Midweek Media: BRONTËSAURUS

Phil Lord and Chris Miller posted a faux commercial they had made in 1998, designed for “a series of educational shorts about action figures based on historical figures,” to their YouTube channel on May 4th. People I know have been sending me links to it almost daily since. And, you know? I actually watch it almost every time. You can view the video for yourself at this link, or embedded below. A transcript follows!

The video is in the style of commercials for toys usually marketed toward boys. It features a male announcer with a deep voice speaking rapidly and loudly, lots of quick cuts, and loud electric guitar music. Children’s voices are also featured, as they narrate an imaginative play session.

The commercial opens with an explosion over a dark background. Two sliding panels of diamond plate metal slide together. The announcer says, “New from Scud, it’s Super X-treme Mega History Heroes!” as those words, in a variety of fonts and bright colors, appear on the screen, accompanied by clanking noises. Another explosion forces the metal plates apart and blows the letters toward the camera.

The commercial cuts to three white children, one a blonde girl with long hair, another a brunette with mid-length hair, and the third a blond boy with a short haircut, grinning at the camera and holding a trio of action figures. They are women with three distinct faces and hairstyles, but the same model of body, differing in the colors of their dresses. The children move the figures toward the camera. The announcer says, “It’s the Brontë Sisters! Super-powered English authors from the nineteenth century!” The words “BRONTË SISTERS” appear across the bottom of the screen.

The scene changes, showing a child’s hand holding one of the figures, who wears her brown hair in a bun and a red dress, against a red background. “There’s Charlotte!” the announcer says, as the name CHARLOTTE BRONTË appears across the screen. Next there is a doll in a blue dress on a blue background, with shoulder-length hair. “Emily!” the announcer says. Again, the name appears over the image of the doll. “And Anne!” the announcer concludes, as a doll in a green dress with a snarl on her face appears. Once more, the author’s name appears on the screen.

The scene cuts to the three children playing on the floor of what is clearly a girl’s bedroom, signaled by pink and purple décor, dolls, and a pair of cheer-leading pom-poms. A caption reading “Victorian England – 1848″ appears on the screen as the announcer says, “All forced to fight evil publishers to get their books into print!”

The children are using a stack of books as a stage for their dolls. The little boy holds a male figure in Victorian dress, pointing with one finger outstretched. “Girls can’t write books! Hah hah hah!” he says.

There is a quick cut to the Charlotte Brontë doll on a dark background. The announcer says, “That’s why the Brontës pretend to be men with their super-disguise mustaches!” as the words SUPER-DISGUISE MUSTACHES appear on the screen. There is a chiming sound, and a huge, hairy mustache appears on Charlotte’s face.

The scene returns to the children at play. All of the Brontë dolls now have mustaches. “We’re boys,” one of the little girls says, in a deep voice.

The camera focuses on the Victorian male doll, as the little boy wiggles him and says, “Guys! Your books have revolutionized the Gothic romance novel! They’re awesome!”

The view shifts to the Brontë dolls. “Well the joke’s on you, narrow-minded cur,” one of the little girls says. The two girls whip off the figures’ mustaches, saying in concert, “We are women!”

“What?” the little boy says, giving voice to the Victorian male doll again. “No one wants to read books by girls! Get out of here!”

“Oh yeah?” the announcer asks, as the camera shows one of the girls affixing a book to the outstretched hand of the Charlotte doll. “The Brontë sisters come with boomerang book-throwing action!” The words “BOOMERANG BOOK-THROWING ACTION” appear on the screen.

“Take this, you sexist pig!” the girl playing with the Charlotte figure says. “I wrote Jane Eyre!”

“I wrote Wuthering Heights!” the other little girl declares, brandishing the Emily doll. “And Anne wrote Agnes Gray!” She makes a growling noise as she shakes the Anne doll. Each of the dolls is equipped with a book bearing the appropriate title.

