Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Croods: Surprisingly and Refreshingly Feminist-Friendly (Guest Post)

This review is a guest post by Bailie.

The Croods is DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, released March 22, 2013. It follows the story of cavegirl Eep and her family, the Croods, who find themselves without a home and wandering through new and colourful lands while on the run from geological events that promise the end of their world. The film is charming on multiple levels, and adults and children alike will really enjoy this film’s quirky humor, family values, and stunning visuals. However, what is really interesting about this movie are its feminist messages.

Brave (Disney-Pixar), another cgi kid-flick with a female protagonist, got a great deal of media attention for its feminist messages, both positive and negative. Its decision to have a Princess that didn’t have a romantic interest was the one that garnered the most attention, but it also stood out against other Disney films by having the mother play a large part. The feminist messages for Brave are very predictable. She’s tough, she’s capable, she must battle the patriarchy and prove herself worthy! Now, she spends most the film being a real tomboy, rebelling against femininity, but in the end can see that her mother, even with her embrace of all things girly, is still a force to be reckoned with. This is actually quite good, as many people trying to appeal to feminists often force the character away from ‘girly’ things, essentially turning the characters into men, or belittling the ones who are happily performing their traditional gender roles. In this respect, Brave does very well, but it falls behind on the male characters. They’re really only there to provide conflict and humor.

Now The Croods is deceptively similar to Brave. It’s about a willful teen girl who wants more from life than her parents offer her, and the end moral of the story is to love, look after, and respect your family. Comparing the two, it looks like Merida has a lot on Eep when it comes to pro-feminist messages. Eep spends a good portion of the film fawning over a guy, while Merida don’t need no man -snap snap-. Merida hates having to wear the latest fashions; Eep screams in delight at the discovery of shoes. But while Brave shoves its messages down your throat, The Croods is more subtle.

Eep is tough as nails. She’s from a family of cavemen, it’s in the genes. But even considering that, she’s tougher than usual. She’s capable, solid, and generally reliable, unless her curiosity for the world around her overpowers her. Her Dad is big tough guy who uses his considerable strength to literally carry his family, protecting them with everything he’s got, but while he’s got the claim on being biggest and baddest, he bows to his wife. But she’s not the type to browbeat or nag, she respects and supports him as he does her, and their relationship is one of give and take, and equality. Gran and baby Sandy hold their own as well as the rest of the family, and it’s never assumed they are incapable of anything. The only other male in the family, Thunk, isn’t pushed to the sidelines - he’s right up front with the rest of the gang, and even though he comes off as slightly weaker, with more nervousness and less brains than his sister, it’s not really a downplay of his character, or a boosting of hers; rather, he is an example of what Eep would be like if she had taken their father’s messages of doom and destruction to heart. Thunk is not an idiot, he’s just very trusting, and throughout the film he loses a lot of his timidness entirely by his own efforts.

The biggest test for this film was the introduction of Guy, a teen male from outside the family who has evolved a bit more than the Croods. Eep and Guy’s interactions are beautifully thought out, and refreshing. So often in films we see the same formula; Mr Tough and Dumb falls for Ms Smart and Pretty, or Ms Gorgeous Idiot falls for Mr Weak but Brainy. We oh so often see the beautiful women fall in love with the unattractive man, but the opposite is very rare. And if we do, then it’s either played for a laugh, or she goes through some sort of amazing makeover where she’s suddenly super attractive. The Croods is different because Eek is an incredibly physically tough lady who does not possess generically ‘pretty’ features, with her beefy arms, non-existent forehead, and frizzy hair, and she falls in love and actively pursues a boy who is generically attractive, and super smart to boot. Her methods of getting his attention are played for laughs, but not her attraction, and more importantly, neither is his returned attraction. The best part is that neither of them change. Eep doesn’t get a makeover, and Guy doesn’t become manly and muscular. They love each other because of who they are, no makeover montage necessary.

The genius of this movie in regards to its feminist messages comes down to this: Eep is not a "strong female character." She’s just a good protagonist. If you can swap the genders of the main characters and not have anything taken away from the story and love everyone just as much, then you’ve got a winner. Eep just happens to be female, and unlike in Brave, it’s never even thought of or brought up as a flaw. She’s not allowed to hunt for while, not because she’s a girl, but because she’s grounded, which is a huge thing, because it implies that it’s something that she enjoys, and she’s not thought of as weird or wrong for that enjoyment. But neither is she weird for being flirty and giggly. She also eats with a ferocious gusto, very unlike Guy, who nibbles daintily at his food, and in that instance, it’s Guy you laugh at, not Eep.

So not only is this one of the funniest and most entertaining movies you’ll see this year - it’s also one of the best for breaking down gender stereotyping, and hopefully it will get the respect and praise it deserves. 

Bailie is a part-time student, part-time graphic designer, and full-time feminist. She spends any free time either at the cinema or home catching up on tv shows.

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