Best movies for kids? Five new releases rated for gender stereotyping

I’ve been MIA finishing up my book. Though my time blogging is currently reduced, my time spent watching movies with my 3 daughters ages 5, 8, and 11, is not. I’ve consolidated my recent reviews into one post.

Please remember that showing your children media where powerful, complex females are front and center is important for both girls and boys to see. (If you don’t know why, please read this.)

Reel Girl attributes 1 – 3 S’s for gender stereotyping or 1 – 3 H’s for heroines.

“Strange Magic”


I hated “Strange Magic” so much, that I felt compelled to post here even though I have negative time. As I watched the trailer, at first I was excited for this movie. The preview features a female saving the world. What could be better than that? I started to get suspicious when the trailer announced in giant block letters: FROM THE MIND OF GEORGE LUCAS. In the mind of Margot Magowan, the creator of this blog, George Lucas is more known for gender stereotyping than genius. I’ve written extensively about male domination and “Star Wars” from the tiny minority of female characters in the movies, to how my daughter was teased by her gender police peers in pre-school for wearing “Star Wars” shoes for boys to the prevalence of kids’ toys and books showing Leia in her slave costume. I became even less hopeful about “Strange Magic” when, on the way to the movie theater, my daughter told me Lucas said that “Strange Magic is ‘Star Wars’ for girls.” How condescending is that? He compares this shitty, little movie about a love potion to an epic? At even if “Strange Magic” were good, why bifurcate of children’s media into “for boys” or “for girls?” All that duality accomplishes is to create further gender splits and stereotyping on what girls are supposedly like versus what boys are supposedly like. Even in the girl empowerment movement, too often, movies that star girls are recommended as great movies for girls. Children get trained that stories about girls are at best, special interest and at worst, don’t matter much. Then, in the grown up world we then see something like the Academy Awards nominee list for 2015 where movies about females are, once again, not considered important at all.

Beyond all of these initial feelings I had about the movie, it sucked. Totally. I can’t be more clear. It is all about love, because you know, girls they love to love. Everyone is singing about love in a cheesey medley that lasts for the entire movie. I felt like I was watching a bad video that wouldn’t stop. I almost never get bored in movies, and I was bored out of my mind. “Strange Magic” is basically another– yet another— beauty and the beast story. It’s not creative, a stereotype, and a rip off. The best part was the mushrooms playing telephone. I’m not giving “Strange Magic” a Triple S because the protagonist is female (though you can’t tell that from the poster she’s gone missing from) and she has moments of bravery.

Reel Girl rates “Strange Magic” ***SS ***


Part of the reason it’s so challenging to recognize sexism in stories for children is because we grew up with these narratives. We’re attached. I feel this way about Paddington. I loved him when I was a kid. I had several plush versions of him, and I read all the books about him. I wanted to love marmalade because Paddington did. I was devastated when I finally tired it and had to run to the garbage to spit it out. (I still don’t get the love, it’s orange rind, right? Who would like orange rind besides a bear and maybe the British?)

I liked the movie. I thought it was true to the book. I would’ve called “darkest Peru” just Peru. But in a nutshell, the movie made me laugh. My 5 year old was in stitches. Nicole Kidman is good as the villain. Her role is similar to the evil woman she played in “The Golden Compass.” Unfortunately, her character uses her womanly wiles to manipulate; she is called “Honeypot” while her ga-ga male partner is has the code name “Fierce Eagle.” The dad in the movie dresses as a woman (ha ha.) A maid. A male goes ga-ga over him (ha ha ha). And of course, Paddington is the main character in his eponymous movie. The mom and the sister have pretty big parts for supporting roles but these roles are, of course relegated to supporting.

Besides the humor, the main reason I liked “Paddington” is because it’s well plotted. There is foreshadow, climax, and transitions for all the characters. Perhaps I was so impressed with the structure because I’m currently writing a book and studying these phases. And perhaps, the other reason I liked Paddington is nostalgia. So, I’ll leave you with this: If you’re choosing between “Strange Magic” and “Paddington,” see “Paddington.”

