Ten things to love about ‘Wild’

I LOVED THE MOVIE “WILD!” I already blogged a review of the book Could “Wild” be the antidote to “Gone Girl?” and I’m happy to tell you that the movie is EVERYTHING I hoped it would be. “Wild” is Reese Witherspoon’s best movie since “Freeway” (a film nobody seems to recall while they keep saying it’s so unusual to see Witherspoon swear, shoot heroin, and not play the good girl.)

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Here’s a list of 10 things about “Wild” that I thought were great. After each item, say to yourself: How often do you see that in a Hollywood movie?

1. Erica Jong and Adrienne Rich are quoted in the first 10 minutes.

2. There is male frontal nudity but no female frontal nudity.

3. Reese Witherspoon’s character, Cheryl, says: “I am a feminist.”

4. Witherspoon/ Cheryl wears no make up, a loose shirt, hiking shorts or pants for almost the entire movie.

5. Withesrpoon is a 38 year old playing a 26 year old.

6. Two women– Witherspoon and Laura Dern– get top billing

7. Flannery O’Connor is quoted.

8. There’s an great, accurate depiction of harassment when a slimy guy tells Cheryl she looks good in her pants. When she doesn’t reply, he says defensively, “That’s a compliment!”

9. The movie is about a woman who travels alone and likes sex, yet she doesn’t get raped.

10. This quote:

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d dome something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than it was what I wanted to do and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was also what got me here? What if was never redeemed? What if I already was?

 

Thank you to Reese Witherspoon for making this movie, to Witherspoon’s daughter Ava for inspiring her to depict powerful women, and to Cheryl Strayed for living and writing her story.

 

Reel Girl rates “Wild” ***HHH***

‘Beyond the Lights’ first rise to fame movie to feature makeunder?

My 11 year old daughter and I loved “Beyond the Lights,” a movie about a young singer’s rise to fame.

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Though I’ve see this story many times– young, talented artist runs into trouble from controlling managers and bad love interests, my daughter was born long after MTV’s “Behind the Music” series. The narrative is brand new to her. She’s also into singing, and she ate this movie up. It stars a woman of color, Noni, played by Gugu Mbatha Raw (who starred in “Belle” earlier this year, another movie I loved and that’s good for kids.) Most of the parts in the movie, with the exception of the singer’s momager, played by Minnie Driver, are characters of color. I was excited for my daughter to see a movie where the major roles are not white people and also the minor roles including crowd scenes and characters like newscasters and politicians. In this movie, it’s normal to see white people in the minority. I was a little uncomfortable with the sexual costumes and dancing at the start, but the clothing and poses are an important part of the narrative. One thing I hate, hate, hate in movies is when the girl gets a makeover, she takes off her glasses, loses weight, and bam! Her life is great, she gets the guy and anything else she ever wanted. Noni does the opposite. She becomes herself, loses her weave and the pasties, gains her real voice, fame, and the guy she loves. Tell me, is ‘Beyond the Lights’ the first rise to fame movie to feature a makeunder? I wish I could post a picture of Noni’s physical transformation but I can’t find one. I highly recommend you take your kids– tweens and up– to see this rare and beautiful movie if you’re OK with some suggestive clothing, dancing, and a couple brief make out scenes.

Reel Girl rates “Beyond the Lights” ***HHH***

Only girl in ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ is love interest

After writing numerous blogs about the sexist penguins of Madagascar, I finally saw the movie today. I don’t think my 5 year old stopped laughing once during the first 20 minutes, a period of time in which also featured almost no females, just like the rest of the movie. I deduced this sad ratio from the preview (not to mention the 3 previous Madagascar movies.) What I didn’t know was that Eva the owl, the Minority Feisty in the North Wind  group of 4 males– not to be confused with the Penguin group of 4 males– would be the love interest of Kowalski. He goes ga-ga when he sees her for the first time just as Emmet does when he sees Wyldstyle in ‘The Lego Movie.” At the end of the movie– surprise, surprise– Eva and Kowalski kiss. Typical of a new trend I’ve noticed with Minority Feisty, Eva has the impressive title of intelligence analyst, but we don’t see her actually use her skills much at all.