“Book ‘em, Brontës!” the two girls say together. They depress buttons of some kind on the backs of the dolls, and the books shoot from their hands. The camera cuts to the male action figure, whose hands are raised as he is struck with books. The little boy makes a groaning sound and sweeps the figure aside.

The camera focuses on the blonde girl’s face. She has one hand on her cheek, and a surprised expression. She points off-screen. “Look! There’s more of them!”

The scene changes, showing five nearly-identical male dolls inside a fortress made of toy blocks. They work a toy printing press. The blocks have two hand-written signs taped to them reading, “NO Girls allowed” and “Literary Clubhouse.”

“You’ll never get into this club, Brontës!” the little boy says, speaking for one of the dolls. The little girls respond by holding their dolls up in the air, saying, “Brontë sisters, power up!”

The camera focuses on the little girls’ hands as they manipulate the dolls on plain backgrounds, opening up compartments within their bodies and clipping them together. The announcer speaks over the images: “Together, the Brontës wrote books about confident, independent women! Now, they join forces again to become the all-powerful Brontësaurus!”

A t-rex-like dinosaur is now on the screen, apparently composed of the bodies of the Brontë dolls (though it is too large and contains parts too detailed for this to be probable), as well as a fair quantity of lace. The word “BRONTËSAURUS” appears on-screen as the camera zooms rapidly in and out.

Back in the bedroom play area, the children are advancing the Brontësaurus toward the wall of the “Literary Clubhouse.” “Brontësaurus comes with barrier-breaking feminist vision!” the announcer exclaims, as beams of red light project from the toy’s eyes. The camera focuses on the “NO Girls allowed” sign, which is covered with red lightning briefly before the toy blocks behind it shoot toward the camera, an explosion appearing behind them. Smoke fills the screen.

When the smoke clears, the clubhouse is in wreckage. The word “no” has been torn off the sign, which now reads “Girls allowed.”

“You win,” the little boy says. “Ahhh! Run away! Help!” he adds, sweeping the male dolls aside. One of the girls makes growling sounds as the Brontësaurus chases the dolls off-screen.

The camera now shows the dolls and their accessories on a plain background, next to a stack of books (they appear to be the titles mentioned earlier), a fire extinguisher, and a bowl of chocolate pudding. The pudding has a label in front of it reading “pudding.” A very quiet voice rapidly says “Brontë Sisters come with everything you see here.” A line of text reading “* pudding not included” appears over the screen.

As the diamond plate metal sheets begin to slide together over the image, the announcer says, “So remember, kids! Use your brains, and you’ll make history!” The words “YOU’LL MAKE HISTORY” appear in bright red.

The final image is a logo reading “Scud.” A voice says, “From Scud!”

End transcript!

Okay! Possible discussion points:

What would you do with these action figures if you had them? I would put mine on my desk, next to Evil Kirk. They could have adventures!

What is the commercial getting right (in a humorous way, of course) about the Brontës? What’s being exaggerated or misrepresented? What do you think about the combination of subject matter and sort of gendered-male toy commercial style? Is there anything else that you picked up on that’s interesting but might be overlooked in analysis because of the overwhelming awesomeness of the Brontësaurus?

Commenters, POWER UP!

Comments

  1. Raeka says

    Hahaha, my first reaction to that is that it’s AWESOME, and I wish more girl toys were like that.

    My second reaction is thinking of all those people who will be using it as proof that those Feminazis really do want to conquer the world and enslave all males. It’s a really wonderful fake-commercial in a lot of ways, but it also has the potential to dig feminists deeper into the ‘radical, man-hating’ ditch.

    But I guess something more peaceful and neutral wouldn’t have been eye-catching enough :P

  2. SunlessNick says

    Other than that, my first reaction was the same as Raeka’s. Having read Raeka’s second reaction, I now kinda reluctantly share it.

    My third reaction is my inner pedant bristling at the Brontësaurus (though I concede there aren’t any real dinosaurs that would make a good pun).

