Yesterday, I finally (finally) saw Pixar’s Brave.
I both loved it and felt a little underwhelmed. It was a moving film with fantastic characters, enchanting animation and plenty of fun.
It also felt, at times, a little hollow.
I love My Little Pony.
When I was little, I was obsessed. I had the toys, and the Dream Castle, and watched the TV show, and read the comics, and wrote My Little Pony fanfiction — complete with illustrations — in a special notebook. I grew up and moved on (to other obsessions, of course), but I still bought a pony from the supermarket as a good luck, anti-stress totem before my sophomore year of college.
Then My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic started, and as the whole internet seemed to go crazy over it, I decided to watch. And fell in love. It was cute and sweet and endlessly optimistic. It was a popular children’s tv show aimed at girls, about friendship between varied, non-cliche female characters, and it was intelligent and funny and generally fantastic. Just what children’s cartoons need to provide to young girls, and just what a college senior needs during her thesis-writing breaks.
And, as an added bonus, guys loved the show. This cute “girly” cartoon was breaking gender boundaries. Guys were proud to watch it. When I went to London Film and Comic Con, my male friends wore pins of their favorite ponies on their lapels.The existance of male fans does not validate the show or make it better, but it’s refreshing to see guys embracing something that’s labelled “girly” when girly is so often used to mean “bad.”
So I thought. But although there are plenty of lovely, mature “Bronies” (my friends, of course, being two of them), there are also many individuals whose behavior is, quite frankly, disturbing.
The latest controversy, which has got me quite riled up, happened at the Everfree Northwest Convention last weekend. Tumblr user mjolkk has a recap of events here (TW: just… everything. Rape, molestation, sexism, racism, transphobia, general hate).
Transcript and discussion under the cut, with the same trigger warnings.
When I was younger, The Little Mermaid was my favourite movie. I’d sing Part of Your World at the top of my lungs and try to flip my hair out of the bathwater like Ariel emerging from the sea. I loved playing with my Ariel doll, wanted to dress up as Ariel for Halloween, and was generally obsessed like only a 5 year old girl can be.
So when I got older and began to hear people argue that The Little Mermaid was anti-feminist, I was more than a little upset. The movie is criticized, again and again and again, for being a “love story” about a girl who gives up everything to be with a man who she’s never even spoken to. I heard this argument over and over, and my just-getting-into-feminism teenage self started to believe it. I started to distance myself from my love of this movie and its protagonist, because it wasn’t what I was “supposed” to like.
I didn’t (and don’t) love The Little Mermaid as some kind of epic love story. I didn’t long to be a princess who married a handsome prince and lived happily ever after. People who dismiss the movie as an anti-feminist love story are missing important elements of Ariel’s character, her story and her life. The key one, for me? Ariel doesn’t long for romance. Ariel longs to experience a different world.
So here are my top 6 reasons why Ariel is a feminist heroine.
This Japanese trailer for Brave (now subtitled in English!) is made of awesome.
I’ve been excited about this movie ever since I heard about it. Fantasy Scotland! Magic! Bows and arrows! Rebellion! And did I mention that the main character is a girl, for the first time in Pixar history? It is inevitably going to be epic. But so far, the English language trailers haven’t shown much plot-wise.
Luckily, Japan steps in with this epic contribution, and the good bilingual people of Youtube have stepped in to help. Quick plot summary: Merida doesn’t want to marry her stupid prospective princes, so she goes into the forest, looking for ancient magic to change her fate. She ends up breaking the laws of the forest, starting a war, and must fight to fix things before her whole kingdom is destroyed.
It looks exciting and hilarious and heartbreaking and epic, and I cannot wait to see it. Is it June yet??
The trailer for Pixar’s Brave is now out! After recent movies like Toy Story and Up, which, while being completely awesome, suffered from a distinct lack of female characters, it is wonderful to finally see a Pixar movie that puts a bold young girl in center stage.
The narrative of the trailer seems a bit cliche (she doesn’t want to be ladylike! She wants to fight and be awesome!), but you can’t really tell much about the quality of a story from its trailer. The trailer for Tangled made me avoid seeing it for a while, and when I finally watched, it became my favourite Disney movie. And even if the heroine of Brave comes across like a character we’ve seen a few times before, the trailer still excites all kinds of squee in me. Awesome Scottish girl with crazy red hair! Horse riding! Bows and arrows! Mountain climbing! Girl fighting for freedom! Magic and monsters!
