Rare sighting! “The Ballad of Nessie”

Finding a girl lead in an animated kids’ movie may be as rare as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster. Literally. Have you ever heard of “The Ballad of Nessie”? Here’s the poster:

On Friday, I took my four year old daughter to see “Winnie the Pooh.” Before the feature began, there was a super cool short called “The Ballad of Nessie.”

Here’s the official synopsis:

Set in the bonny blue highlands of Scotland, The Ballad of Nessie is a whimsical and colorful tall tale about the friendly Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, and how she and her best friend MacQuack the rubber duck came to live in the moor they now call home. Setting the adventure into motion is a greedy land developer named MacFroogle, who decided to build a mini-golf empire on top of Nessie’s home.

This movie clearly showcases a female character. The narrative is her quest. But did you get that part about “short”? Blink and you’ll miss it (as we almost did because we were late for “Pooh.”) It’s five minutes long.

If you’ve spotted the Nessie poster in your town or city or on TV, please report the sighting to ReelGirl. Even better, take a photo and send it in. And Keep letting ReelGirl know about any other sightings of female leads in kids’ animated movies.

Will the real Winnie the Pooh please stand up?

Many commenters are defending Disney’s Winnie Pooh movie, so I thought I’d respond in one post.

One commenter wrote  that the picture of the Pooh movie featured in ReelGirl’s gallery of girls gone missing from kids movies in 2011 was not the actual movie poster. The commenter wrote that the real movie poster does, in fact, include Kanga. So below is the poster that I think the commenter was referring to. You can see Kanga on the far left along with her male pals Piglet, Owl,  Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore, Rabbit, and her son Roo. (Not pictured: Christopher Robin.)

Other commenters argued the Pooh characters are androgynous. If this is true, why are they played (except for Mom Roo) by male voices? Or, are you all saying that male is the same as androgynous? If that is the point, which some commenters also made, just imagine what it would be like if you every time you read the so-called androgynous “he” you read “she” instead. It would feel strange and jarring and you’d wonder why females were privileged while males were left out. Then, after a while, you’d get so used to males being invisible, the language would seem ‘natural'; you’d stop noticing the exclusion at all.

Still more Pooh defenders wrote: The characters come out of a classic story by A. A. Milne, how can I blame Hollywood?

This point contradicts the former one that the characters are androgynous, but that aside– this is Hollywood! It’s the so-called post-feminist year of 2011. Hollywood adapts and serializes. It’s supposed to know no bounds to its awesome creativity (see interview with Ed Catmull).

Hollywood invents rats that cook (male rats) and lions that pal around with warthogs (male lions, male warthogs) Is it asking too much for Hollywood to stretch its commitment to accurate portrayal of Winnie the Pooh’s Taoist bear or moping donkey to include a few more females in the gang than A. A. Milne, perhaps, initially intended? Pooh’s own advertising on this poster reads: “An all-new story.” Obviously, the remade story is supposed to be part of the appeal. So remake it!

If it is really just asking way too much to include girls in endlessly recycled classics, could Hollywood then, perhaps, opt to create new story lines (and toys, diaper logos, and video games that follow) based on original narratives that star girls front and center not limited to princesses? Can we please stop literally programming every generation to embrace anew thousand year old gender stereotypes?

Girls gone missing: kids’ movie posters in 2011

The year is 2011. You are a seven year old girl looking out the back seat car window. Unless you catch a glimpse of ‘Hoodwinked 2′ or ‘Judy Moody’ these are the pictures you see. In your world, boys are front and center. You are a sidekick or just not there at all.

Update: I’ve updated Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Kids Films in 2011 to include posters that had not been released over the summer when I initially posted the gallery.

I also, sadly, added Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter and love Hermione, but it is true, as commenters pointed out, the movie is clearly Harry’s quest, Harry is the star. The newly added “Hugo” also has a strong girl character, but token strong girls are not enough. Harry Potter and Hugo are also both titled for the male star, whereas Disney execs famously switched the title of Rapunzel to Tangled specifically not to highlight the female star. It’s amazing to me that this blatant sexism goes on in media marketed to little kids.

When kids see, again and again and again, that girls are relegated to supporting roles, both genders learn that girls are less important than boys. This is a terrible lesson for a new generation of children to be learning.

Movies included in the Gallery are ‘appropriate’ for little kids. My three daughters are ages 2 – 8.