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Why couldn’t the head of the North Wind, a male fox, have been female? Half the members of the North Wind? All of the members?

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Why couldn’t the villain, an evil scientist octopus, Dave, have been female? What about all of his octopi underlings who also had male voices?

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Technically, Eva is not the only female. There are a few others in the long line of penguins at the beginning of the movie. There are 3 mermaid penguins who have a small part, shells covering up where I suppose their breasts are supposed to be. These mermaids are so insignificant, I can’t find a pic of them on Google images to post here. There a couple human girls and women with tiny parts. As far as gender stereotypes, the best thing I can say about this movie is that evil Dave is purple, a girl color you know. That’s something my 5 year old pointed out to me, telling me that at least I could blog about that. So there you have it.

Reel Girl rates “Penguins of Madagascar” ***SS***

Take your daughters (and sons) to see ‘Interstellar’

I just saw ‘Interstellar’ with my 11 year old daughter, and we both loved it. There is not one but two brilliant female scientists in this movie. Even better for kids, part of this movie shows the genius mathematician as a curious, smart 10 year old.

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When Murphy is a child, and when she is an adult (played by Jessica Chastain) she is never once denigrated for being a female. In both incarnations, she wears a shirt and pants, her hair in a messy bun. Her gender is a non issue in Interstellar’s dystopia. Do you know how rare this is? Let’s just say it’s almost unheard of and unseen in Hollywood movies for both children and adults.

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The other female scientist, played by Anne Hathaway, is also not sexualized for the most part in costume, posing, dialogue, or narrative structure.

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Yes, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are Minority Feisty (I use ‘feisty’ as a singular or plural, like you’d use ‘fish.’) Most of the characters are male including great roles played by John Lithgow and Matt Damon. The robots have male names and voices. The protagonist of the movie is Murphy’s father played Mathew McConaughey. Murphy’s sister-in-law is so subservient to her husband, I rolled my eyes a few times. So the gender representation in ‘Interstellar’ isn’t a perfect triple H, but the movie exemplifies such spectacular storytelling, that it’s sexism is sidelined instead of the female characters. The narrative structure is so compelling, so well done, I want to see the movie again, just to study how the dialogue and scenes all build on each other, each shot leading to the next, brilliantly balanced like a house of cards.

Need more to recommend this movie? The special effects are outstanding. Visually, ‘Interstellar is not only gorgeous but depictions of a black hole, other planets, and the dimensions are fascinating to see.

Finally, the movie asks all the big questions, and will get your children to ponder them as well, such as: Why are we here? What will become of us? What is our destiny? What is the meaning of love? I’ve seen so many disaster/ end of the world movies, as I’m sure you have too, but never once have I seen the apocalypse portrayed as the human species going on to our next stage as explorers and pioneers.

I want to thank a real life genius, Lea Verou, for recommending I take my daughter to see ‘Interstellar.’ I don’t know Verou, but she follows me on Twitter, and her comments to me were so interesting, I Googled her (and now follow her along with 50,000 plus others.) I don’t even understand her bio, so I’m, pasting it here, because maybe you do.

My name is Lea Verou (Lea being short for Michailia or Μιχαήλια) and I’m a computer scientist / web standards geek / front-end developer / web designer / speaker / author,  originally from Greece. I’m currently a Research Assistant at MIT CSAIL, in David Karger’s Haystack group and an Invited Expert in the W3C CSS Working Group.

In the past, I’ve written a book on advanced CSS for O’Reilly, worked for W3C/MIT, gave over 60 invited talks around the world, released several open source projects, co-founded a Greek startup called Fresset Ltd (which I left in 2011), and many other things. I hold a BSc in Computer Science from Athens University of Economics and Business, in which I have co-organized a 4th year undergrad course about web-development in the past. While my background is technical, I have a strong passion for visual design as well.

 

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It goes on for a few more paragraphs. I’m writing about Verou here because clearly she is the kind of visionary that I hope more of our daughters will grow up to be. I think movies like “Interstellar’ will inspire them. My daughter looks lit up right now.

