I really wanted to like this little documentary about Disney movies and masculinity, because it’s absolutely true that Disney movie men (unless they’re lions) are generally as stereotypical as Disney movie ladies:
But I think this documentary’s substantially off in its discussion of the messages male watchers get about female objectification, especially from the second Golden Age on. Beauty and the Beast makes incredibly clear that Gaston’s fixation on Belle is gross, has nothing to do with her inner person, and presents in a way that’s predatory. Beast, by contrast, gives Belle a library, hangs out with her, saves her from wolves, and has snowball fights with her. By the end of the movie, there is precisely zero doubt that Gaston as a person, and Gaston’s way of picking out a wife is disgusting and undesirable, and not to be emulated unless you want to get tossed off a roof.
Mulan is much subtler, but has essentially the same message. The wife-finding methodology of “A Girl Worth Fighting For” is essentially dismissed in favor of a norm where men and women work together, get to like each other as people, and then give the whole romance thing a shot. And, of course, the whole point of the “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” number the documentary cites is that the traits it describes aren’t actually specific to men — and that you can exhibit strength whether you’re rocking armor or a dress:
Now, it’s absolutely true that Disney movie characters tend to have essentially identical body types (again, unless they’re non-human, or aging superhero Bob Parr in The Incredibles) and to end in fights, which is basically a prerequisite for adventure movies. And while there are clever parodies of hypermasculine ideals, like the Toy Story movies, which emphasize collaboration and equal participation by the genders, robots, and adorable rubber aliens, it’s true that Disney movies don’t have an exceptionally wide aperture on masculinity. That’s not an uncommon problem, and at least Disney doesn’t insist that for women to do better, men have to lose out, as Bill Bennett does in a Fox News column this week. But the studio’s done a nice job of broadening the spectrum of emotions they include within their standard adventure stories. They could consider broadening the kinds of stories they tell — and as a result, the kinds of characters, men and women alike, they include in them — too.