 Disney's Winnie the Pooh movie poster

Disney’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ leaves girls out

Here’s the poster for Disney’s new summer movie ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Notice someone missing?

Here’s a hint– I blogged about a poster of Gnomeo and Juliet that had the same invisible issue, in spite of the movie title, no less, though that ratio was 9 to 0.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh movie poster

Here’s the cast of ‘Winnie the Pooh':

Winnie the Pooh

Eyeore

Owl

Christopher Robin

Tigger

Kanga

Piglet

Roo

Rabbit

Disney’s new movie stars eight males and one female. I know this because I’ve been watching Caillou (another boy-starring cartoon named after the boy it stars) on PBS with my two year old daughter. The commercials for summer’s new animated Pooh movie cycle on. So as my daughter meets Tigger and the others (we haven’t seen Kanga yet) she’s learning, once again, that girls are not that important in imaginary world. Just like the real one. So much for telling her she can grow up to be president.

Disney/ Pixar male execs stop movies starring girls

At first it seems like possible good news. Disney/ Pixar announces: no more fairy tales, code for princess movies. Great! No more damsels in distress who end the movie by landing a man. Now we’re going to have a slew of new movies with cool girl heroes who bravely rescue boys from peril, exuding power and beauty by performing all kinds of risk-taking tasks and challenges.

But, no.

First of all, the reason the fairy tale movies are stopping is because Disney/ Pixar executives have decided that little girls aren’t worth making movies for at all.

The LA Times reports the fairy tale movies “appealed to too narrow an audience: little girls. This prompted the studio to change the name of its Rapunzel movie to the gender-neutral ‘Tangled’ and shift the lens of its marketing to the film’s swashbuckling male costar, Flynn Rider.”

Can you imagine if Disney decided to shut down a genre because it only appealed to little boys? Or if they switched a movie title so it wouldn’t risk highlighting a male star? It’s awful that this kind of radical gender discrimination exists for our smallest people– little kids who come into this world with huge imaginations and aspirations, big dreams that get squashed by a bunch of billionaire guys who run massive entertainment franchises.

Disney bigwigs Ed Catmull and John Lasseterwww.businessweek.com Disney bigwigs Ed Catmull and John Lasseter

The LA Times reports:

Alas, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine and the other Disney royals were all born in the 20th century. Now, different kinds of Disney characters are elbowing their way into the megaplexes and toy aisles, including Pixar’s “Toy Story” buddies Buzz Lightyear and Woody, Capt. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and a platoon of superheroes from the recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment.

Do you notice something about the characters listed above? Because neither the LA Times reporter or the Disney execs mention in the article that we are losing girls (Snow White, Ariel, and Jasmine) and getting boys (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Captain Jack Sparrow.) The LA Times goes on to report the current roster of upcoming movies includes, surprise, surprise, three more movies with males in the title roles: “Winnie the Pooh” (along with his all male possy: Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, and Christopher Robin?) and “Joe Jump.”

Disney/ Pixar execs at 82nd Academy Awardswww.zimbio.com Disney/ Pixar execs at 82nd Academy Awards

Remarkably, the men who run Disney/ Pixar, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, go on in this article to congratulate themselves on their originality and creativity. I kid you not! This would be totally hilarious if these guys didn’t have such a hegemony on the kinds of movies– and accompanying toys and accompanying mass-marketing campaigns– our kids are exposed to. But because this boys club completely dominates kidworld, their privileging of males over females with no care at all, their disregard for half the population, is really sad.

Catmull said he and Lasseter have been encouraging filmmakers to break with safe and predictable formulas and push creative boundaries.

“If you say to somebody, ‘You should be doing fairy tales,’ it’s like saying, ‘Don’t be risky,'” Catmull said. “We’re saying, ‘Tell us what’s driving you.'”

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Executives, Producers and stars of www.washingtonpost.com Executives, producers and stars of “Up”

Dude– could you be any more safe and predictable than putting out a line up of kids movies starring males? What’s driving you guys? Gender programming! And you don’t even see it! Or you are just pretending to be that cluless? Don’t you get that you are teaching and training girls starting at the youngest possible age that their roles will be only supporting? You are telling the girls of the world that they exist to make boys look good and to help them along on their cool quests and incredible adventures. How about some real creativity, Lasseter and Catmull? Can you try to imagine a magical world where girls’ stories are valued just as much as boys’ stories are? Where girls and boys are treated equally? Can you make a movie about that?

