I was extremely displeased today to discover that yet ANOTHER kids’ movie has to go on the list of Movies Too Problematic for Small Children.
I had seen previews for The Boxtrolls, and it looked cute, and like perhaps it would have some good messages about identity and performance/presentation, or family and belonging. I was excited to maybe see it for myself later in the year depending on what our drive-in theater chooses to show. But apparently the movie has been manipulated into essentially one long reinforcement of harmful cultural narratives about gender nonconformity/trans*ism.
So…we won’t be seeing that movie.
The Problematic list is a long one. I’m not overly choosy, but I have this thing about media sources teaching my children that excitement, adventure, and fun are the handmaidens of hate. We are the parents who LOUDLY criticized the preview of Earth to Echo for the joke about femininity degrading a masculine character. We are the people won’t stop talking about the sexual hyper-dimorphism in Brave and Frozen. We are the family who refused to see Planes: Search and Rescue because the preview was sexually objectifying, racist, and hyper-masculine.
Now, my standards are far from exacting– our beloved local film The Goonies doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and neither does the oh-so-fun Monsters, Inc. We adore Brave and Frozen. The Emperor’s New Groove doesn’t make the Problematic list for a few unnecessary jokes about sexual objectification. There are some questionable colonial elements and some consent problems in Lilo and Stitch, but it’s still allowed. We loved Maleficient, despite the innocuous portrayal of a sex crime.
The question is, are there are few iffy spots that I can make sure to talk to my kids about, or would I need to debrief the entire message of the movie or the way a whole character is portrayed?
One of the reasons we go to the drive-in rather than a conventional theater is so that I have my own mostly-soundproof viewing box in which I can debrief and discuss with (and for the benefit of) my children. Frequently, the preview seems okay, but the actual film has big issues, so I feel that it’s essential for me and Robert to have the freedom to call things bad, unfunny, hurtful, damaging, dangerous, stupid, bigoted, and unacceptable when they are so. This way, while our children are exposed to the film, they are simultaneously exposed to our criticisms of it and are less likely to model their behavior after the bad examples on the screen.
I wish there were content ratings that actually addressed this stuff. I don’t care if there are nipples visible, if the story deals with death, or if someone says “fuck”, but I care deeply about whether people are casually or “hilariously” exploited, othered, and shamed based on their identities. I am glad to have had a heads-up about The Boxtrolls, because evidently it is very transmisogynist. I have the opportunity to choose not to see it based on its message being damaging.
When entire characters have no relevance to the plot besides a joke about othering them, when characters are functionally more like props due to an inappropriate lack of agency, when hate is consistently portrayed as funny or meritorious or (perhaps worst of all) unremarkable, those works go on the Too Problematic for Small Children list.
And I am upset about the length of the list.