Pixar’s got the Moms!

On Tuesday, I questioned the lack of mothers in the Disney animated universe.  It is interesting to note that that trend is not shared by Disney’s newer branch of animation, Pixar Studios.  Out of 17 animated features, 11 of them include moms of those 11, in 7 of them moms are major characters.  Let’s look at them, briefly.

It all starts, of course, with Andy’s mom.  In all three “Toy Story” films she is a major part of the action.  She brings home Buzz Lightyear, she tries to save Woody from Al, she takes the toys to the daycare.  More importantly, she is gives Andy the time and space he needs to develop his imagination by playing with his toys.  She doesn’t have a name.  She is simply, Andy’s Mom.

As the years have gone on, we have had a wide variety of moms.  In “A Bug’s Life”, the ant queen is ruler and mother.  Mrs. Incredible kicks butt.  Literally.  Neither “Monsters, Inc” or “Finding Nemo” have moms, but their sequels both do.  Russell talks about his mom often in “Up” though we only see her at the end.  “Brave”, Inside Out”, and “The Good Dinosaur” all have active, involved moms whose relationship to the main characters anchors them.  Moms are missing in both the “Cars” franchise and “WALL-E”, but this is perhaps to be expected of movies in which the main characters are machines.  In fact, the only movie that is about a human and doesn’t have a mom in it is “Ratatouille”.  Linguini is an orphan, Pixar’s only orphan.  If we set that against Disney’s record it is startling.  And before you say “Disney has been around longer, of course there’s more!”  Since “Toy Story” was released, Disney animation studios has produced eight theatrical releases in which the main character was an orphan (“Tarzan”, “The Tigger Movie”, “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Lilo and Stitch”, “Brother Bear”, “Meet the Robinsons”, “Frozen”, and “Big Hero Six”).  By any standard, that reflects a trend.

Pixar is often credited for both saving and revitalizing animation as a genre.  One of the ways they have done that by using creative story telling that is not heavily reliant on existing tropes.  Giving characters families connections deepens their character.  The writers have to work a little harder to get us to care about them, but they always seem to get it right.

Thanks, Pixar, for not being afraid to tell the wider story.  Maybe as the two studios become more permeable we will see a rise in Disney moms as well.

 

 

Featured image by Dan the Pixar fan at danthepixarfan.com

The Case of the Missing Moms

It is probably safe to say that you all know that Sunday was Mother’s Day.  My grand plan was to do a post about all the great Disney moms in celebration of the day.  However I encountered a problem with my plan.  If you have seen a fair number of Disney movies you will realize my problem.  Disney is very short on moms.

A recurring theme in Disney films is the loss of mother.  Major characters in the animated features have in common that their mothers are dead (Snow White, et al), removed (Dumbo, Aurora, etc), or disengaged (Mrs. Darling).  Then of course, there’s the whole Bambi drama that scarred oh so many of us for life.  In fact, the first mother character that is actively involved in her children’s life for the entirety of a film is Perdita in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” in 1961.  She was followed by Duchess an impressive nine years later in “The Aristocats”.  You may notice, in addition to being well spaced out both of these characters are animals.  In fact we do not get an active, engaged and present human mom until “Mulan” in 1998.  (Though a case could be made for Hercules’ adopted mom a year earlier.  However he was forcibly removed from his real mom, so I’m putting him in the mom-less category.)  This trend is much bigger than storytelling coincidence.

Why does Disney actively avoid giving their main characters moms?  It is a question that bears looking at.  Even when they choose to give their characters a single parent it is overwhelming a single father.  The evil step mother trope is used repeatedly as is the story of the stolen child.  And while it is not surprising that certain stock story forms are repeated in an 80 year old history, the single mom doesn’t appear until “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009.  (You’re going to say ‘Andy’s Mom’ to me and I’m going to say Pixar films break this trend and I will talk about them separately on Thursday.)  The poor widow woman raising her child is also an established trope that Disney has entirely ignored in their 80 year history.  Again I ask, why?

It can’t be about marketing.  If you look around movie theaters, Disney parks, and stores it is the moms who are there.  If fact, moms are the primary decision makers for purchases involving children and family.  We are who Disney should be marketing to.  It’s not about demographic.  Disney fans are predominately female.  We are predisposed to  be interested in Disney products and services.  In fact, Disney has a solid lock on the mom demographic.  So why are we not on the screen? It makes no sense.

I have no answers about why Disney vanished the mothers from their stories.  I don’t know if anyone does.  What I do know is that it is past time for that trend to change.  Bring on the the moms!  We are here and we are wating.

