Classic Minority Feisty in ParaNorman

I got this comment from Stace:

I’m grateful to you for giving me the term ‘Minority Feisty’, because indeed, there is a girl character (a nerdy, excluded type with a monobrow who plays the witch in a play) in Paranormal who has very few lines, but one of those lines is a feminist piece about the mistreatment of witches throughout history, or something similar.

Plotwise, it’s up to Norman to save the world (or community, at least) from a witch. Which he does.

I haven’t seen “ParaNorman” but from Stace’s description, the female character is classic Minority Feisty. As with Colette in “Ratatouille,” she delivers a feminist line or two. Her place in the narrative allows parents to breathe a sigh of relief and think: OK, this movie is about a boy, there are more males than females in it, but it’s still feminist.

It’s not.

In a fantasy world, an animated movie for little kids, it’s hardly feminist to illustrate sexism. It is far more feminist and inspiring to show kids images and narratives of females being strong and brave, making choices and taking risks. Fore example, it would have been much better for girls– and boys– to see Colette be the star of the movie instead of listening to her recite a monologue on sexism in French kitchens.

And one more thing about the word “feisty” so often used to describe strong female characters in children’s films. “Feisty” doesn’t imply strong, it implies playing at being strong in a cute way. Think about this: Would you call Superman feisty? How would he feel if you did?

13 thoughts on “Classic Minority Feisty in ParaNorman

  1. Ratatouille doesn’t bother me because it is a representation of the actual reality of the job it depicts. Restaurant kitchens are an overwhelmingly male environment, especially in the kind of setting depicted in the film. The character is pretty true to life – female chefs have to work very hard and be very tough to get respect in that industry. The character’s lines about feminism don’t come out of nowhere, they come out of the very real experience of working in a male-dominated environment. If Pixar had filled the kitchen with women who were not vocal about the difficulties of being female in their profession, it would have rung completely false.

    • Hi Elisha,

      “Actual reality”? Huh? Ratatouille is a movie about a rat that can cook, talk and befriend humans, but when it comes to gender roles, you want reality?

      Margot

  2. “In a fantasy world, an animated movie for little kids”

    Umm… Parnorman is anything but a “little kid’s movie”. Same with Ratatouille.

    • Hi someguy,

      I haven’t seen “ParaNorman” but many people have recommended it for my kids. “Ratatouille” is not for little kids? Huh?

      Margot

      • “I reject that whole point of view – that animation is a children’s medium. The way people talk about it is, well, hey, it’s a good thing I have kids, because now I get to see this. Well, hey, no, man! You can just go and see it. There’s no other art form that is defined in such a narrow way. It’s narrowminded, and I can’t wait for it to die.”

        -Brad Bird (Director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille).

        “I never think about the audience. If someone gives me a marketing report, I throw it away.”

        -Andrew Stanton (Director of Finding Nemo, Wall-E)

        The idea that animation = kiddie fare is something people like Brad Bird have been fighting to change for years.

        The Pixar films are not made with a specific audience in mind. They are made for everyone, regardless of age. To say something like Ratatouille is a “kids movie” is just insulting to all the brilliant artists who worked on it.

        • That doesn’t really affect her point on sexism at all, sexism for adults is as bad as sexism for kids. And in any case, these movies are more for kids than anyone else, they may have things for adults, they may get better as you understand more of them, but they are still the safe watch for kids.

  3. The grandmother character is great, and I did mean to come back and add that to my comment… after I stopped feeling annoyed. I really want to love this movie. It is beautiful to look at.

    Please do see ParaNorman because everyone has to make up their own mind. This is certainly not the worst I’ve seen in regards to female speaking parts — it’s the sum total of films *just like this* which bugs the hell out of me.

    It’s hard to say anything at all about the ending without giving it away. At the risk of spoiling things further:

    *****MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*****

    My memory of the plot mechanics is getting hazier, but wasn’t the ‘witch’ a little ghost girl? Wasn’t she technically *saved* by Norman? Can someone explain to me the ‘very female positive’ part of that ending? It’s possible I was missing something by that point. The climactic action sequence was too long to hold my attention, and my daughter was also asking to go home… possibly because she failed to identify with ANY of the main characters.

    Here are a few other points I have a problem with, and feel free to redeem this film for me if you can.

    1. I am getting a bit sick of middle school stories about a boy who has a nagging, annoying mother and an image obsessed older sister. Norman had both. The mother and the sister were stereotypes, and light-hearted stories like this one rely on stereotypes, and I tried to argue to myself that ALL of the characters in a zombie movie are stereotypes to some extent… except *Norman* wasn’t. And his father wasn’t. His father was the voice of reason. I wish I could remember enough to quote a few lines, but that was the general impression I left with. The older sister had learnt her lesson by the end of the film and was not nearly as obsessed with nail polish as before. Not sure this redeems that plot line, though. THAT’LL teach her for being into feminine things. It’s almost femme phobic, and once again links overly feminine things with vapid characterization. I mentally rewrote her as a *study* obsessed older sister, which would have worked just fine for the plot, but no, they didn’t do that.

