Brave goes where every Disney film has gone before

I’m an unabashed fan of mahou shojou as a genre in anime, but in American animation the trope of the oppressed girl who takes control of her own destiny has been done to death:

Ariel: follows her heart for true love despite overbearing father (and saves the day)
Belle: follows her heart for true love despite overbearing society (and lifts the curse)
Jasmine: follows her heart for true love despite overbearing law (and kicks some ass)
Pocahontas: follows her heart to save her people despite overbearing Clash of Civilizations (and gets the guy)
Mulan: follows her heart to save China despite overbearing culture (and gets the guy)

meanwhile, how do the Boys of Disney/Pixar fare?

Aladdin: lies about who he is, chases the girl, marries into royalty
Nemo: gets lost

Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story franchises meanwhile aren’t about boys at all – every character is basically an adult. It’s like a fantasy analogue to The Office.

The only two recent Disney stories with any real meaningful characters in them for boys are in Lion King and Brother Bear, and in both cases these are more about society and responsibility rather than any message about finding your own path. Cars doesn’t count, because it’s not about an ordinary “boy” it’s about Michael Freakin’ Jordan (note to storytellers: a superstar celebrity athlete has advantages that regular boys do not).

Ok, Ratatouille was sort of about that, but since it revolved around RATS and FOOD the message was kind of lost, especially since the boy in question had a rat (literally) pulling his strings (literally). And the boy in The Incredibles did have to come to terms with being Super but he had like 5 minutes of screen time, half of which was the admittedly awesome running-on-water-chuckle-in-amazement bit. Pinocchio was about the last movie from Disney that I can think of that had any kind of self-reliance and follow-dreams message, but that was decades ago.

And now we have Brave, Disney/Pixar’s latest:

The funny thing is that there’s all this antipathy towards Disney’s treatment of girls as forcing them into some kind of unhealthy self-image. I don’t see it at all, and believe me as the father of two young girls I am hyper-sensitive to it.

I’d just like to see a movie from Disney/Pixar for once where the main character is a young boy, who follows his heart and defies his own society and culture, and achieves something more than just mere personal happiness, but actually makes a difference.

6 thoughts on “Brave goes where every Disney film has gone before”

  1. Of course, it isn’t just Disney. The entire American entertainment industry has spent the last 20 years denigrating what are generally considered to be the traditional male virtues. There have been exceptions (e.g. “300”) but most movie males now are half-castrated wimps.

  2. I think we are complaining about two different things, Steven – I don’t see any shortage of manly man men on screen, and in fact it’s the singular message sent by Hollywood: the ideal male is not an intelligent thinker or a responsible adult, but an oversized adolescent who thinks with his penis and his biceps and who is reward with the hot girl’s attention. I don’t know how many movies you watch but nearly all the big summer blockbusters – the ones most likely to be seen by impressionable young men – faithfully adhere to this mold. Look at the Transformers franchise, Fast and Furious, Bond films, all the recent Marvel franchise superhero flicks, etc.

    However Hollywood does do it right when the big summer season has passed. The Harry Potter films and the new Batman films are good examples of honorable male role models who think their way out of their problems (but who do have a reserve of supernatural prowess to draw on when it counts, of course).

    Thats Hollywood. But Disney is a different category – these are films aimed at children. The distinction is important, and in this regard my complaint is not that the male characters are “wimps” but that they are basically non-existent. They serve to service the plot, and the plot revolves around something other than their own character and growth and self-value. The contrast with the girls in Disney films is stark because the girls are all about self value and growth. I just want parity.

    I really don’t agree that males are “wimps” in film. And I definitely don’t want an injection of testosterone into children’s animation, either.

  3. While I agree that most Disney movies are geared toward young girls, they are only playing to their key audience. Most young boys want to see G.I. Joe type of movies which doesn’t really suit the Disney image.

    By the way, I think you’re failing to remember “Meet the Robinsons” which had an orphan BOY question who he was and learn who he will become if he follows the right path.

  4. Without even giving it any serious thought, I can think of The Sword in the Stone, The Rescuers Down Under, The Black Cauldron, Hercules, Bolt (an odd example but it fits), all of which feature a strong, central young male character. I’d argue even Tangled had a really strong male character in Flynn, who was as important as Rapunzel was.

    The problem isn’t that Disney doesn’t have strong male characters, its just that they focus their brand almost exclusively towards the female audience, so only those characters get significant spotlight in ads and merchandise.

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