Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Gender Dynamics in Disney Movies of Late

I appreciate the fact that there have been more progressive female characters in Disney movies, from the diligent, hardworking Tiana, to sheltered yet empowered Rapunzel, ambitious race car driver Vanellope von Schweetz, and now bunny policewoman Judy Hopps, as well as many others in the past eight years or so.

These women are paired, romantically or platonically, with a guy, and they go on adventures together, and that's cool.

I've been noticing a pattern in recent Disney movies.

Whenever there's a male-female dynamic, the guy is always the wisecracker, the laid-back one, the easygoing rogue.

The relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in 'Tangled' is a standard dynamic. She's perky, quirky, energetic, and cute, while he's suave, worldly and much more level-headed. We have the same thing with Princess Anna and Kristoff in 'Frozen', and Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde in 'Zootopia'. The girl is often funny, but in a dorky way, while the guy, more often than not, always has an intelligent comeback for everything.

Dashing thief Flynn Rider and cute, sincere Rapunzel
Savvy, rough-around-the-edges Kristoff and naive, previously sheltered Princess Anna
Optimistic rookie cop Judy Hopps and streetwise hustler Nick Wilde

I think they need to create a wisecracking heroine for girls to look up to.

The reason why they don't so far may be because of a society rule that was all but spelled out in 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' episode 'Sally and the Lab Technician', the rule that men always have to be the funny ones, that a girl making wisecracks would scare a guy off.

Furthermore there's the other society rule of "brave boys" and "good girls". A male hero generally has a smart mouth (like Jim Hawkins in 'Treasure Planet' or Hiro in 'Big Hero 6'), while with a female hero (especially Rapunzel and Princess Anna) we laugh at her expense for doing something cute or innocent. This is because the boys are charismatic troublemakers, while the girls are adorably rebellious and have good intentions.

These double standards may not be the reason why. It may just be that since these charming female dreamers are the emotional centres of the movies, they need a foil, who often happens to be male and more experienced, which is necessary for the protagonists' development.

A surprising inversion is 'Bolt', which has the sheltered, idealistic dog Bolt paired with the down-and-out cynic Mittens. But they're non-anthropomorphic animal characters in a film that wasn't the studio's best work so they don't leave enough of an impression to set an example.

I'd like to see them explain the pattern of the male lead often being the one who makes the funny quips.

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