    2. When the group of zombies approach Norman and tell him the *truth*, it’s a male zombie who comes forward to speak for all of them, even though there are female zombies in the group who could’ve done that job. As Margo says, if the script writers were hell bent on including something feminist, they would’ve been better to *show* feminism rather than tell it by having one of the *female* zombies come forward to speak for the group.

    3. The aerobics DVD scene. It’s brief but it stood out to me as just plain wrong. I was having this exact conversation over at MoreCompassion’s blog (http://morecompassion.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/when-do-young-boys-start-objectifying-women/) so I’ll copy and paste rather than repeat myself:

    This is a zombie animation for middle grade kids and (as you’d expect) is about a boy saving his community with the help of an (overweight, red-headed and therefore bullied) male sidekick. The sidekick is affable and hapless and the audience is invited to relate to both of them.

    In one scene we see the red-headed sidekick eating chips while watching TV. (The fat-kids-are-always-eating thing gets to me also, but that’s a whole nother topic.) The audience can’t see what he’s watching on the TV, then we hear (off-screen), “Neil, have you got your mother’s exercise video on pause again?” Cut to the TV and we see a picture of an aerobics instructor in a leotard bending over with her buttocks filling the screen, in a sexual pose, of course.

    Seeing a movie at the theater is always an enlightening experience because I see how others respond to the same scenes, and there were many hoots of laughter at that point. I noticed that the hoots seemed male, from the dads. Or maybe male voices just project better. I know the woman sitting next to me wasn’t laughing.

    I just felt really sad about it. I know that the audience is encouraged to poke fun at Neil, but my problem was that the audience was *also* invited to *empathise* with him, ie. no matter his flaws, he was human. The women in this film get no empathy whatsoever — each and every one of them is a trope or a stereotype. Therein lies the difference. Women are objects, again.This is a *middle grade* film.

    To repeat, there are many great things about this film, but female representation wasn’t one of them. I’ll subscribe to the comments and I look forward to having the story redeemed for me.

    • Sorry, I’ll edit that to avoid contradicting myself, and to emphasise that the dead grandmother has a great personality. She is a female and she is not a stereotype.

      I watched Hoodwinked yesterday (remember that from 2005?) and ended up wondering if grandmothers in kids’ films are also often the Minority Feisty supergran type. Funny how so many of them openly reject typically grandmotherly pursuits (quilting, I think it was in Hoodwink.) But I don’t think the grandmother in this film was like that. She had some genuine grandmotherly wisdom to impart, and she still liked knitting.

      • I don’t think I can completely turn your opinion around, but I’ll tell you what about female representation I liked in the movie. Spoilers of course, if anyone didn’t watch it, please don’t read below.

        When it comes to his family, I think it’s much a matter of perception, I didn’t thought his father was the voice of reason in the movie, more like an intolerant bigot. His mother tried to defend Norman, but of course she didn’t believe he saw ghosts, so she tried to frame it in the context of a phase he was going through, which meant she could’ve come off as nagging to him. But really, what was she supposed to do? His sister didn’t care less about nail polish or anything like that by the end, none of them seemed to change much at all except for not outing Norman as someone who had to be fixed. And I thought it was a nice moment for her when she defended him from the angry mob.

        Salma tried to make a point about the misrepresentation of witches and was quickly dismissed, including by Norman and his friend, but then that becomes the key everything.

        Now about Aggie, she was victim of intolerance especifically targeted against women in her day, would someone have denounced her to the authorities and would her punishment be as harsh had she been a strange boy?

        Then there’s her mother, she knew there was nothing she could do to protect her daughter from iminent death, and instead of falling apart, she pulled her daughter away to the middle of the forest and tried to have one final moment of happiness and bonding before it. How terrible must it have been for her to keep a smile on her face as she read the fairytales to her unsuspecting girl. And when you remember that Aggie was buried under that tree, well, it wasn’t the people who killed her that had that consideration. The mother must have read the book at the tree site as a way of paying respect to her daughter and remembering her, and so was started the tradition of reading the fairytales, as an act of familial devotion and love.

        At the very ending, we see Aggie got her peace, but the zombies, what they did was still unforgivable, they don’t have to be zombies anymore, but the way they fade it’s clear they weren’t redeemed.

  4. “Feisty” is a patronizing (word used deliberately) pat on the head; it’s belittling and trivializing.

    And until I started reading more about it, I kinda wanted to see ParaNorman. *sigh*

    • Please see it anyway, the movie’s great! There definitely is a female character of more importance than the minority feisty.

      • yes, the main female character is truly redeeming and the resolution is very female positive. No apologies where movies in the past would have had them. I would say more, but it would be a spoiler….