You always ask me what age is good for the movies I recommend, and I always tell you it depends on the kid. There are no sexual situations (no sexual situations!) in ‘Interstellar.’ There is no gore (no gore!) Yet in no way does the movie feel sanitized or whitewashed or “for kids.” (The theater was packed full of adults except for two teen girls.) Death is a theme, but woven through the narrative in a way that I think is beneficial for children to ponder. Personally, I think my 8 year old would be confused by the plot, so I wouldn’t prod her to go, the way I cajoled my 11 year old this morning. But if she wanted to go, I would take her, curious to see what she gets out of it.

Reel Girl rates ‘Interstellar’ ***HH***

Sexist Penguins of Madagascar shouldn’t get their own movie

I’ve written a few blogs about the Penguins of Madagascar, to summarize:

* In the upcoming spin off movie (like so many spin-offs) there are even more males than in the original 3 (yes, 3) Madagascar movies which magnanimously included a Minority Feisty girl hippo, Gloria played by Jaden Pinkett Smith. “Penguins of Madagascar” coming out for Thanksgiving stars 4 brothers.

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*In the preview for “Penguins of Madagascar” there is just one female voice who comes in at the very end, saying:”Where’s the sound?”

*The Penguins make sexist jokes as show in this video/ preview for “Madagascar 3″ where one chides the others “You pillow fight like a bunch of little girls.”

Now, Mecano comments on my blog:

The Penguins of Madagascar TV show on Nickelodeon is esp annoying. In this the 4 male penguins live in a zoo along with many animals.Only one of the zoo animals is female (Marlene, a female otter) .She appears in many episodes (but not all) All other animals (around 20) are male.We also never see any female Penguins. What’s more one of the penguins,Rico, has a plastic doll as a “girlfriend” .He calls her “Mrs. Perky” .In some episodes this doll is the only female “character” we see! Just…sad.

 

Look at this image:

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Mrs. Perky? This picture shows pretty much everything bad about gender and children’s media. I Googled “Mrs. Perky” and found this on Wikia.com (she is alternately referred to as Miss Perky and Ms. Perky):

The doll was given her name and temporarily a voice in the second season episode Hello, Dollface. But, by the end of the episode her voice-chip was removed.

 

I already hated these penguins, but WTF? And these guys get their own movie? Why doesn’t Gloria the hippo and her sisters get their own movie?

Do you want your children– girls and boys– to be entertained by sexist jokes? Do you want a new generation to learn to expect and accept a world where females are marginalized, sexualized, and sidelined if they get to exist at all?

 

Katniss, Lucy, and Rose

After a depressing day of girls gone missing at the movies, it was great to see Katniss in the lobby of the Metreon in all her glory. I cannot wait for “Mockingjay,” nor can my 11 year old daughter who devoured all of the books. The Hunger Games trilogy remains one of the only fantasy worlds where gender equality exists, and it’s a dystopia.

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‘Minions’ and ‘Penguins’ star multiple males, no females

Before I saw “Big Hero 6″ today with my 2 daughters, ages 5 and 11, we saw ads for “Penguins of Madagascar” and “Despicable Me 3: Minions.”

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There are no females starring in these movies. While this is sadly not unusual, it is striking that “Penguins” stars 4 brothers while Minions stars 3 male, um, what are they, clones? Are there any female minions at all? A minionette? They don’t show up in the preview.

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In the “Despicable Me” 1 and 2, I remember the males dressed as females for laughs, one in a maid costume ha ha ha. Can you imagine a movie marketed to boys and girls starring 4 sisters, not a male in the preview? Can you imagine a franchise built on hundreds of all female yellow banana goggle cyclops creatures? How do they reproduce?

Wish ‘Big Hero 6′ starred a girl robot

Before I saw ‘Big Hero 6′ I wondered what the title meant. I’d only seen posters with the balloony white creature and the boy. So now I know. There is a new superhero franchise made up of 6 characters. And guess what? The team is led by a Hiro, a scientist wonder boy and his BFF a healer robot, also male, named Baymax. The whole human team are techies including 2 girls, one in a pink suit but at least the other is in yellow. Typical Minority Feisty ratio.

