A Little Princess was made in 1995, twenty years ago. Twenty years! Has anything changed in the film industry in the interim? Yes, looking on the positive side, some things have. We have better films and better-written scripts. Also, nowadays with movies aimed at the younger generation, we usually get a nod in our direction, too. A wink at us, oldies. Companies like Pixar make intelligent films. Yet, the mission statement of the film industry remains the same: whatever happens, she (Always a she. apparently characters in children's films are not allowed to be gay) marries the guy at the end. Don’t believe me? Exhibit A: Frozen. I was looking forward to watching it with my film club (silly me, every single member had already seen it and knew the songs by heart) because I was told that the story was so original and the score was so original, too, and the animation was so... well, you get my point.
|A change is gonna come?|
Bloody Frozen. Or should I say: Bloody Frozen? That is how I felt after the final credits rolled up. Beyond cold. What’s so original about a girl who depends on a man to save her sister? There was a moment in the film when Elsa is on the verge of confessing her secret to her sister Anna and I willed her – actually willed her! – to make a comment along the lines of: You know what, Anna, I’m dating Nigel Farage. There, I’ve said it. I know he is married to that German woman but I also know that he can’t tell Teuton from Slavic. It’s all the same to him. We have similar opinions, too. I mean, have you seen all these bloody foreign princes coming here to eat our food? At least I would have hated her, but hated with passion and with good reason. But no, we got another bland character, or rather, a whole set of them instead. And a catchy tune that has probably been incorporated in the torture regime in Guantanamo.
Not all animations bring out the dormant old codger in me. My favourite kids’ movie in recent years has been Kung Fu Panda. The main reason is that we get well-rounded characters with a back story and flaws and virtues like everyone else. The eponymous hero is fat and clumsy and remains fat and clumsy until the end, even after he defeats the dangerous Tai Lung. It is a funny movie but instead of laughing at the characters I was laughing with them. There is even a message about the way we bring children up and how, the damage we might cause them in childhood, will probably emerge later in life with unpredictable consequences. That’s what happens to Tai Lung. Others might opine that there is a certain undercurrent of biological determinism in the movie. This mainly applies to Tai Lung as he was seen as “destined” to be bad. Whatever your view of the movie is, the fact that we can interpret it in different ways is evidence of the good quality of it.
I can hardly say the same about A Little Princess or Frozen. My brain went dead for an hour and a half. I know that some of you will say that it is only a movie and the implausible plot follows a long, historical line of implausible plots whose main objective is to rake in the greens. Yes, I agree. Some of you might also point at new female characters emerging in a sort of counterculture movement (Cat, the PhD student dreamed by Will Brooker being a case in point). Yet, they usually end up copying their male counterparts, including violence.
The only solution I can see on the horizon is when studios stop seeing movies as the word I mentioned before, “industry”, and begin to see it as what it was at the beginning of cinema: an art. An art that is not dependent on gender or stereotypes. An art where characters do not have to break into song every five minutes telling themselves to “let it go”.
A recent item on Thought for the Day, Radio Four’s flagship religious section, had me scratching my head. Two babies, born with jaundice, were put in an incubator. They were handed back to their mothers who checked with hospital staff to make sure they had the right infant. Ten years later and after some DNA tests... well, you can imagine what happened.
The reason why the case came to the attention of the media was that the hospital in which the babies were kept was found guilty of negligence. However, that was not the salient point of the mix-up for me. What I wanted to find out was the parents’ reaction. Would they love their child less now that they knew it wasn’t biologically theirs? Or was faux-biological, paternal love strong enough to withstand this challenge?
The answer was provided by the bishop Richard Harries, who read the item in his Thought for the Day slot. One of the mothers said: “We were so afraid to lose one another that we realised how much love we have for each other. We don’t need the same blood to feel part of the same family”. End of head-scratching for me.
Whilst Richard used Jesus as a prop to illustrate the fact that we all belong to a big family, a religious family, this story of children being brought up by accidental, surrogate parents returned once more my faith – humanist faith – in my fellow humans. Believe me, I needed that after A Little Princess.
Next Post: “Let’s Talk About...”, to be published on Wednesday 25th February at 11:59pm (GMT)