The Knights of Disney

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Here’s an update on my little boys and their reactions to female characters:

Nicolas has decided that he’s “Henry the brave knight” (a character of his own invention), so since we’re all about knights at our house these days, my husband got the kids a DVD of The Sword in the Stone, which is the tale of the young King Arthur being trained by Merlin.

The Sword in the Stone is a very male-dominated movie. The young orphan Arthur is being raised by a nobleman with an older son, and is being tutored by Merlin the Magician and his (male) owl Archimedes. There are a few female minor characters, but the movie doesn’t even make it to criteria #2 of MMM since the female characters don’t speak to each other.

The film hardly seems like a good subject for this blog. But strikingly, the scene that first stood out for Nicolas — that he first wanted to talk about — was the scene where Merlin turns Arthur into a squirrel and Arthur is pursued by a girl squirrel who wants to kiss him.

Nicolas explained to me that “they’re brother and sister.” At his age (five), he perceives romantic relationships in stories as brother/sister relationships, and explains them as such. In the same way, whenever he sees a story about two male characters who are friends he says they’re brothers (especially if they sometimes fight). I assume that if he saw two female characters who are friends he’d say they’re sisters. I plan to test this theory out if we ever succeed in finding a children’s movie or video featuring two girls who are friends…

In the scene about the squirrels, after saving Arthur from a wolf, the little girl squirrel is sad to see that Arthur isn’t really a squirrel when Merlin turns him back into a human boy. Nicolas invented his own ending to this sub-plot: he explained that the girl squirrel wants to be a human girl, and that Merlin should turn her into one. He then continued his story by telling me how Arthur and the little girl would go to school together and play together at recess. So cute!

We were watching this film again the other day (we always watch all of these movies a million times), and I watched Nicolas watch the end of the squirrel scene where the little girl squirrel sits on a tree and sadly watches Merlin and Arthur walk away. Nicolas then looked up at me and asked “Mommy, when is Merlin going to turn her into a little girl?”

I said “That happens in a later movie…”

But it was clear from that exchange that to Nicolas it wasn’t about what Arthur wanted nor about what Merlin wanted — it was about what the little girl wanted: to be a human girl and go to school and play tag at recess.

I feel like it shouldn’t be news that a little boy would be interested in the situation and motivations of a female character, but in case it is news, there you have it.

In the corresponding post over on my blog, one of the commenters suggested that the age Nicolas is at is close to the age when he’ll start worrying about gender roles and identification. She may be right, and we’ll see how it goes. But I’m happy to appreciate the cute little blissfully gender-role-innocent age he’s at for the moment…

Comments

  1. says

    But it was clear from that exchange that to Nicolas it wasn’t about what Arthur wanted nor about what Merlin wanted — it was about what the little girl wanted: to be a human girl and go to school and play tag at recess.

    I feel like it shouldn’t be news that a little boy would be interested in the situation and motivations of a female character, but in case it is news, there you have it.

    What I think is really interesting is not that he got interested in a female character, but that he got interested in a totally background female character, even when there were two much more well-developed male characters to focus on in that sequence.

    I love that he came up with a continuation of the story he’d imagined for her, by the way! That’s excellent. What a creative kid.

  2. says

    I almost feel like it was because the character was less-developed that he was interested in her. He doesn’t really have the idea of romantic love yet, so he didn’t understand her motivation and tried to figure it out.

    Thanks! He makes up stories like that all the time…

  3. says

    Okay.

    I have not seen the Disney movie Mulan.

    Yet it has been rumored a strong female character. Whether or not she talks with another woman is another story.

    “The Wonder Pets” is probably way too young for your two. You could find out more about it at noggin.com.

    I’m going to continue to think about other children’s movies where there are female characters that talk with one another. It might take some time – but I’m hopeful.

  4. Tomoko says

    Unfortunately, the only conversations Mulan has with other women (her mother and her grandmother) are all about prettying her up so she’ll be worthy of being paired with a man by the matchmaker.

  5. Brittany Fuller says

    First of all, your son is adorable, I love the story he made up, and if I ever see that movie again it will definitely be on my mind.

    I don’t think Mulan does pass the test, but what I find great is that later in the movie men dress up as women as well. Yes it’s partially for the sake of humor, which has been done forever, but it’s also for practicality’s sake, much like why she dresses as a man. And she finally beats the big-bad dressed as a woman. I quite like that movie actually, and I think it is a “princess” movie that would definitely interest boys – lots of explosions.

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