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Before I go on about gender issues, I want to be sure you know I really enjoyed this movie. It’s no doubt one of my favorite animated films this year. The narrative deconstructs what a hero (Hiro is a cool play on words) is in a compelling way that children can understand. Though I would love a gender flip, Baymax is super appealing. His mission is to heal, which includes not only tending to cuts and scrapes, but matters of the heart. When Hiro’s brother dies, at the beginning of the movie, Baymax urges Hero to get lots of the hugs and the support of friends. That sounds kind of chesey when I write it, but the prescription doesn’t come off like that in the movie because Baymax’s character is so well done. He is giant and round with stumpy legs. Watching his body squeeze through obstacles and give hugs is fascinating. Just seeing him move is entertaining. There is no way you cannot like this guy but…

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how I wish he had been a she! Before all of you write me that Baymax challenges notions of masculinity, that kind of boundary busting is standard in children’s animation. In “Book of Life,” the movie I just reviewed the bullfighter chooses to be a musician instead of a macho man. (Can you even imagine a narrative based around a female choosing careers– should I fight bulls or compose music– instead of focusing choosing husbands?) When I’ve complained about the lack of females in Monster University, Planes, How to Train Your Dragon, practically every male centered, male dominated movie I review,  I always get the reply: well, it’s great to show a geeky, smart, sensitive, artsy, fill in the blank male. You know what would really challenge standard notions of masculinity? Seeing half of children’s films star female protagonists and feature as many females as males in the cast. The icing on the trope cake was the damsel in distress scene. I was super disappointed to see ‘Big Hero 6′ squeeze in that storyline.

In case you’re wondering, I would’ve been thrilled if Hiro had a been a girl as well. And had a older sister inventor-mentor instead of a brother. And if the villain had been female.

I’ll end on positive note. I was so into the mythical San Fransokyo where the story takes place. The city has all the beauty, hills, bridges, Victorians and openess of San Francisco, (where I live) but loses its quaintness, small towny aspect by adding the clumped tall buildings, blinking lights, and crammed streets of Tokyo. The movie itself is a fusion of Disney and anime in the best way.

Reel Girl rates “Big Hero 6″ ***H***

‘Book of Life’ crew member defends movie as not sexist

After reading my post ‘Book of Life’ ticks off tropes in most sexist kids’ movie of the year’ a member of the movie’s crew, Romney Marino, defended the movie, debating with me on Reel Girl’s Facebook page. While I appreciate the passion and intelligence of Romney’s arguments, I can’t see “Book of Life” as feminist given the structural sexism of the plot. I started my blog, Reel Girl, because I wanted children to experience fantasy worlds where gender equality exists. Still, reading Marino’s comments, I was struck by how much not only she cares about gender equality but also, as you will see when you read her post, so does the director of the movie, Jorge Gutierrez. On Reel Girl’s about page, explaining why I started Reel Girl, I wrote:

Most of the time, I don’t think there’s a conscious sexist conspiracy going on. I just think that for thousands of years women have been living in stories written by men.

While I don’t believe Guiterrez intended sexism, his efforts at equality are confined to a sexist framework. As far as the arguments “that’s just how it is,” in children’s movies we see magic, animals talk, lions befriend warthogs etc, yet when it comes to historical sexism or the lack of females, suddenly we become sticklers for “reality.” It’s believable that a talking rat can cook, but a female led french kitchen? Now way! Besides magic, “Book of Life”  has performances of contemporary music ( Radiohead’s “Creep” was one of my favorite parts of he movie.)

In the hope that we have the same goal, to create fantasy worlds– and ultimately a real world– where gender equality exists, I’m posting a blog written for Reel Girl by “Book of Life” crew member Romney T. Marino.

“The Book of Life” from another feminist’s perspective…

 

The reason for my writing this is in direct response to ReelGirl’s blog post calling The Book of Life ‘the most sexist kids film’ of the year along with linking it to her Facebok page with the comment: “please don’t take your children.” ReelGirl classified this film as another “Minority Feisty” or ‘MF’ film, defined when females in the cast are the in minority and only used as a tool to help the male protagonist achieve his goal. I will concede that The Book of Life is yet another animated children’s film whose protagonist is a male. Point made, ReelGirl, one more for the statistics. However, I think that is where the perceived sexism ends, and in fact, I’d go so far as saying Maria and La Muerte in The Book of Life are among two of the strongest written female animated characters I’ve seen in a long time, because they are played as equals to their male counterparts, Manolo and Xiabalba.

