A Grandfather reads his sick grandson a story. It involves true love, giants, death, swords and dread pirates. The heroic Westley must save the kidnapped Princess Buttercup from her captors and an unwanted engagement to Prince Humperdinck. Along the way he’ll fight Rodents of Unusual Size, endure torture in the Pit of Despair, and befriend some unlikely companions. True love cannot be stopped!

The Princess Bride (1987) – Director: Rob Reiner

Is The Princess Bride suitable for children?

Rating: PG

Running Length: 98 min

Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Comedy

REVIEW

The Princess Bride’ has become a beloved classic although somewhat cultish film. Not everyone knows about it, but those that do cannot stop themselves from showering it with well deserved praise. Taking a very tongue in cheek approach to the classic damsel in distress and suave hero fairy tale formula, ‘The Princess Bride’ is endless fun for both children and adults alike. The dialogue is razor-sharp. The action never becomes excessive or bogged down in its own cleverness. The score is beautiful one moment, and then used as an aural punch line to dialogue the next. From start to finish, ‘The Princess Bride’ is wall to wall fun with a snappy script and knowingly silly set pieces.  You can almost feel it turning to the audience and winking, then pulling apart the standard fairy tale elements and poking fun at the pieces.

Cary Elwes as Westley is wry roguish charm personified and it is a shame that he has not done more films (although he gave a wonderfully evil performance in the more recent and equally tongue in cheek ‘Ella Enchanted’ – which we review here). Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya delivers an amazing comedy role as the man on a mission of revenge. The guest appearance list is huge and includes people like Billy Crystal (as a cynical old miracle man), Peter Cook (playing a bishop who, in a scene stealing moment, performs a speech impediment laden wedding ceremony) and Peter Falk (better known as the actor who played the detective Columbo). ‘The Princess Bride’ does not outstay its welcome meaning that, 25 years later, the joke remains fresh. It is good solid fun and children will most likely be awed and amused in equal measure.

IS ‘THE PRINCESS BRIDE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

Due to the overt comedic nature of this film, the occasions where there are potentially unsuitable moments are usually dealt with in a none-too-serious manner.  However, we mention them here for completeness.

Shortly after Princess Buttercup is kidnapped she attempts to escape off the boat carrying her into the sea. The leader of the kidnappers, Vizzini, mocks Buttercup’s efforts and warns her about the ‘shrieking eels’.  We can hear this shrieking increasing in volume as Buttercup begins to panic and Vizzini states that the shrieking always gets louder when the eels are about to “feast on human flesh”. A large sharp toothed eel surfaces and lunges directly at the camera. The scene then quickly cuts to the Grandfather reassuring the Grandson that everything is going to be fine – much to the irritation of the Grandson.

When Westley and Buttercup enter the Fire Swamp they face many dangers, although Wesley is relaxed about their predicament. We see giant rats slowly following them and one later attacks. It is huge and sinks its teeth into Westley’s arm, causing him to yell in pain. There is dramatic music playing during the attack and Westley stabs the huge rodent with his sword several times. However, the moment of attack is the punch line of a joke so even young children will most likely be reacting to the comedy, rather than the drama of the moment.

Westley is subjected to a ‘pain machine’ at one point in the movie. This takes the form of suction cups attached to his chest and face whilst he is strapped down. It is described as sucking ‘life’ out of him, with setting ‘1’ removing one year, setting ‘2’ removing two years, and so on. Before it is switched on he is wary but cocky. However, when it is turned on he writhes in pain and afterwards he is unable to speak. This initially lasts around 30 seconds and the idea of torture could be a little much for small children, especially as Westley has been so confident up to this point but now appears trapped. This scene is the only real time where things appear hopeless although it is short and it is the fact that Westley whimpers in pain instead of coming up with a clever reply that may upset.

A little later the setting is rammed up to 50 and Westley screams in agony. The camera cuts to shots of scenery further and further away but each time his cry is still audible. This scene ends with another cut of the Grandson chastising the Grandfather as he cannot believe that the story has taken this turn. The conversation they have should be reassuring to young kids who may be worried about the charming and likable Westley’s predicament.

Lastly with regards to violence, the film comes to a head with a fight between Inigo and Count Rugen. Both men are stabbed during this fight although there is very little blood.

Special mention will be given to the descriptive nature of the dialogue. Early in the film Inigo explains what happened to his father and his quest for vengeance. The inherent unfairness of what happened to Inigo’s father, coupled with his muted telling of the story, may upset children who are sensitive to the concepts of right and wrong. However, there is then a superbly fun and light-hearted sword fight between Westley and Inigo which should break the mood. In addition, Princess Buttercup constantly talks about killing herself as the only way out of her situation. She is never really upset when she says this; she merely acknowledges it as the only practical thing she can do. This may possibly upset children sensitive to the concept of suicide but no-one, not even Buttercup, lingers on this emotionally.

Lastly, when Westley confronts Prince Humperdinck he talks about a ‘fight to the pain’ instead of a fight to the death. He then describes what his means, which is that he intends to cut off various body parts of Humperdinck and leave him alive but mutilated. The scene is short and shouldn’t be too upsetting for children who look forward to the bad guy being defeated by the bravery of the good guy. We mention it purely because some young children latch on to, and get upset by, descriptions of the intent to inflict injury and so we advise you use your best judgement here.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

The Princess Bride’ is both clever and slapstick. It is tongue in cheek but not to the point of insulting the audience. The way this movie can laugh at itself and the well-worn setting it portrays is both warm and friendly. This isn’t a comedy that relies on insults, cheap laughs or bullying in order to raise a smile. The humour here comes from respecting the audience’s intelligence, deftly delivering action to ensure things don’t get too wordy but also knowing when to throw a giant rat at its hero! We would recommend this movie for all ages but advise that a concerned parent may wish to view the scenes we have specified above if they are unsure of whether such content will be suitable for their children.

  • Violence:  1/5 (mostly comedic in nature. There are several sword fights but these are no stronger than you would expect for a PG movie)
  • Emotional Distress: 1/5 (Buttercup pines strongly after Westley but this isn’t dwelt on)
  • Fear Factor: 1/5
  • Sexual Content: 1/5 (this is very minor – when the Princess readies a knife to kill herself with she is surprised by Westley saying, “There are few perfect breasts in the word. It would be a shame to damage yours”)       
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (one mild swear word during Inigo’s confrontation with Count Rugen and one use of the word ‘Jesus’ as an exclamation of surprise)
  • Dialogue: 2/5 (Prince Humperdink talks about strangling Buttercup. Inigo’s description of his father’s death could be upsetting. Westley’s description of fighting ‘to the pain’ involves talk of cutting off various body parts. The Princess constantly talks of killing herself, although in a very matter of fact way)  
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of true love, the strength in team work, being true to your feelings and that you should always fight for what is right.

Words by Mike Record

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