I had been thinking of writing a post on kids movies since watching a heap of them over the holidays. These two excellent(links to Reel Girl) discussions (link is to Jezebel)* of kid’s movies made me finally put fingertip to keyboard.
ETA: I haven’t read all of this excellent takedown of ParaNorman by Lynley Stace yet, but I will (children allowing). Contains spoilers.
Before December last year I could have counted on the fingers of one hand how many movies I had watched since my children were born. Now that they are older and able to sit through a movie I have been to several. It was while watching ‘Brave’ that I wondered about how many other kid’s movies actually passed the Bechdel test. This December/January holiday season I actually watched the kid’s movies we went to with this in mind.
So here is a little rundown of what we saw (warning will contain spoilers for the movies):
1. Wreck it Ralph
WiR is a movie about a video game character whose purpose in life is to destroy a building which is then magically fixed up again by Fix-it-Felix. Inside the game WiR sleeps on a pile of discarded bricks while FiF and the occupants of the building that he wrecks during the game live in the newly fixed up building. WiR desperately wants to be part of the family and to win the gold medal FiF is rewarded with each time he fixes the building, but no one wants to be friends with him because he wrecks everything. So he goes adventuring in other games and has various adventures, everyone overcomes adversity etc etc happy ending.
Main character: Male
So does it pass the Bechdel test: yes,
just. By this I mean the tiniest bit by having two female characters talk to each other, once, about something that isn’t a man. ETA: got this one wrong, the girls do actually chat to each other quite a bit about racing. (thanks to all the commenters who pointed this out)
Does it have any strong female characters: yes, but the strongest female character, Calhoun, is very much a stereotypical female prototype from a certain style of video game. [ETA: by this I mean in her physical appearance, sorry should have made this clearer]
Does it show any characters of colour: yes, but I don’t think they ever talk to each other.
What about relationships? WiR and Vanellope develop almost an Uncle/Niece relationship; the other relationships shown are heteronormative. WiR could be read as asexual possibly – would need an opinion from someone who is asexual though.
Characters with disabilities: WiR could be read as socially awkward but not necessarily as having a disability. Some kids might be able to identify with him.
Overall feminist rating: okay, certainly an enjoyable movie for both my son and daughter, but disappointing for me because it could easily have been better without too much effort.
Overall kids rating: it was fun, there weren’t too many scary bits but there was some video game violence, and good for adults just wanting a movie that isn’t going to make their brains drip out their ears through tedium.
2. Hotel Transylvania
Dracula has built a hotel specifically to cater to monsters. On the occassion of his daughter’s 118th birthday he invites a range of them to celebrate at the hotel. During the celebrations a backpacker inadvertently wanders in and Dracula does his best to ensure that his guests don’t realise that there is a human amongst them, and that his daughter doesn’t meet this young man and want to leave the hotel.
Main Character: Male
Does it pass the Bechdel test: No. Despite having several female characters, including the daughter Mavis, I don’t think any of them ever speak to one another. Not even to wish her happy birthday. All conversation goes through Dracula, even when Mavis is standing right next to him.
Does it have any strong female characters: Mavis tries to be, but the movie doesn’t really centre on her.
Does it show any characters of colour: The backpacker comes across as a white American guy, everyone else is pretty much a monster. There may be variety in the crowd scene at the end, but those characters only got a few seconds of screen time and many were in fancy dress anyway.
Relationships: Dracula and Mavis with a father daughter power imbalance (he’s ‘protecting’ her until he gives her over to her new boyfriend), some husband and wife couples.
Characters with disabilities: no.
Overall feminist rating: really disappointing. Would it really have been so hard to have at least one of the female characters talk to Mavis just once. Maybe even to tell her something about her mother (who died when Mavis was a baby, hence overprotective father).
Overall kids rating: my kids watched this several times and seemed to enjoy it. Lots of silliness, not too much scary stuff or overt violence. Watchable for adults.
3. Rise of the Guardians
Jack Frost is taken into the inner sanctum of Guardians: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Sandy (Sandman) to help protect children from the Bogey Man. This is Jack’s coming of age story as he helps battle the Bogey Man, learns about his purpose and remembers where he came from.
Main Character: Male
Does it pass the Bechdel test: I don’t think so. The tooth fairy does talk to some of her little fairy helpers, but they only tinkle in response they don’t have voices.
Does it have any strong female characters: Not really.
Does it show any characters of colour: There are a couple of children, but none of the main characters.
Relationships: Sibling relationships.
Characters with disabilities: no.
Overall feminist rating: This was just another in a long line that had a few women/girls in the mix but nothing much really.
Overall kids rating: This one had some more scary stuff in it, the kids liked it but didn’t rave about it. Lots of stylised violence.
Norman sees dead people and speaks to his dead Grandmother regularly as she sits in her usual spot on the couch knitting. Norman is also able to see other ghosts around town. No one believes in Norman’s ability and he is bullied at school. His estranged uncle gives him a warning that he must take over the uncle’s work as the uncle does not have long to live. The uncle dies unexpectedly leaving Norman to try and puzzle out what he must do by himself. There are zombies and a vengeful witch to deal with.
Main character: Male
Does it pass the Bechdel test: Yes
Does it have any strong female characters: Yes
Does it have any characters of colour: yes and from memory they even speak to each other about something other than a white person.
Relationships: Norman has both a mother and a father. There are other relationships but I won’t say any more because ‘spoiler’.
Characters with disabilities: not unless you count Norman’s uncle who is treated as if he has a mental illness.
Overall feminist rating: *spoilers* Oh this one was going so well. I so liked this one up until the last half hour. The minor characters were well realised, there were all sorts of bodyshapes, Norman’s best friend is fat but doesn’t care he’s too busy enjoying life to worry about his bodyshape, the stop motion animation was fantastic. It was all going so well until Norman speaks to the ‘witch’ who was actually an 11 year old girl who was executed for witchcraft because she could speak to the dead too. Norman solves the problem of her raining down destruction on the town built around tourism based on her legend by insisting to her that she must forgive and forget. He gets really up in her face about it. Forget that this jury of mainly men (one woman) killed an innocent child for being a witch, that she as an 11 year old must understand that the adults made a mistake because they were scared, that it is her duty to forgive them and go to the grave. This really riled me: sure I get that he’s a kid too trying to save his family and town but really does it have to come down to the old trope of girl forgives people who brutally murdered her because it is best for everyone else? Really disappointed in this ending. Ruined an otherwise good film for me.
Overall kid rating: the six yr old found bits of this a bit frightening, so I wouldn’t take any younger kids to see this. As a parent I enjoyed it up until the last bit, as explained above. Lots of stylised violence.
So to sum up: a dearth of female characters in general, very few who actually speak to one another, and not much in the way of people with disabilities, characters of colour or non-heteronormative relationships and no trans people at all. This is kids movies today. Pretty crap really.
SotBO: I might have forgotten some things in the movies, or not noticed them. If you did notice them please point this out in comments. I would love to learn that these movies did better than I thought.
*I know some people don’t like some Jezebel stuff, so didn’t want to send you there without warning.