The message: If you don’t take care of your pet, you can always murder it
Don’t worry, no one is coming after Gremlins. It’s a Christmas classic, and for good reason: it’s fun, it’s magical, and it’s equal parts horrifying and hilarious. That said, it does send a potentially harmful message to its audience. Gremlins might not strictly be a family film (it’s a little gruesome in places), but it’s still not overly careful in the implications of its story.
When Mr. Peltzer purchases an exotic mogwai from a Chinatown antique store, names it Gizmo, and gives it to his son Billy as a gift, he relays the same three warnings that the store’s proprietor gave to him: sunlight will kill the mogwai, it cannot come into contact with water, and it should never be fed after midnight. Now, while these rules are a little ambiguous – technically, the entire day comes after midnight, so when exactly IS it safe to feed the mogwai? water isn’t safe, but what about steam? Will any UV light hurt the mogwai? Can it use a tanning bed? – they’re fairly straightforward. Except, young Billy soon breaks all three, exposing Gizmo to sunlight and water, and then accidentally feeding it after midnight.
While it’s easy to see the titular gremlins (the mutated mogwai clones which are the product of Billy’s inability to follow the three rules) as the villains, really, Billy is at fault. After all, the gremlins would never have come into existence had he been more careful with Gizmo. Gremlins effectively teaches that regardless of whichever human is at fault, if an animal misbehaves in any way, it’s best to put it down. Quick spoiler alert for a film that came out in 1984 – that’s exactly what Billy does, killing the living creatures that evidence his inability to care for his pet mogwai.