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ReelGirls’ post missed this and so many other positive things about the female characters in The Book of Life and the movie as a whole, because all she focused on was that it was an ‘MF’ film. That classification flattens out the fully realized and dimensional characters of Maria and La Muerte, and minimizes their actions as taken only to forward the male protagonist and his goals. Do not forget, at it’s core The Book of Life is a *love story* set during Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, and both couples (Maria-Manolo and LaMuerte-Xiabalba) have their own unique dynamic. One where the women hold their own and at times best their men. I would venture to say that the women from the village of San Angel are “minority equals”.

 

When discussing Maria’s strong, independent character, director Jorge Gutierrez said, “If feminism means men and women are equal, then, yes, this is a feminist movie. And besides, romance is the new punk. It’s OK to be emotional. It’s OK to care.” [1]

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I hope to defend the female characters in The Book of Life not only from the story told, how they are presented and their actions in the film, but also with some perspective from those whose passion brought those animated characters to life. I had a small part working with the Animation team in Production on the film, and know the film’s director Jorge and his wife Sandra, who designed all the female characters. Every step of the way, Maria and La Muerte, not to mention Manolo’s Grandma, his Mother Carmen, and his Cousins in the Land of the Remembered, are all strong female characters and positive role models for girls. From the beginning they were conceived to be that way, from the symbolism incorporated into their design, to their actions on screen.

 

However, I want to emphasize that at the end of the day, ReelGirl and I share the same goal, to get more female protagonists in children’s content, animated and otherwise. We just disagree about The Book of Life. So I say, ignore ReelGirl’s blog post, and watch the movie for yourself and make your own judgement. Below are some of the reasons why I believe this is the truth, or so help me La Muerte.

 

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead]

 

THE WOMEN OF SAN ANGEL:

 

LA MUERTE – The beautiful, majestic ruler of the Land of the Remembered, La Muerte is a fierce goddess who goes toe-to-toe with Xiabalba, the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, in their wager over which boy will win the heart of Maria. La Muerte choses her champion, Manolo, and blesses him to always be pure of heart.

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La Muerte herself, is an important icon in the Latino community [2]. Designed by Sandra Equina, the director’s wife and “muse”, she has created an new modern image of the Latino cultural icon of Death, and brought her to the screen as a beautiful sugar-skulled goddess. She is graceful, imposing, wise, fallible, and sexy. Her design uses marigolds around her waist and bodice signify the feminine power using the flower that is a symbol of Dia de los Muertos said to help guide the spirits. She is a character that both women and girls alike are drawn to because of her power and beauty, and they want to be her for Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and in Cosplay [3]. I for one would rather see little girls dressing up as more goddesses and less princesses, or ‘sexy’ whatevers.

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MARIA – Does not just say she is strong, but her actions prove it every step of the way. Throughout the story she is no damsel in distress, and in fact she’s always been the leader of the 3 amigos. Both she and Manolo struggle to fight the patriarchy within their own family and be true to their own heart, (but more on that to come).

 

Maria’s costume is a “nod to Frida Kahlo who wore folkloric clothing as a statement of her rebellion and an embrace of the people’s culture in Mexico.”* Maria’s clothing as a child and as an adult symbolizes Maria’s strength of character. In the Director’s own words: “I asked Sandra to design young Maria’s outfit to be an exact kid version of what she wears as an adult. Unlike young Manolo and Joaquin when we first meet all three kids in the cemetery, young Maria has already formed who she is.”*

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And who is Maria?

  • She’s an animal rights activist and freedom fighter. Young Maria decides that she must save the pigs because they can’t be butchered, “not on my watch.” It is Maria who initiates the action, and Maria who the boys try to catch up to. She is riding the pig at the head of the stampede with her sword held high chanting for freedom, while Manolo gleefully hangs on for the ride and Joaquin tries to stop her. Later in the film during Manolo’s first bullfight, she visibly sneers when Manolo dedicates the bullfight to her, but then she is the only one cheering in the audience when he does not ‘finish the bull’ (or kill it, for those not up on the brutality of bullfighting, which Manolo fights against). She is not afraid to take the action that she believes in, and to stand up for those beliefs even in the face of opposition from the entire town.