Reel Girl rates “Paddington ***S***


I loved Selma. I cannot fucking believe it was not nominated for an Academy Award and that the director, Ana DuVernay, was also overlooked. In 2015, a black female has never been nominated for a Best Director Academy Award.

Yes, the movie is about a legendary man, Martin Luther King Jr., but the narrative focuses on this particular time in his life and the people around him. It’s always annoyed me how biographies of MLK (and Ghandi) leave out the disrespect these men showed for the women around them. “Selma” addresses King’s philandering and the effects of his behavior on his wife. The movie also addresses female leaders in the movement, and the stories of the women who were around King.

There is violence in “Selma.” After checking Common Sense Media, which is a great resource for specific examples of sex/ violence in movies (but pretty negligent about gender stereotyping) I decided to take my 8 year old along with the 11 year old. At one point when an officer hit a protester,  perhaps because I gasped, my younger daughter, who always studies my reactions, said: “Why did you take me to this?” She covered her face. I told her. “This really happened. It’s part of history. People were beat up and killed just because of their skin color.” The movie also includes the scene where the 4 girls are burned in their church, also a horrific moment in history. If you read this blog, you know I believe in protecting children from stories they are not ready for. Kids need to feel strong and secure so they can be healthy, grow, and take risks. Dumping adult narratives and adult problems on young children can be abusive. Taking all this seriously, thinking about it, witnessing my daughter’s reaction, I’m glad I took her to see “Selma.” At the end of the movie, she said she liked it and asked me a ton of questions about MLK. I recommend the movie for children 8 and up, but it’s a choice that depends on you and your kid.

Reel Girl rates “Selma” ***H***

“Into the Woods”

You should see this movie with your kids just for the Red Riding Hood character. She is well acted, a great singer, and she cracked me up. Emily Blunt  is also excellent playing a baker’s wife who is desperate for a child. After the witch (played by Meryl Streep,) gives the baker and his wife a list of tasks, Blunt seems like she’s ready to take them on. For a split second, I thought she might be the protagonist of the movie. But the baker steps in (of course he did, she’s the baker’s wife) and tells her its too dangerous. He will go into the woods. (I’ve got to add here that over Christmas, my daughters and I saw Rudolph’s dad say the same thing to Rudolph’s mom when he goes off to search for his son. This scene happens all the time in movies for kids, years ago and now. We re-interpret and change fairy tales, but we can’t change this?) Not only is Blunt not the hero, she dies after she kisses another man who is not her husband. Meryl Streep, as always, is fantastic but her character is obsessed with being young and “beautiful.” I enjoyed “Into the Woods” and it’s scattered moments of female empowerment, but it’s not feminist.

Reel Girl rates “Into the Woods” ***H***


I was really annoyed that “Mockingjay” was split into two parts. Unlike the final Harry Potter book which was also divided in two, the “Mockingjay” narrative could easily have fit into one movie. While I saw the two earlier movies in the series on opening day, for this one, I took my time. My 11 year old and I saw “Interstellar” and “Beyond the Lights” before we went to “Mockingjay.” My expectations were low, and I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t bored for a second. I didn’t think the movie was slow. I loved seeing Julianne Moore as the president, and I also appreciated in a bittersweet way, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Jennifer Lawrence playing the incredible Katniss, as always, is amazing. Because the movie was slowed down, I got an interesting perspective on how a revolution is planned and a movement is built.

Down to the last scene, “Mockingjay” is a manipulative money grab designed to pull us in, to get us to fork out money for two movies instead of one. I think a lot of fans feel like the same way, and that’s why the third movie didn’t make as much money as the first and second. That said, I’m hooked. I can’t help it. I’ll be first in line to pay for Part 2.

Reel Girl rates “Mockingjay” ***HHH***

More Reel Girl posts on new releases for kids and gender stereotyping:

Beyond the Lights ***HHH***

Annie  ***HHH***

Interstellar **HH**