Every dog needs a boy: ‘Mr. Peabody and Sherman’ continues pattern of sexism in kids’ movies

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” repeats the same old sexist pattern of so many kids’ movies where male characters get to star while females are stuck on the sidelines, in supporting roles.

Let’s start with the title of the movie: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Note this title features the name of not one, but two, male stars. That’s right– “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is yet another father-son story. While movie studios strategically switched the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and “Snow Queen to “Frozen” to hide female stars, the marketing for “Peabody” showcases males, and I’m not only referring to the movie title. I live in San Francisco, and here’s the poster that my three daughters and I see all around town:


Major close up of two male stars. Compare that to “Frozen,” one of the rare children’s movies to feature not one but two female protagonists. Anna and Elsa get buried in the snow. The marketing implies that Olaf, the snowman, is the star of the movie.


A major problem with this sexist marketing is that even if your children don’t see the movies, they see the posters. From this media, kids see that boys get to be front and center while females get sidelined or are invisible all together. The repetition of these gendered images teaches all children that boys are more important and get to do more things that girls.

Like most children’s movies, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” features a Minority Feisty. The Minority Feisty is “a strong female character” (or two or three) who plays a crucial role in helping the male star achieve his quest. There may be more than one Minority Feisty in a movie, but there are always a minority of female roles compared to male roles, even though girls are one half of the kid population. The purpose of the Minority Feisty is to make parents overlook the lack of female protagonists, because, hey, at least there’s a strong female in the narrative. To really get how sexist this gender ratio is, imagine gender flipping the characters. How likely is a it that a studio would put out a movie called “Ms. Peabody and Sharon” with a close-up of the two female stars on the poster? When is the last time you saw a children’s movie advertised with two female stars in the title and a just two females in the poster all around your town or city?

I blog a lot about a particular trope in children’s media that makes me crazy called “riding bitch.” While male characters often soar through the sky on all kinds of magical creatures, from dragons to hippogriffs, female characters usually are put in the passenger seat, not steering or deciding where to go, just along for the ride. Even though I’ve noted this trope endless times, I was shocked by how sexist it is in “Mr. Sherman.” Here’s what happens in the movie. Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and Penny go back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci. Penny sees da Vinci’s flying machine and, as the Minority Feisty is wont to do, she hops on. Sherman is afraid but follows. Penny flies through the sky and whoops in delight while Sherman shrieks. My 7 year old daughter saw this scene in the preview and told me about it, she was so excited. But here’s the bummer:

Yes, Penny starts out flying the machine, but then she encourages Sherman to try. He refuses and she repeatedly tells him that he can do it. When Sherman continues to shy away, Penny lets go of the steering wheel, and they almost crash before Sherman finally takes control. This is the length the female character goes to put the male back in the driver’s seat. Sherman flies and he’s great at it, until Mr. Peabody sees him and says. “Sherman! You can’t fly!” reinforcing that all Sherman needed was a good girl to believe in him. When Sherman crashes, da Vinci runs up to Sherman, who is with Penny in a pile of debris, and says, “You are the first man to fly!” At no point does Sherman say, “No, actually Penny is the first woman to fly.” ARGH. What do my kids– and all kids– learn from this narrative? The same thing they learn from the whole goddam movie: it is the role of the female to help the male, to make him feel good and secure in his role as star, while she is happy and content as the sidekick; that’s where she belongs.

Lean In and Girl Scouts just started a “ban bossy” campaign which I love. But how much hope do these organizations have of getting a different message across when narratives like Penny’s are mass-marketed to little kids?


There’s a lot more I didn’t like about gender in “Mr. Peabody.” Penny goes back in time, not to meet a suffragist or Joan of Arc or Queen Elizabeth, but to be the child bride of King Tut. That narrative is all about her wedding. UGH. If they wanted to do ancient Egypt, couldn’t she at least have encountered Cleopatra? Time and time again, Penny is a damsel in distress/ Minority Feisty who gets to play a small– but crucial role– in her own rescues, and is ultimately saved by Sherman again and again.

The last line of the movie pretty much sums up how males are front and center while girls go missing. Mr. Peabody, watching Sherman go off to school, says, “Every dog needs a boy.” What about a girl? What about at least saying “kid” or “child”? Instead, females don’t exist at all.

I get that this movie is a remake but that’s no excuse to recycle sexism for a new generation of kids. We had three Shrek movies (the first, of course, based on an original story) and in each one, Fiona, a Minority Feisty, gets a smaller part. This is a typical interpretation of “remake.” By the last Shrek movie, the narrative devolves into another father-son story (co-starring Justin Timberlake.) There was a spin off, and still, it was not Fiona, but Puss In Boots who got his own solo movie, featuring the Minority Feisty Kitty Softpaws. When will Kitty get her own movie? Ever? Do your kids even know who she is? The other problem with remakes is that when girls star, in each new incarnation characters like Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, the Powerpuff Girls, get “makeovers” where they get less powerful and more sexualized.