 

  • She is someone who not only fights against gender stereotypying, she wins in the end. One of the most important character arcs of the film is seen in the change in Maria’s father, General Posada. At the beginning of the film he is exactly the image of the overpowering father and cultural machismo that she must fight. After the pig stampede, the General sends Maria away to be taught by the nuns to “learn to be a proper lady” because “I said so!” and he embraces Joaquin as the masculine “Son I never had.” However, at the film’s end, Joaquin runs off to get his magical medal (which gave him his false strength) and it is Maria who is left behind to rally the village into defending themselves. General Posada finally sees the true strength in his own daughter, and says “You are like the son I never had, only prettier.” Posada follows his daughter into battle to save their town. When discussing Maria, this B-character’s arc can not be ignored.

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THE ADELITA COUSINS – A brief moment that for most may go unnoticed, but is a huge feminist shout-out, are Manolo’s Adelita cousins. When Manolo reaches the Land of the Remembered, he meets a whole barrage of his ancestors. Two of which are tall women with sombreros and bandoliers, he is introduced to them,

“These are your cousins, they fought in the Revolution.”

“And we won.” they say.

These two minor characters are a tribute to the women, or soldaderas who fought in the Mexican Revolution. La Adelita was a folk song from that era about a soldadera, and her name came to symbolize the archetype of a female warrior in Mexico, a woman who fights for what she believes. [3]

 

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I would go into the characters of Carmen, Manolo’s mother, who plays a significant and pro-active part in his journey through the lands of the dead, or his Grandmother who is a stoic voice of wisdom, and who used to be “a beast in the arena,” but I think I’ve made my point. The women in The Book of Life may not be the protagonists of the film, but for a modern day romance set in Revolutionary Mexico, I think both Maria and LaMuerte, and the rest of the women of San Angel are unforgettable and to be admired.

 

Maria is ALWAYS her own woman, as a little girl and even after she gets married.

 

I specifically want to address a comment that “Maria says she is strong, but never shows it.” Absolutely false, she shows it time and time again in what she stands up for and the actions she takes. I also want to address my point that Maria is more of an equal to Manolo in both their actions in the film. I’ll try to be brief, but here are some specific moments from the film:

 

  • IN THE CEMETERY, the boy children, Manolo and Joaquin, are already play acting their future battle for Maria. Young Maria jumps in and declares, “I belong to no one.” The three friends laugh together and then both Maria and Manolo get called home by their fathers.

 

  • THE PIG STAMPEDE, is all Maria’s idea. When the three amigos run into the square she leads them, this was by design. She knows the future for the pigs in the butcher’s pen, “not on my watch,” she says. Then she breaks the lock on the pen liberating them. In the chaos of the stampede she is riding the lead pig, sword held high declaring “Freedom is coming through!” Manolo is just happily along for the ride, while Joaquin is trying to stop it all.

 

  • GENERAL POSADA, Maria’s Father comes to having missed most of the action, but attributes the solution all to Joaquin, who is “So like [his] Father.” When Maria faces her father’s anger, the first thing she notices is Manolo’s broken guitar for which she feels guilty. The General declares that she will be sent to the convent so the nuns can straighten out her “rebellious nonsense” just because “I said so!” He then embraces Joaquin as “The son I never had.” When Manolo protests sending Maria away, his own father reminds him that “Fathers do what’s best for their children.” Both Manolo and Maria fight their father’s ideas for their own future the entire film.

