Today I like: Tot Soccer
Not so much: Tot up three times in one night. Tired!
So I’ve talked a lot about female protagonists in traditional fairytales. The passivity, the lack of depth, the focus on the physical, all that stuff. I have two daughters, so that makes sense, but lately I’ve been thinking about male characters. I have a son, too. What message does the Prince Charming archetype send him? How has this image evolved, for the good and the bad, in the male characters popular culture puts in front of our boys?
I’m going to focus on movies, for two reasons. One, because at three my son’s reading habits don’t go much past Green Eggs and Ham. Two, because I’m always trying to buy an hour of entertainment while I make dinner/clean up/do homework with the big kids. In a few years we’ll talk Diary of a Wimpy Kid/Harry Potter/Lord of the Flies, but for now I’m sticking with the not-so-lofty.
All animation roads seem to begin with Disney, and Prince Charming is the original Superman. Handsome, strong, and…well, that’s about it. I’d argue that while he’s more active than the Princess archetype, he doesn’t have much to recommend him beyond the physical. He gets his girl, not by being intelligent or kind or interesting, but by kissing her or kicking some butt (or maybe just finding her shoe, in my personal fav). Speaking of superheroes, Superman is not much better off. He rarely has to do much in the way of thinking (unlike Lex Luther, who’s so much more interesting!).
What does my son learn from these fantasy role models? I know what he does NOT learn. He does not learn to value his own intelligence or the intelligence of women. He does not learn that mind matters over muscle. He does not learn that a lot more goes into getting the girl (and keeping her!) than good looks.
In more recent movies, I’ve noticed a swing in the opposite direction, and I have a theory. A lot of formerly skinny, wimpy guys have become wildly successful CGI animators. They want to give the little dude the spotlight (thumbs up!). They also hope to appeal to mothers who want stronger female characters. So we end up with the “bumbling idiot” example of maleness. I’ve seen this guy in recent Barbie movies. I’ve defended these movies for my girls, but I have one big problem with them. Why, in order for Barbie to kick butt, must Ken become a stuttering fool? I cringed a bit for my son watching Rio and even The Princess and the Frog, where Rio the parrot is a sorry mama’s boy and Price Naveen is a shallow, philandering playboy. The female characters in these movies, ironically, completely dominate the male.
Fortunately, unlike the old Prince Charming/Superman characters, Rio and Prince Naveen are fluid characters. They’re good guys in the end. They grow and mature and make the right decisions. A huge improvement over the stilted, sword-wielding prince of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Still, I’d love to see more movies present a unified vision: a smart man and a smart woman solving problems together.
So that’s why I’ve embraced Shrek. Don’t get me wrong, the gross-out humor and gratuitous Eddie Murphy ham-fests get old. However, the Shrek movies do what few other kids’ films manage to do. Shrek and Fiona are intelligent, strong characters that love and stick by each other. Oh, and of course there’s the fact that they are both chunky, green ogres. Bodily functions aside, Shrek is pretty good stuff for the mixed-gender, under ten set.
I’m always searching for positive entertainment for my kids. Stuff that they actually want to watch. It’s a mixed bag…some good here…a bit of uh, oh, there. I expected to find movies that would harm my daughter’s image of womanhood. I find it surprising, however, that I need to look out for my little guy’s sense of self, too.
What are some of your favorite kids’ movies? Any you remember from your own childhood– good or bad? If you’re a parent, is there one movie you’d just NEVER let your kids watch? (For me– Disney’s Snow White. The ultimate passive, pitiful heroine and cardboard, pointless prince.)