The documentary miniseries The Beatles: Get Back begins with an ominous warning: Everyone will be chainsmoking like nobody’s business and there will be some dick jokes. This is phrased differently, of course, but that’s what it comes down to. Disney+ reminds you that, yes, in 1969, the Beatles swore and drank and smoked a lot. Therefore, the “viewer discretion advised” warning at the start of the series scans as Disney+ covering their butts with parents. So, the question is, should you take it seriously? Should you watch The Beatles: Get Back with the whole family? And, cigarettes and alcohol aside, will kids even like it?
The short answer is yes and no. Here’s what to know about The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+ before watching it with the kids.
Is The Beatles: Get Back appropriate for kids?
Eh. The answer to this is probably “no,” but it’s also like, the entertainment media world outside of Daniel Tiger isn’t really made for kids either. We all pretend like Star Wars and Marvel are great family events, but those stories are just mostly about who gets murdered and at which time and why. A three-part documentary series on The Beatles contains very little violence, because, obviously, it’s just about four cranky late-twentysomething geniuses trying to record an album in like two weeks for reasons that, to this day, are barely comprehensible. A good chunk of the Beatles discography isn’t as kid-friendly as you might think, because these are also rock albums, after all. So, if you think about this rationally, you might just want to substitute the word “Beatles” with “rock band” and then consider what this documentary actually is: A reality TV series about the biggest rock band of all time recording the album that was the next-to-the-last one they did before they broke up. If it was a documentary about the Rolling Stones, you would already know it’s not kid-friendly, even if it was on Disney+
Let’s just put it this way: Disney hasn’t “cleaned-up” the Let It Be-era Beatles. To be clear, there’s not like a scene of John shooting heroin with Yoko or anything, even though that was totally happening during this time. But, there’s a great scene in the first episode where John Lennon is late to rehearsal, and Paul, George, and Ringo accidentally bang out the song “Get Back,” out of nowhere. The documentary doesn’t get into it, but the historical context here is (probably) John Lennon was on heroin. Maybe not at that exact time, but again, this stuff is well documented. The truth is, the Beatles look drunk and hungover in this documentary a lot. The documentary is not about how much rock stars drink and smoke and do drugs off-screen, but let’s face it, that’s the subtext.
That said, none of these things bother me at all. I drink in front of my kid, and she’s seen people smoke some cigarettes. I will let my 4-year-old watch selected parts of The Beatles: Get Back because she’s a huge Beatles fan and she’ll love it. Well, parts of it.
Get Back might be a little long for casual viewing. You could argue that non-fans (or small children) may even find it boring. So, keep that in mind: This is probably mostly aimed at hardcore fans who want to see exactly what this process was like.
Why some kids will love The Beatles: Get Back
If you’ve got a child with even a passing interest in rock music or The Beatles in specific, various aspects of the documentary are actually kind of perfect for kids. When they’re at their best, the Fab Four are childish, working out their new songs with nonsense words, like little kids playing make-believe games. McCartney, Lennon, Starr, and Harrison are like these brilliant grown-up little kids, who, have tantrums that are child-like, make-up like kids on the playground, and also spin entire worlds out of seemingly nothing.
The best part of Get Back is watching the Beatles work out and create songs on the spot. If you’re a fan, or if you’ve lived on Earth for like two seconds, then you know at least a few of these songs already. What’s cool – and great for kids and adults alike — is to be reminded of how profound and exciting the creative process can be. The Beatles aren’t exactly like an improv troupe (not near enough “yes ands”) but there’s an unspoken rule of simply trying a bunch of interesting ideas and just see what happens. They are a band that plays (mostly) happy music, and their basic silliness while trying to make up songs is infectious.
Again, in the first episode, the moment where Paul McCartney just freaking invents “Get Back,” out of utter gobbledegook is a strong argument for pulling back on some structure in kids’ playtime. And that’s just one example. The idea that brilliance is born out of people messing around is presented again and again throughout the series. It should be obvious to all of us, but for parents obsessed with trying to turn their kid into a CEO or something, the Beatles are a good reminder that playfulness, and unstructured play, is sometimes the key to happiness and true creativity.
The first 10 minutes of the documentary’s first episode also remind us that the Beatles were literally children when they began. Paul and John were 14 and George were 13 when their band “the Quarrymen” formed and eventually became the Beatles. When they’re recording Let It Be/Get Back in their late twenties, they revisit songs they wrote when they were tweens.
And that’s the great message hidden in this series: Don’t put away childish things. Cherish those things, because that’s the stuff your life is actually made of.