 

 

Will boys see movies about girls?

I wanted to respond to the following insightful comment by Pepper-Tumeric on my Puff, the Magic Dragon post on sfgate :

…almost all fictional heroes are boys. And I can only speak for myself in saying that, when I was a girl, I noticed this and was saddened. Even Pooh, which I love, has only one female character, and that’s (uh huh) the mom Kanga. Why couldn’t Piglet be a girl? Nobody was going to have sex with each other, so why did he have to be a he? It didn’t make sense to me, and it made me mad that the only female characters I encountered were princesses in peril or mothers. The message that this sent to me, even as a young girl, was that writers and publishers believe that a girl’s only role was to be rescued or to whelp more boys. In most children’s media, girls really are not expected to do anything useful, so a little “girl power,” even when interpreted as you do, feels like progress. My husband used to work at Leapfrog, so I have an insider’s perspective. Publishers slant the fictional universe toward boys because there is a perception, true or not, that while girls will play along with movies/books/etc that feature male characters, boys will not do likewise with female-cast characters. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a financial calculus. But I for one am going to do what I can to skew the calculus the other way for my girl.

 

I totally agree about Pooh. I loved Pooh as a kid. I had a giant one, one of those super cheap toys stuffed with tiny styrofoam balls, the kind of toy that you win at an amusement park. I loved that Pooh until he was an empty yellow bear skin, his red belly shirt completely tattered. But the no girls thing really bummed me out then and now. I read all the Pooh stories and Pooh poems and when I was grown up, I read the Tao of Pooh. As a parent, I read the stories to my kids and still miss the girls. There’s a cartoon now on TV and they have added one girl human to the troop, thank God, so that’s a little progress.

But what I really wanted to respond to was Pepper-Tumeric’s reference to the popular theory: girls will see movies and read books about boys, but boys will not see movies or read books about girls. This is really important because these kids grow up into adults who were trained as toddlers to think its perfectly okay to divide books into great literature or “chick lit” and movies into award winning films or “chick flicks.”

So why not, instead of helping these kids become tiny experts in gender stereotyping, challenge the toddlers (like we do in every other area to help them learn) and transform Hollywood and “great” literature for future generations? It’s just not true that little boys are only interested in movies and books that are about boys and that girls are just totally fine seeing movies all about the opposite gender with no issues at all.

It is true that all kids are self-centered; they want to see themselves reflected out there. But girls get a great deal of practice, early on, just by the sheer amount of books and movies starring boys, to suck it up. They learn to be open to seeing and hearing about the other gender. We ought to teach boys the same thing.

PonyoPonyo 

But instead, a lot of parents feel comfortable when they see their kids neatly fall into established gender stereotypes. It would be great if more parents took their boys to movies starring girls or read them books with multiple girl characters. Teachers too, could select these kinds of books for reading time and assign them to their students. The issue, of course, is complicated by the fact that so many “girlie” books and movies are really bad, often perpetuating the stereotypes we are trying to escape from. There are some exceptions. Ponyo is a great movie that just came out on DVD, a fantastic girlpower version of the horrible movie, The Little Mermaid (where Ariel gives away her voice to land a man.) Ponyo co-stars a very sweet boy who loves and admires Ponyo’s strength and power, so a movie like that could be a good choice to begin the challenge. (It’s also a movie by my all time favorite animator– Hayao Miyazaki.) Part of the reason I started blogging was to create a resource for parents. Please add your suggestions.

 

On this blog, many parents have commented that their boys do actually like books I wrongly assumed they wouldn’t because they appeared too girlie, even if they weren’t actually stereotypical stories. For example, One commenter wrote that her son loves the Rainbow Fairy Series. I had written that though this is is an action-adventure series where two girls have magical powers, are able to fly, rescue fairies from wicked goblins etc, its so girlie looking on the cover, showing the fairies motion-stopped, like pinned butterflies, long hair flowing, mini-skirted, all sparkly, colorful, glittery. This commentator was offended, and wrote her son loves the series which is great. Maybe there are more moms and sons like that out there?

Here’s the thing: even if your boy or girl refuses to see movie about the other gender– at what other time in your parenting do you allow your three year old to dictate your choices? As parents, we always strive to challenge kids out of their comfort zones to help them grow. When it comes to gender, why do we do a 180, letting them advise the executives at Leapfrog what toys to create? These toddlers ought to be awarded multi-million salaries or at least a consultant fee.