My daughter is not a reader. Unlike my college-age son, who read “War and Peace” one summer “just for fun,” I can’t get my daughter to read anything that doesn’t have the words “Wimpy Kid” in the title. In fact, I recently bribed her one frappucino per chapter to read “A Wrinkle in Time” with me…and I did all the reading.
This is why I heartily endorse Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It uses all the framework, language and plot points of the Jane Austen classic and adds in, well, zombies. My high schooler can’t relate to women in dainty frocks debating about marriage and manners in early 19th century England. However, as a fan of “The Walking Dead” and lover of PG-13 horror films, she can totally get into a bunch of girls her age using ninja moves to retaliate against the zombie apocalypse. She became enthralled with this 200-year-old story through modern story devices. As a parent, I couldn’t be happier.
One thing that’s effective, if not humorous, is how romance is handled in this film (and the original story). First, there’s not much kissing and, of course, zero sex (a parental cheer for the pre-Victorian supermorality!). Elizabeth Bennett has three very different male interests in her life: the goofy and unappealing Pastor Collins, the attractive but dour and pretentious Colonel Darcy and the idealistic and dashing independent thinker, Mr. Wickham. Then, the turn of events: the guy Elizabeth is crushing on turns out to be a liar, another guy pivots from Elizabeth’s rejection by immediately getting together with her best friend and the most annoying one of the bunch turns out to be total boyfriend material. Exactly like high school. Some things never change.
In Jane Austen’s world, women need to be well-heeled and educated in the arts to meet society’s standards. PPZ improves on Austen, in my opinion, by introducing a new essential: all women need to be trained in martial arts. The tougher and more capable a woman is, the more highly she is regarded. As a result, most of the women in the film are better fighters than most of the men.
The violence is pretty gruesome. How do you kill something that’s already dead? In the film, just about any way is effective: guns, swords, explosives, fire, blunt instruments, etc. Zombies get chopped up, blown up and have their heads blown off. Whatever it takes. The body count is high, although, they were already dead, so…does it matter? Well, it does if your kid is the type to internalize it and be fearful later on. Between the violence and the horrific appearance of the zombies, this film is too much for kids in elementary school, but most 7th graders can probably handle it.
As far as sexuality goes, the slanguage used to describe a romantic period piece is “bodice ripper.” Indeed, a bodice gets ripped and the audience gets several eyefuls of thigh highs and garters (used as a knife strap, naturally), but no controversial body parts are revealed. Yes, the heaving bosoms and exposed legs seem a bit ridiculous at first, but that's about as far as it goes.
My teen and her guy friend got a real kick out of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. My daughter probably won’t be reaching for the Jane Austen collection anytime soon, but perhaps now when Elizabeth Bennet’s story of self-empowerment inevitably shows up on a summer reading list, she won’t be prejudiced against reading it.