It looks like it’s going to be a wonderful adventure movie, reminiscent of the novels of Tamora Pierce, and I for one can’t wait to see it.
I’ll admit it: I love My Little Pony. I watch it religiously every week, partly because my 5-year-old self still squees at the idea of those brightly coloured ponies, but mostly because it is an incredibly enjoyable, well-made show. It also happens to be a bit of a dream for every gender-studies, little-girls-deserve-good-television bone in my grown up body.
My Little Pony is a witty, entertaining cartoon about the troubles and joys of friendship and of trying to find your place as you grow up. Also, it’s about ponies. The show was created by Lauren Faust, who previously worked on The Powerpuff Girls, and it breaks all kinds of cartoony trends, by being entirely about female characters. Well-rounded, interesting individuals, who just happen to be female (and ponies).
Female characters, particularly in children’s shows, typically fall into one of two categories. Either they’re “the girl,” with Smurfette-esque blonde hair and a love of all things pink, or, almost in reaction to this, they’re “the tomboy,” a bad-ass girl who likes “boy” things, like adventuring and fighting, and who hates all things traditionally girly, including girly-girls themselves. There’s nothing wrong with a girl being either of these things, but when they are the only character types on offer, a disturbing message begins to appear. The first type marks girls as “others,” who engage in activities completely different from the rest of the (male) cast, while the second only underlines the idea that “girly” things are inferior, and that girls can only be awesome by separating themselves from these ideas and becoming stereotypically boyish instead. Unpleasant ideas to see at any age, but particularly for young girls, who are beginning to form their sense of their place in the world.
My Little Pony turns all of this on its head by presenting a world where female is the norm. That’s not to say that there are no male characters – one of the main characters is a male dragon called Spike, we see the characters’ male relatives, and many one off or background characters are boys or men. But most of our protagonists are girls, and secondary characters in many positions of power, including the town mayor and the land’s rulers, are female. The result is a show where a girl’s worth is default, and where a female character be pretty much whoever she wants. And this includes both adhering to and breaking ideas of typically “girly” interests, because girls can both fit and differ from stereotype in a myriad of ways and still be complete, valuable people.
So we have Twilight Sparkle, the protagonist pony reminiscent of Hermione Granger. She is a bit of a prodigy when it comes to magic, and she spends all her time studying, until the Princess insists that she head out into the world and learn some social skills as well, because, as the title suggests, friendships are important too. She lives in a library, is a perfectionist, and despite her occasional insecurities, she never shows the slightest embarrassment or receives any resentment over the fact that she is the cleverest (at least in book-learning terms) of any character we see.
Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, is a tomboy pony, who wants to be a flying sports star and be more than a little reckless when it comes to developing her latest tricks. She is also responsible for keeping the skies over Ponyville clear of clouds, and she is extremely talented at her job.
Rarity is a fashionista who runs her own fashion business and dreams of being a world-famous designer. Fluttershy is a quiet, shy pony who loves animals and nature and is incredibly protective of her friends, while Applejack is a hardworking and loyal pony who runs her family’s apple farm. And finally Pinkie Pie, the most “cartoonish” of the characters, works in a bakery and loves throwing extravagant parties for her friends.
These characters are all different, and yet we never once get any sense that any of their personalities are “lesser” or “more feminine.” They never take a backseat in the action. And, despite their differences, they are all friends. They have their problems, but they are self-sufficient, strong, varied individuals who respect and care about one another, and, perhaps more importantly, respect and care about themselves.
And while doing all these wonderful things, My Little Pony has also managed to disprove the oft-heard “truth” in media that boys are not interested in female characters or “girly” things. That male is neutral, but female is for girls only, and so, to be commercially viable, children’s media must focus on boy characters and “boy” troubles. Yet this show is massively popular with the “bronies,” a large group of adult males who passionately follow the show. It even became popular with the 4chan crowd!
And that, I think, is the greatest gift of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It proves that male viewers can be interested in shows built around female characters, as long as the writing is good, which includes presenting fully developed, varied individual characters, engaged in interesting plots. No one, male or female, is interested in watching a television show about a cipher or a walking stereotype. But everyone deserves to see a range of female characters allowed to engage with their world, and with themselves, as fully and enthusiastically as any male character might do.