 

Higitus Figitus

As I have mentioned, I am moving.  The packing is getting old.  I am not quite to the stage of just wanting to walk away and leave it all behind, but I can feel it coming.  There is always that balancing point between feeling like I’ve got a good handle on things and panic that there will never possibly be enough time to pack everything.  Then there’s the debate about what to pack when.  It’s probably safe to pack my fondue pot, but what about the rice cooker?  I can get through the next several weeks without my chopsticks, but I will definitely need the blender.  What can go, what needs to stay, and what happens when I reach the the point when I no longer care?  I’ve done this before and every time I’m sure I am going to do a better job.  I am actually convinced at this point that unless I learn Merlin’s magic packing spell there will once again be chaos.

I remember watching this scene from “The Sword in the Stone” as a child and finding it entertaining.  As an adult, I mostly feel jealousy.  I would love to sing a little song and pack up my house in under two minutes.  Sadly, I have to do it all the old fashioned way with boxes and tape and time.  And it seems like the more I pack, the more there is left to pack.  It makes no sense, but there you are.

Moving is exciting, packing not so much.  It very quickly becomes drudgery and obligation.  The redemptive work of purging and simplifying gives way to ‘get all this stuff ready to go’.  Sadly the busyness of packing seems to get in the way of the actual leave taking.  It is hard to find time to say goodbye, when there is so much work to do.  Maybe that’s why we do it.  Pack and sort and clean enough and you don’t have to think about what you’re leaving behind.  Perhaps our piles of boxes are a cocoon to keep us safe as we transition for one place to another.  We can build a wall that lets us deal with our emotions in a controlled manner when we have the time for them.

Or I may just be over thinking.

I still want that magic spell.

Missing the olden days

I always get a little nostalgic when I am planning a Disney trip.  There are people and experiences I miss because they are no longer there.  The story I always tell (The Princess can attest to to this) is about my very first trip to Disneyland.  I rode Adventure thru Inner Space approximately four bazillion times.  Since it was a sponsored ride, it didn’t need a ticket (an experience I don’t miss) and I loved it!  For those of you who do not remember this ride I will describe it to you in all its glory.  Or at least as much glory as my five-year-old self remembered.

At it’s heart, Inner Space was a educational exhibit.  I didn’t realize that at the time.  Nor did I ever really realize on this trip that attractions contained special effects.  I thought the tiki gods really made it rain outside and there was actually a ghost sitting next to me in our doom buggy.  This, I’m sure, made for a challenging trip for my mother.  This is also, I am sure why Inner Space fascinated me so much.

As we entered the queue, the only part of what I am now sure was an elaborate lead in for the ride that I remember was seeing was a series of ‘windows’ showing riders being shrunken down in size.  In reality there was a series of convex lenses that distorted the reality of the view, but I had no concept of that (gullible five-year-old, remember?).  As we boarded our atommobile it was explained that we would be shrinking just like the people I had seen while I was waiting and that is what happened.  I still remember shrinking into the snowflakes and being fascinated .  We continued to shrink as molecules and atoms were explained and I had a moment of panic that we wouldn’t be able to get back to our regular size.  Fortunately, we were retrieved, restored to our proper size, and sent on our way.  I was amazed and astonished and wanted to do it again.  And again.  And again.  Every time I got off the ride I greeted my family members (who eventually gave up and took turns riding it with me) with some variation of the phrase, “Look!  I made it back!”   They, bless their hearts, indulged me.  It was the last ride I rode that day before we headed out and it has (obviously) stayed with me.

I didn’t return to Disneyland for 17 years.  As an adult, I was prepared for things to be a little less magical.  I knew there were no ghosts.  Animatronic tiki gods could not make rain.  There was no way of shrinking people to the size of an electron.  In spite of this I was excited to see these attractions again.  Sadly, while my other two remembered attractions still lived up to expectations, Adventures in Inner Space was gone.  I looked and looked for it.  I couldn’t remember what it was called but managed to explain it to a cast member who knew what I was talking about.  He informed me that Star Tours was now in that spot.  My heart broke just a little.  Okay, maybe a lot.  I have only five vivid memories of that trip when I was five.  One was negative, one was year specific (bicentennial), and one was Inner Space.  That left me two things to revisit as an adult.  It also left me only two things to share with The Princess years later on her first trip.  We made new memories.  We always do.  But a small part of me will always be that five-year-old girl who will never be able to ride her favorite ride again.

