‘Smurfs 2′ and the Minority Feisty: Bad Brunette vs Good Blonde

My expectations were low but “Smurfs 2″ surpassed them.

Not only does “Smurfs 2″ feature the famous posse of too many to count males accompanied by just one female, but this movie is all about fathers. A movie for kids centered on fatherhood could be great, but when the Smurfs are already so creepily male dominated, the erasure of mothers is alarming and disturbing. The good, golden-haired female pitted against the evil, dark-haired female trope, central to “Smurfs 2,” is so tired in kid fantasy world (not to mention the grown-up world) that I was slack jawed to see it again, even though, of course, I shouldn’t have been. That’s why it’s a trope, right?

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Did you know that evil Gargamel created Smurfette as a ploy to infiltrate the Smurfs? That’s right, Smurfette, the only female Smurf, isn’t even a real Smurf. It’s only when Papa Smurf comes to care for Smurfette as a daughter that he uses a magic potion to transform her. At that point, not only does he change her skin to blue but her hair to blonde, thus becoming Smurfette’s true father.

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“Smurfs 2″ opens with that backstory and then brings us to present day with a scene showing the Smurfs gawk at Smurfette as she swishes her blonde locks around in slow-mo. But there’s trouble in paradise: every year on her birthday, Smurfette is haunted by a dream in which she once again turns evil, and her hair, once again, turns brown.

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Cut to Gargamel who has created/ fathered a new race: the Naughties. Evil, dark-haired Vexy has a similar mission to Smurfette’s years ago. Gargamel sends to Vexy to infiltrate Smurfville to recover his “daughter,” hoping that Smurfette will reveal to him the secret potion Papa Smurf used to turn her into a Smurf, thus Gargamel can create Smurfs himself.

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Cut to the human world where Patrick is having a birthday party for his son, Blue, to which his father, Victor, arrives. (Got that? Three generations of males.) Victor serves the kids corn dogs that happen to be fried in peanut oil. A young party guest has an allergic reaction, and the celebration is ruined. That’s the latest in a long line of events that lead to Patrick’s deep frustration with his loving but bumbling father. Turns out, Victor is not Patrick’s biological father, but his step father. Patrick’s “real” father walked out on him years ago. So you see, the conflict of true paternity experienced by Smurfette– wondering if her “real” father Papa Smurf or Gargamel– is mirrored by the Patrick’s own dilemma: can his step-father be his “real” father?

Both Papa Smurf and Gargamel essentially “give birth” without any need of females, kind of like our own Judeo-Christian creation myth and its independent and endlessly resourceful male God. While Smurfette has no mother at all, Patrick’s mother is hardly mentioned in the movie. I couldn’t even tell if she’s dead or alive.

Now, for the good news. There are three Minority Feisty in this movie. This was my first Smurf movie so I don’t know if that’s a record, though the pathetic female to male ratio is of course where the term, the Smurfette Principle, originated from. In case you don’t know what Minority Feisty means here’s a cut and paste from Reel Girl’s review of “Planes.”

Today, if you see a movie for children, it will most often have a male protagonist, while females, who are, in fact, half of the kid population, are presented as if they were a minority. Within that minority, there will be a strong female or two who reviewers will invariably call “feisty.” I call these characters the “Minority Feisty.” The trope has evolved from the Smurfette principle in that there is often more than one, and she is presented as strong. But rarely is she the protagonist. Her power, lines, and screen time are carefully and consistently circumscribed to show that she is not as important as the male star. Still, the Minority Feisty is supposed to pacify parents, making them feel that, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear, this movie is contemporary and feminist.

Smurfette spends most of the movie as a captured damsel in distress who the male smurfs, and mostly male humans, must rescue, but like most Minority Feisty, she has her moments of courage and brilliance. Also, upon befriending her enemy, Vexy, while Smurfette never says, “I want to stay with you because I can’t stand being the only female in Smurfville,” she does express joy at having the sister she never did.

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Grace is another Minority Feisty. She’s Patrick’s wife, Blue’s mom, and she’s cool and brave. But the central human, with the conflict and the transition, not to mention the lines and the screen time, is clearly Patrick.

Vexy is an okay Minority Feisty. I enjoyed her badness and watching her transition. Did you read that part about transition? We now have–are you ready– 2 female Smurfs! And Vexy stays brunette. Thus with “Smurfs 2,” the Smurfette principle truly evolves into the Minority Feisty: two females and one of them is a bad-ass. Is that progress or what? According to the Geena Davis Institute, at this rate, it will be only 700 years before we get gender equality in the fantasy world.

Reel Girl rates “Smurfs 2″ ***SS*** for gender stereotyping

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

 

 

The Smurfette principle ‘evolves’ into the Minority Feisty

This year, children will get to see Smurfs 2:

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See that lone, blonde Smurfette surrounded by 5 male Smurfs?

This is a poster for just one of 21 children’s movie posters coming out in 2013. All but 4 movies for young kids feature male protagonists. Of the “female-centric” films, “Dorothy of Oz” lists 7 famous male actors at the top of its poster. “Epic” shows the female protagonist surrounded males. Only two movies with female protagonists are titled for the female while 10 of the 16 movies with male protagonists are titled for the male star. Please look at Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013. It looks like this year will be the worst one for female characters in movies for young kids since I started Reel Girl.

Back in 1991, feminist critic Katha Pollitt wrote about the ‘Smurfette principle‘ for the New York Times: the idea that kids’ narratives too often allow just one lone female character to exist in a group of males.

Here is the “progress” 22 year later: girls are half of  the kid population, but in movies for young children, females are presented as a minority. If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include one or two strong female characters 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. She is the Minority Feisty.

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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.

There can be 1, 2, or 3 Minority Feisty in a children’s film. (The term is like “fish,” it can be singular or plural.) Whatever the number, the gender ratio will heavily favor male characters.

Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the “feminist” character(s) distract you. Except for the pink ghetto, in children’s films females are presented as a minority. This is the definition of marginalized. When your children go to the movies, they learn that boys are more important and get to do more things than girls.

On tvtropes.org, a link to my blog described the Minority Feisty as “essentially a more modern take on the Smurfette Principle.” In response, someone protested: “the term Minority usually points to racial minority as opposed to gender.”

Exactly. Females are not a minority, yet they are presented as one in films for children. Why?

Here is an interesting correlation: 16% of protagonists in movies are female. All across America, in most professions, women at the top don’t make it past 16%. Children’s movies normalize an entire new generation to a world where females go missing.

 

 

See “Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?,” a great post by Peggy Orenstein on the Minority Feisty issue