Wimpy Cartoon Girls Offer Lip Service To Bravery

In our Daddy Issues series, a father of a young daughter seeks guidance, hoping to raise a strong woman. He looks to you, dear readers, for insight.

I'm usually one to get annoyed at children's movies, bemoaning the fact that most of them feature boy characters who do important things while the girl characters stand around and watch.

Gnomeo and Juliet kicked it up a notch, literally gluing the female character's feet to the ground during the pivotal final scenes.

Yaayyy...grrl power?

On the way out of the theater, I asked my daughter who her favorite character was, and without missing a beat she said Juliet, the main girl character. I asked her why.

"Because she was brave and pretty," she smiled.

Brave and pretty. I couldn't shake the image of the final scenes, her feet glued to a rock and waiting for someone to save her. A thought struck me: Does it matter? Do adults read too much into these things? Do kids even notice?

Throughout the movie, Juliet was set up to be daring and brave and fearless, not the "fragile" statue her father thought she was. But these things were merely said about her, and with the exception of a few acrobatic fight scenes (which also, conveniently, served as the first blush of romance), Juliet didn't really do anything brave or daring. Keeping with the Shakespeare motif, I couldn't help but think of her as the anti-Cordelia for kids. Cordelia didn't need to say she loved her father, because she thought her actions had already proved it, whereas this garden Juliet didn't need to actually be brave because her words had already labeled her so.

Nevertheless, the idea stuck. In the eyes of a child, she was brave. Well...ok.

I thought back to another kids movie we watched recently: The Princess and the Frog, the latest Disney princess vehicle. My wife saw it first with the child and came home excited, saying I'd be happy that the princess was continually called "hardworking" and given scenes to prove it. When I finally saw the movie, I was appalled. Yes, the princess was called hardworking and strong and brave, but in the end she decided to give up all her dreams for a man. But not just that, she settled on the idea of remaining a frog forever for her man. (This put me in a moral quandary, incidentally. I'd give up my dreams and become a frog to remain with my wife forever, so why is it a bad thing is a girl decides to do he same? Still, it seems like a bad message to send to little people, boys included: The man is the most important thing. But I digress.)

I'm picking and choosing here, I admit. These were particularly bad examples of media girl power gone awry. I remember Mulan was kind of badass. Violet from The Incredibles fought alongside the rest of her family, and it was up to the wife to save the husband at one point. I liked the recent Despicable Me cartoon — were there even any boy characters in it? The only one I could think of was a young boy on a tricycle ... sitting around ... watching. Score one for the girls.

Still, these are anomalies. It seems every time I switch on a cartoon, the girls are short-shifted, cast as side-kicks or meant to merely look pretty, like a prop. It's nice that at least some movies are trying to do something — at the very least saying the girls are brave. But it'd be nice if more movies actually showed it, too. And while I wonder why they aren't, I'm also wondering if kids really notice?

Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out.