In my head I know change is good.  My heart has a harder time.  I somehow wish that things could change while simultaneously remaining exactly the same.  This is the never ending struggle of life and ministry and I am not the only person who struggles with this dynamic.  This cannot stay the same.  There is no room for new things unless some of the old is cleared away.  For Disney, replacing Inner Space with Star Tours was a decision that seems prescient in retrospect.  But for some of us, no matter how much we love Star Tours (and I do) there will always be a small grief in that place.  This is the story of our lives writ small.  Change is inevitable and grief over that change is too.  But we cannot allow that grief to hold us back and keep us from discovering new opportunities before us.

Mob Mentality

“Beauty and the Beast” is a fairly simple movie on its surface.  Look deeper than someone’s outer beauty to find who they truly are.  It falls a little short when we realize that the heroine is literally named ‘Beauty’ and the Beast turns into a handsome prince at the end.  But, whatever.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  Got it.  There are some other lessons, though buried deeper in the film that often get overlooked.  One of these is how easily Gaston manipulates the otherwise harmless villagers into a murderous mob.

In ‘The Mob Song’ there is a deeply hidden truth of human natures. “We don’t like what we don’t understand.  In fact, it scares us.”  It should come as no great surprise that this lyric was written by a HIV+ gay man in the early 90’s.  At the time there was no group more demonized because of fear and a lack of understanding.  Sadly, as we look around the world in which we live there is no lack of people who seem to be living live with this phrase as their guiding principle.

For me, the problem with the phrase is not in the truth of it.  It is good to recognize not only our own lack of understanding, but our fear.  When we realize that there is something we don’t know, we can educate ourselves.  When we realize that we are afraid, we can take steps to overcome that fear.  The problem arises when we start to believe that fear and lack of understanding are acceptable.  When we, like the mob, are encouraged in those beliefs by someone who has something to gain or when we find comfort with like minded people and see no reason to change.  That is dangerous behavior, not just for the people we direct it to, but to ourselves as well.

When we draw lines out of fear we don’t just close people out, we close ourselves in.  We limit our range of experience.  We stop growing as people.  While we may be ‘safe’, we will not be challenged. We will never learn new things about ourselves or our world.  We make ourselves smaller living inside the lines.  Fear does not make us stronger.

I am not saying that fear is not sometimes an appropriate reaction.  If someone walked into this coffee shop right now waving a gun, I would not first seek understanding and dialog.  I would hide behind a couch and call 911.  I would not hide behind a couch if someone in a turban, hoodie, or hijab sat down next to me.  In fact, in the course of my life many and varied people have asked to sit next to me on buses and trains, in restaurants and parks. I must look ‘safe’ to a lot of people.  I feel like it is my job to treat them with the same respect.

I want my world to be large, and colorful, and diverse.  I want to live my life in understanding, not fear.  I don’t like the things I don’t understand, but I want my first reaction to be curiosity not fear.  I do not want to be part of the mob.  I want to be an individual who agrees or disagrees with others but who always seeks to understand.

 

Mouse on the Move

I am officially moving to a new church.  For those of your unfamiliar with Methodism, this is a thing that happens.  Methodist pastors are appointed a year at a time at the discretion of our Bishop.  While we rarely get moved after only a year, we do move quite regularly.  This year it’s my turn again.

It’s an interesting thing to go through your whole life and evaluate it.  What gets to move, what has to stay, what finds a new home.  It is sobering.  You question why you have the things you have.  For example I own about a dozen assorted vases.  There is no way I am ever going to have a dozen bouquets of fresh flowers at the same time.  I often will not have that many in a year!  I am saving a couple in various sizes and the rest are going away.  That’s an easy one.  It is much harder to give away books, yarn, and those things that I ‘just might need again’.  I am trying to stay strong.

The other part of this relocation is getting to do all the local things I want to do.  Some are things that I have been putting off, but have now run out of time.  Some are things I’ve done already but want to do one last time.  I can’t leave the area without going to the local burger joint one last time!  It would be wrong.  The list goes on and unfortunately eats into the time I have for packing.  Moving gives you the very real lesson, “You can’t do everything”.  Perhaps that’s a good thing.

As stressful and chaotic as all this is, it is also deeply therapeutic.  It is freeing to go through things and realize that you no longer need or want them.  The notions of simplifying and minimizing are good ones to have.  Keep only what is necessary and/or important.  Let everything else go.  I have no delusions that this impulse will stay throughout the process (especially at the end when it’s just easier to throw everything in a box), but right now I like it.  We could all probably due with a little more minimalism in our lives.

