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Good summer lies ahead for the young moviegoer

By David Sterritt / June 17, 1982

It looks as if this will be a good summer for films aimed at wide audiences - and at young people in particular. That's good news, but it doesn't mean ''family films'' have made a comeback in the old sense of the term.

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In fact, those innocent words ''family film'' have lost a lot of their meaning. With relentless monotony, even today's milder movies usually have some element -- a few vulgar words, maybe, or a burst of violence - to nudge them into the PG category. And many producers prefer things this way, fearing that a G rating might brand a picture as bland or childish.

Of course, the G rating doesn't have to mean any such thing. Films like '' 2001: A Space Odyssey'' and ''My Brilliant Career'' have appealed to countless adults without sacrificing family suitability. But we have come a long way from the days when a Hollywood ''production code'' assured that most movies could be viewed without a qualm by ticket buyers of all ages.

The G rating has become the exception, and PG can mean anything from a single muttered vulgarity to a near-orgy teetering on the R-rated brink. So the critic who uses the old ''family film'' label had better make it clear just what that signifies.

Hollywood's suspicion of the G tag is illustrated by recent events at Walt Disney Productions, where an effort has been under way to draw older and more sophisticated viewers -- teenagers and adults who won't sit still for rehashes of ''Dumbo'' and ''The Absent-Minded Professor.'' Early moves in this direction, such as ''The Black Hole'' and ''Night Crossing,'' have not been promising.

But a new ''creative team'' has now taken control at Disney, and fresh ideas have started to flow. One result is a ''hard PG'' picture called ''Tex,'' due for release in early August. Based on a novel by S. E. Hinton, it takes a realistic look at a teenager with family troubles. The story touches on drugs and tentatively on sex. There is some violence, and at times the language is mildly profane.

It hardly sounds like Disney fare. Yet it's all in a good cause - presenting an accurate portrayal of a believable character, whose very flaws and weaknesses enhance the triumph of compassion, decency, and maturity which caps the movie. The treatment is a turnaround for the Disney organization, all right. But the new team is to be congratulated for giving director Tim Hunter the opportunity to tackle adolescence head on, confronting real problems with real solutions, not evading hard issues or wishing them away with moralistic formulas.

''Tex'' may turn out to be a controversial item, but it certainly doesn't condescend to its intended audience of teens and older viewers. It's quite possibly the best Disney picture ever made, excluding cartoons, and certainly the most mature in the best sense of the word. Humorous film from Scotland

On the current scene another film likely to attract teenagers and young adults is Gregory's Girl, made in Scotland by director Bill Forsyth. There are a few libidinous moments, and this time humor is the main goal, with insight coming in second. But the characters are basically innocent, despite their occasional lapses of taste, and the film celebrates their youthful high spirits with no ulterior motive.

The hero is a gangly young man named Gregory, whose good nature is both a curse and a blessing. He's the nicest guy in town, but the girl of his dreams -- the star of the school soccer team -- lacks the patience for his easy charm and lackadaisical habits. Fortunately there's a conspiracy afoot to snag Gregory for another classmate, a doe-eyed lass who describes him as ''slow and awkward,'' as if those were the most endearing qualities under the sun. The ending is inconclusive, just like every other part of the picture. But we know things will work out fine.