?
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
The Toy: This is a "training" set of WWE action figures. "Are you tough enough to train with these WWE superstars?" the wording on the box asks children. This is part of the "Ruthless Aggression" series and is "safety tested for ages 8 and up."
The brand: Although the WWE website tells parents that the television show is "tailored for teens and young adults," WWE licenses numerous action figures, video games and other products for children. Jakks Pacific also offers an "Elimination Chamber" playset, and a series of "Flexems" action figures with proportions that can only be achieved with massive doses of steroids.
The video game: The story begins after Jak bursts out of prison, where he has been tortured for two years. He is angry and "practically shaking with bloodlust and thirst for revenge," according to one review (Toronto Star.) The games producers were influenced by the adult-rated Grand Theft Auto, according to several reviews. "The thing is Grand Theft Auto with elves and a talking rat. What a brilliant idea," notes the Star.
The brand: Jak II sounds like a sequel, but it isnt. The original game in this series Jak and Daxter was rated E for Everyone and was a cute game about a young elf named Jak and his pet, a talking rat named Daxter. Parents who feel comfortable with this "brand" are in for a rude surprise if they purchase the sequel for their young children.
From Preschool to PG-13:
The Hulk (movie and DVD rated PG-13)
The Toy: This "Roaring Hulk" is a stuffed green toy that looks as friendly and harmless as the Jolly Green Giant but is based on a PG-13 movie about rage. If toddlers punch this Hulk in the chest, it emits a cry. The copy reads: "Easily excited by sunny days, weekends, and ice cream trucks, Bruce Banner turns into the green playing machine known as the Hulk. The Hulk likes to jump, lift things, and has a unique ability to heal quickly."
The brand: The Hulk was originally a comic book, but the recent marketing blitz of toys, costumes, video game and other products are all related to the release of the PG-13 movie. The Incredible Hulk video game suggests that children "Rage through more than 30 levels of intense action, crushing everything and everyone in your way."
X-Men (movie and DVD rated PG-13)
The video game: This videogame is marketed to children ages 6 and up, yet it was released in conjunction with a PG-13 movie. "Use lethal combo attacks and rely on your mutant healing factor in intense action and stealth scenarios," urges the video game box. "Prepare to meet your makers."
The brand: The movie has "intense and graphic comic-book-style violence, including injury and death of characters," according to a review by the Movie Mom. Yet the toys and video game are marketed to children as young as four with action figures such as X-Men Legends (Toy Biz). Part of the "legend" is that the Wolverine character has "razor-sharp claws" and "helps protect a world that fears and hates mutants." This is yet another confusing story line for pre-schoolers who have enough fears of their own without adding imaginary ones.
Spider-Man (movie and DVD rated PG-13)
The video game: The video game is rated E for Everyone (ages 6+), although the movie was a violent PG-13. "Fight notorious bosses and an assortment of freak-specimens, criminals and tunnel dwellers," the game box suggests to first-graders. "You dont just play it & You live it."
The brand: While this brand started out as a cartoon, it is the recent PG-13 movie in which a man is impaled and killed on-screen that spawned an entire line of toys and other items for young children. One of the toys marketed under the Spiderman name the Spider-Man Wolverine vs. Venom Carnage play set -- promises preschoolers "Punching, Kicking and Missile-Launching Action."
2 Fast 2 Furious (movie and DVD rated PG-13)
The DVD: Many critics questioned the PG-13 rating of this movie, suggesting it should have been rated R. The movie contained one particularly excruciating torture scene, where a man has a rat placed on his stomach and the implied action suggests that the rat will try to escape by eating into his stomach. The movie has "a great deal of violence, including gunplay," notes the Movie Mom.
The brand: This adult brand featuring speed and violence is being marketed down to children through two movies the original Fast and Furious and the current sequel in addition to a DVD and video game. There is even a series of die-cast cars marketing this brand to elementary-school children with the following message: "Buckle yourself into the lifestyle of The Fast and the Furious a world of attitude & where the cars remain the stars, and your name is only as good as your quarter-mile time!"
From Hollywood, with Love:
The video game: This video game is rated T for Teen, yet is based on an R-rated adult movie. Enter the Matrix is written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, who also wrote and directed the movie, and includes "previously unseen film footage" from the adult-rated movie. The game features a "sniper mode" and allows players to "ride shotgun, shooting from passengers seat."
The brand: The Matrix trilogy has been described as a marketing phenomenon as much as a movie. While the brand is allegedly intended for adults, release of the teen-rated companion video game on the same day as the movie raises questions about the true intended audience. Other products used to market this brand include action figures, a Matrix Reloaded DVD, a daylong MTV special (teens are a prime audience of MTV), and a Powerade drink.
The video game: Another example of a video game rated T for Teen but based on an adult-rated movie. As in the Enter the Matrix game, this video game "weaves in and out of the movie script," according to an Atari press release. Terminator 3 features "exclusive film footage created specifically for the release of the videogame and not available in the motion picture." The release boasts that players will be able "to engage in true movie-like Terminator combat" through moves such as "smashing opponents into walls, massive two-handed chops and crushing kicks."
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
The video game: Manhunt is a "tense, nerve-wracking experience filled with beatings and gruesome deaths," according to the IGN web review. It is "brutal, a little sadistic and perhaps even cruel," according to the same review. Weapons range from shards of glass to baseball bats, shotguns, meat cleavers, and plastic bags for suffocating victims. The video game includes the filming of a virtual snuff film. ("Its best to think of these flicks as home movies where your relatives do unsightly things to one another and one of them winds up dead," notes the GameSpot review.)
The brand: This game is produced by the same company that created the Grand Theft Auto series, which pushed the envelope on violence. The Grand Theft Auto series was very popular with teenagers, yet it is "tame" compared to this newest game, according to a review on the gaming website Shacknews. Even though Manhunt is rated M for Mature by the video game industry, teenagers can easily purchase this game. According to the most recent Federal Trade Commission secret shopper survey, 69 percent of underage teenagers were able to buy M-rated games at retail stores.
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