Once again, I write this: I would not have a problem with “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” if it were just one narrative. The problem is the repeated pattern of sexism that kids see again and again and again. Children learn through repetition, and I am beyond sick of this sexism marketed to kids. If you want a refresher of how many movies for kids star males versus how many star females take a look at Reel Girl’s Galleries of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies:

2011 http://reelgirl.com/2011/07/heres-a-visual/

2012 http://reelgirl.com/2012/12/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2012/

2013 http://reelgirl.com/2013/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2013/

2014 http://reelgirl.com/2014/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2014/

Reel Girl rates “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” ***H***




Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013

In 2012, I waited until the last possible minute. It wasn’t until December that I posted Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2012. Even though in the age of the internet, the facts were impossible to miss, I kept hoping that, somehow, I’d overlooked something.

This year, I’m going to face the upcoming year of multi-million dollar sexism marketed directly at my three daughters– ages 3, 6, and 9– head on, in January.

Of the 21 movie posters for young kids pictured below, only 4 appear to feature a female protagonist; 16 seem to feature a male protagonist and 10 are named for that male star. In one case, “Peabody and Mr. Sherman,” the movie is titled for its 2 male protagonists.

Of the 4 movies starring females, just two are titled for the star. It’s the small budget 7 million film from Moscow, “Snow Queen,” that was brave enough to name its film after a female. “Frozen” is the title chosen for Disney’s version, the same movie studio that changed “Rapunzel” to “Tangled,” to obscure its female star. Fittingly, in the poster for “Frozen,” the woman’s image also fades into the background.

Both “Dorothy” and “Epic,” buffer the female on the poster with males, Epic with a constellation of them and “Dorothy” by listing no less than 7 famous male actors.

The poster for “Planes” may look mysterious, but it comes from the producers of “Cars,” a movie which had many more male than female characters. Tellingly, the preview for “Planes” doesn’t show a single female character.

From the position of characters on the poster in “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2,” it looks like the male is the star, but maybe, hopefully I’m wrong. When you look at the poster, try to imagine a gender flip, the female in front and the male’s legs and hip in the female’s red-carpet-ready pose. That image will make you laugh.

If you are going to argue that there could be strong females in all of these movies, even if they are not the star of the movie, that’s not the same. Please read The curse of the Minority Feisty in kid’s movies.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is coming out in 2013 but does not have a poster yet. On imdb.com, it’s described:

Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney Pictures adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.

That movie could be really cool. But why, why, why is the movie called: “Saving Mr. Banks?” If there is a female protagonist in this film, could she be concealed any more?  I know the androgynous “P.L. Travers” is how the writer’s name is shown on her books, but Mary Poppins came out in 1934. The writer had to use the initials to sell her book. Of course, J.K. Rowling opted for the same tactic years later, but hasn’t her success done anything for women writers? The year is 2013. When are writers going to be able to come out as women? Finally, and I hate writing this, and I hope that I’m wrong: From what I see on the internet it looks like the protagonist of the movie is, in fact, Walt Disney played by Tom Hanks.

There’s a movie I’ve heard of with no poster and I’m not sure if it’s coming out: an indie, English dubbed release of the French movie “Ernest and Celestine”

I have not yet seen any of these movies. As I’ve written about a lot on Reel Girl, movie posters are their own media. Even if a kid doesn’t see the movie, she sees the ads drive by her on the sides of buses or loom above her pasted on walls. She hears the movie titles. Not to mention, she sees the protagonists on TV, cereal boxes, diapers, clothing, toys, sheets, and in video games.

The posters below are found from Google images. There are multiple posters, and I chose the one I’m predicting that I’ll see around town. Whenever I see a movie poster on a bus or wall with a female character solo, front and center who is not surrounded by multiple male characters, or when multiple female characters are shown, I rush to post the sighting on Reel Girl.

As you look at the posters below, ask yourself: Who looks like the star/ leader/ protagonist of this movie? What would this poster look like if the positions, number of male characters, and title references were switched to female characters? Why are females, half of the kid population, presented as a minority in children’s films? Why is the imaginary world, a place where anything should be possible, sexist at all?

So here we go.

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2013

Monsters University



Despicable Me


Smurfs 2

Chapter 14 smurfs-2

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson 2 Sea of Monsters


Leo the Lion


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2


Mr. Peabody and Sherman




The Hobbit: There and Back Again


Escape From Planet Earth


Jack the Giant Slayer


Oz the Great and Powerful


The Croods




From Up on Poppy Hill



The Snow Queen





Turbo Movie Poster

Batman The Dark Night Returns