I have often asked churches to examine their ministries in this same way.  Without fail, no program of the church is ever viewed as unnecessary.  From Rummage sales to study groups that exist solely for two people nothing can be ended or done away with.  While honoring the outreach that those programs have in their own scope, I often question if they are necessary.  Some of these ministries have been around for 40 years and are no longer meeting the needs they once did.  When we spend time and effort on these ministries that are no longer effective, we do not have the time or energy to spend on something new and different that might meet a need that has emerged more recently. Periodically we need to purge.

It’s a hard thing to let things go but sometimes it is necessary.  In order to move on to what is next, some things must stay behind.  That is the reality of moving and it applies to churches as well as people.  Sometimes we move the best when we are unencumbered by the past.

“And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.”

Luke 9:3

Where are the female sidekicks?

If you look at the featured image you may notice something about all our favorite Disney sidekicks.  They are all male.  This began to get my attention when I was writing my series on the Disney Princesses.  When you look at how much dialog is spoken by women, you begin to notice ow few characters are women.  And while Disney does a good job alternating between male and female protagonists, they actually are fairly terrible at diversifying their second tier characters.

As I was sifting through my movie knowledge trying to think of female sidekicks, I was sure that I was forgetting some.  Turns out I wasn’t forgetting, there just aren’t that many to remember.  After doing a search I was fairly shocked at how few there are.  For your enjoyment, I have compiled a list for you.

Laverne, Mrs. Potts, & Rita

Let’s start with the women who were sidekicks, but were part of a team.  Each of these characters shared the role with men and were in every case outnumbered by the men.  They feel like token characters in movies that were otherwise too male dominated.  Adding one small character doesn’t actually solve that problem, it just highlights it.

 

aurora fairies

The Good Fairies are also a team, but I have included them separately as they are an all female team.  Not surprisingly with a heroine, a female villain, and three female sidekicks; “Sleeping Beauty” has one of the highest ratios of women speaking.  Interestingly, in an interview I just watched in is often rated the worst of all Princess movies by men.

Tinkerbell

tinkerbell

Perhaps the most famous of all Disney sidekicks, Tinkerbell has moved beyond the sidekick role to main character in her own right.  She has her own series of movies (more than Peter Pan whose sidekick she is) and is one of the icons of the Disney company.  While she has come into her own in recent years, as a sidekick she was a silent character.

Terk

Terk

The first female to step into a traditional sidekick role is Terk.  She is comic relief, confidant, and last minute rescuer.  She does all the things we expect a sidekick to do regardless of gender.  Considering “Tarzan” was released in 1999, it only took Disney animators 62 years to figure this out.  Unfortunately, the lesson was not a lasting one.

Dory

dory

The next proper sidekick came in “Finding Nemo”.  Dory was Marlin’s foil as he crossed the ocean to find his son.  She was his opposite and complemented his character perfectly.  Like Tinkerbell before her, she went on to even greater success as a main character earning her own movie.

Venellope Von Schweetz

venellope

Finally, (yes already) we have Venellope.  This is a questionable one for me.  She seems to be an equal protagonist with Wreck-It-Ralph, but is classified as a sidekick.  Without her story and goals Ralph would have nothing to do in the movie.  Maybe this is how Disney keeps her out of the official Princess line-up (but that is another blog).

So there you have it.  With over 70 feature films released by Walt Disney animation Studios and Pixar combined over 80 years, seven of them have female sidekicks.  And in three of those seven the woman share screen time with a team of men.  Of the four that are left, in only one does a woman get female sidekicks.  Aurora has her fairies, the other three sidekicks back up male characters.

Why are women so conspicuously missing?  This is not a small oversight.  This is 90% of Disney films that exclude women from roles.  This is a disturbing statistic.  Considering the heavily female demographic of all things Disney, you would there would be an effort to incorporate female characters beyond princesses and barely named servants.  Show girls especially that they are more.  They can be funny, opinionated, or downright weird and there is still a place for them.  They don’t have to be rescued.  They don’t have to be pretty or perfect.  They can have mental issues (thank you, Dory).  They can be unfriendly (thank you, Tinkerbell).  They can be different (thank you, Terk).  They can be a loner (thank you, Venellope).  They can, in fact, break the mold that society insists they belong in and still have an important and valuable place in this world.  So while I appreciate characters like Moana, who show girls their power.  I also think we need a female Heihei, because everyone needs permission to be a crazy chicken, too.