 

  • SAYING GOODBYE, when finally “the three amigos would be no more” Maria does more than simply face her exile to boarding school bravely. First of all she takes responsibility for breaking Manolo’s guitar by replacing it. Manolo in turn gives her the little pig she saved, Chuy, to remind her of home. Second of all she parts by giving each of the boys sage advice knowing their true spirit, and then runs to the train hiding her tears. Manolo’s future mantra is inscribed on the guitar she gave him “Always play from the heart. – Maria”

 

  • DIFFERENT FROM THE CROWD, In Manolo’s bullfight celbrating Maria’s return, Manolo dedicates the bullfight to her. Maria, still the animal lover, visibly sneers in disgust. At the moment that Manolo must make the critical decision it is Maria’s reflection in his sword that he sees, and he decides not to finish the bull. Maria stands up and applauds Manolo, while the rest of the crowd boos him. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, even against the entire arena.

 

  • LA MUERTE’S WISDOM, After Manolo’s defeat Xiabalba thinks he’s won, but La Muerte knows better, “it’s not over,” she says. Thinking he is alone, Manolo proceeds to sing from his heart, but Maria returns to retrieve her fan and sees his true self. Manolo, singing his heart out in the ring and not fighting a bull. It might be said that it is here that she falls for him. Even Xiabalba asks, “What just happened?!” and LaMuerte remarks, “You don’t know women, my love.”

 

  • THE DINNER PARTY, is thrown by General Posada in honor of Maria’s return, though he is scheming to connect Joaquin and Maria. At the dinner table when Joaquin compliments her beauty and says one day she’ll make a man very happy, Maria mockingly says how she’d love to cook and clean for him. When he clearly doesn’t get the joke, she immediately puts him in his place, “Are you kidding me? Is that how you see women? That we’re only here to make men happy?” She then dismisses herself from the table, in order to be surrounded by someone “more civilized,” her pig, Chuy. She insults Joaquin, and walks out on the entire affair with her head held high.

 

  • MARIA IS NOT THAT EASY, up in her room alone, Maria hears Manolo and the mariachis’ attempt to serenade her. More than one thrown vase discourages the 3 mariachis, leaving Manolo alone to serenade her from the heart. At the song’s romantic climax when everyone from Manolo to the audience is expecting them to seal it with a kiss, Maria lays a finger on Manolo’s lips, “Did you think it was going to be that easy?” and playfully pushes him over.

 

  • MARIA IS MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE, she goes down stairs to help Manolo, but is surprised by the General and Joaquin who pops the question to her just as a dazed Manolo stumbles in. The two men begin to fight over her, and she yells “you two are acting like fools” before she takes her own sword, disarms them both and breaks up the fight, letting everyone know that she “also studied fencing.”

 

  • A PROPOSAL BETWEEN EQUALS, When Manolo proposes to Maria, notice that she also goes down on one knee when she responds to him. When the snake comes out Maria pushes Manolo out of harm’s way and is herself bitten. She acted to bravely and instinctively to save her love from harm, and she took the hit.

 

  • A PROPOSAL TO SAVE HER TOWN, When Maria wakes up and finds that in fact Manolo is the one who has died, her Father the General pleads with her to marry Joaquin so he will stay to defend the town. Joaquin knows where her heart truly is and even he protests, but she finds the strength within and accepts the proposal solely to help save her village. Even Joaquin can see she is putting duty before herself.

 

  • THE SON HE ALWAYS WANTED, at the wedding ceremony with Maria and Joaquin, the banditos attack. Joaquin realizes his magic medal is on his other coat and bolts leaving everyone behind. Maria does not miss a beat, and it is she who makes the rallying speech to the village. It is she that convinces them to fight for themselves, and it is she who opens her father’s eyes to the strength that has always been within his own daughter, “We can fight them together, Papa.” The General recognizes this in his own way, “You are like the son I never had, only prettier.”

 

  • SHE IS RIGHT THERE IN THE FIGHT, its the third act climax, Manolo has just returned from the dead, Joaquin is back, but is Maria who gives their familiar rally cry, “No Retreat!” and Manolo and Joaquin return “No Surrender!” And the 3 amigos go into battle. At one point, Chakal has Manolo on one arm and Joaquin on the other  and each guy is telling the other, “I got this.” Maria comes in with a flying kick to Chakal’s face, which lets them regroup and lets us know she also studied kung-fu. In the bell tower, she and Manolo fight together in a dance that is both beautiful and painful for Chakal. At one point, she takes the lead and says to Manolo, “Pretty good, guitarista, now it’s your turn,” and she pushes him into the fray.