    My fourth reaction is that I want to see the Brontë sisters team up with Ada Lovelace and fight the forces of evil.

    My fifth reaction is back to thinking it’s awesome.

  3. Izzy says

    Yeah, but…I’m not really worried about the people who associate feminism with man-hating blah blah blah. They’re going to do it anyway, they’re not going to change their minds, and…fuck ‘em.

    The commercial rocks, I’d much rather have in-your-face eighties action than anything peaceful and neutral (and that would get us back to “feminist=granola girl earth mother”, which…no, thank you), and if the Rush Limbaughs of the world take that as “proof” that ZOMG MILITANT LESBIANS, well, that brings us back to “fuck ‘em.”

  4. Robin says

    I think it’s really fun. A bit of good-natured mockery of the way toys are advertised to kids. I still remember my tiny outrage in the 80s when the only “female” Transformer (and really, why do robots from a planet of robots need genders?) was freaking pink. So while I’ve never been able to finish a book by any of the Brontes, turning them into ass-kicking Transformers is pretty cool.

    @SunlessNick — It’s okay. My inner pedant bristles at the fact that the Brontesaurus is a T-Rex rather than, well, a brontosaurus. Though I suppose quadrupedal herbivores are less scary to sexist publishers than bipedal carnivores, even if brontosaurs have more feet to stomp you with. :)

  5. says

    I’m firmly with Izzy. “Not nice enough” is an argument privileged people use to silence the less privileged groups, usually when they’re demanding fairness, and they will *never* find you nice enough until you’ve accepted the place they carved out for you to start with.

    But I have to admit, I have NO FREAKIN’ CLUE where you guys are seeing the potential for this to look man-hating. The men are doing all the hating; the women are fighting back.

  6. Charles RB says

    “when the only “female” Transformer”

    Nitpick: there were a bunch of female Autobots (the various ‘Cons didn’t get a look-in until 1997! :() in the 80s. Arcee’s just the only one that stayed around for more than a single episode. There was an all-woman guerilla unit and they appeared once and never again!

  7. I. Scott says

    I love the “barrier breaking feminist vision” obliterating the big bold NO in “No girls allowed”.

  8. MaggieCat says

    I just think “geez, Anne Brontë’s sure pissed about something”.

    Perhaps they managed to capture her expression just before deciding to write the preface to the second edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In which case it looks about right to me. :-)

    I don’t think I have ever wished a fake commercial was real as much as at this moment. I NEED that Anne doll.

  9. Robin says

    @CharlesRB — “…there were a bunch of female Autobots…”

    Huh. I don’t remember them but, to be fair, I was only five. And if none of them stuck around it’s not that surprising that they didn’t stick in my mind. Do you remember what their vehicle forms were, by chance?

    Beast Wars / Machines had a more even gender distribution. (And the fantastic quirk of Inferno calling Megatron “my queen”. ::teehee::) So the creators sort of improved on that front later on.

    …I seem to have wandered off topic. Back to your regularly scheduled Brontes. :)

  10. Charles RB says

    The Female Autobots all had generic future/space car forms. (TF Animated is the clear winner here, showing female robots as Autobots & Decepticons of various ranks – up to and including Decepticon general – and crowd-filling civilians)

    • says

      I have the Jane Austen (she’s looking at me right now, in fact), but she doesn’t have book-throwing action, or turn into a dinosaur. I think that’s a missed opportunity, right there.

  11. Natasha says

    My immediate reaction was ‘why only one book for each sister?’ This probably has to do with the fact that the last book I read was Joanna Russ’s ‘How to Surpress Women’s Writing’ and that my current book is Villette.

    My second reaction was ‘AWESOME!’

    • says

      That’s a good immediate reaction to have, I think. I mean, the answer that occurs to me right off the top of my head is that it was for time issues, which is probably pretty close. But being aware enough of the history of suppression of women’s work to think of that is A+

      Also, omg, Villette. A book I both loved and loathed!

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