 

  • SHE KISSES HIM, when Manolo returned from the land of the dead, he swoops Maria in a passionate kiss. When they are married SHE swoops HIM up in a kiss. Their final song is a duet from Us the Duo, that is all about supporting each other as equals.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6_-JoC8jpw

 

ONE LAST THING: You would never know this unless you worked on the film, but Jorge Gutierrez, the film’s director valued the female perspective so much that he insisted that all female characters have female Animation leads. This might not seem like a big deal, but in my years experience in feature animation, I’ve never known a director to care, let alone insist on female artists for more of the female perspective in the female characters. So I say, hats off to The Book of Life and especially its creator Jorge Gutierrez and his wife Sandra Equihua. They are an incredibly talented team, and I hope we will see more from in the future.

 

Please note my opinion does not represent that of the film makers, or any studios associated with the film. I simply had a small part in it’s production, and now The Book of Life has a big place in my heart.

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Romney T. Marino is a is a Director of Development and Associate Producer at Powerhouse Animation. She has worked in animation production for over 15 years at both independent and major animation studios across CG Features, VFX, and Television. A long time member of Women in Animation, Romney hopes to bring more women to the table and on the screen in animation, and more amazing cartoons and memorable characters to audiences. You can follow her on Twitter @RomneyTM

 

REFERENCES:

 

*from the Art of The Book of Life

[1]  http://theflama.com/the-book-of-life-latinos

[2] La Muerte references:

[3] La Muerte cosplay:

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/562950022145215893/

http://analogapocalypse.deviantart.com/art/WIP-La-Muerte-Costume-The-Book-of-Life-488106294

http://www.costume-works.com/la_muerte-3.html

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=775362795842585&set=a.109996642379207.4822.100001066166583&type=1&theater

[4] Adelitas:

‘Book of Life’ ticks off tropes in most sexist kids’ movie of the year

“Book of Life” is so retro-sexist, if I weren’t with my kids, I would’ve walked out. Instead, I sat there in the theater with my mouth hanging open, trying to focus on the movie’s dazzling animation instead of the cliched plot.

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Manolo, the protagonist of the movie is a bullfighter/ musician. He competes with his rival, Joaquin, a war hero, to marry Maria who is the prize to be won. That’s right, in 2014 children are shown a movie where the female’s role in the narrative is to be a trophy. Typically, as in most contemporary animation, “the girl” actually has a personality! Maria is educated, she likes to read and she likes art. Isn’t that great, parents? Maria is a smart prize. She can fence too, which she gets to do for about 2 minutes of the movie.

“Book of Life” is inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead, art I love and used to collect. The characters and scenery are so gorgeously colorful, I tried hard to overlook the sexism. The point where I didn’t think I could take anymore came when Joaquin is at a party with Maria by his side. He is going on and on about himself and Maria mocks him, “I bet you want a wife who can just cook and clean.” She walks away in a huff. At this point, Joaquin’s buddy comments: “Oh, she’s a feisty one!” If you read Reel Girl, you know I use the term “Minority Feisty” to describe the fake feminism that crops up in almost every animated movie made for kids:

If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon,” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear.

 

The problem is that because Pixar or Disney has so magnanimously thrown in this “feisty” female (who may even have some commentary about sexism or male domination) we’re no longer supposed to care that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.

 

“Feisty” isn’t a word that describes someone with real power, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?”  How would he feel if you did?

 

The Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. Now instead of a “token” female in a children’s movie, we may see a few females sprinkled around, a “minority” of them. Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the Minority Feisty population distract you from the limitations female characters are almost always forced into. Ask yourself: Is the female the protagonist in this film? Does the narrative revolve around her quest? Or is she there to (play a crucial role in) helping the male star achieve his goal/ dream?

At the end of the movie, there is a wedding. I’m not going to call that information a spoiler. After the ceremony, Maria is referred to as “Mrs Sanchez.” She has no quest. Instead, “Book of Life” ticks off gender tropes to become the most sexist children’s movie of 2014.

Reel Girl rates “Book of Life” ***SS***