So I am currently wokring my way through Clem Ford’s ‘Fight Like A Girl’. I am not finished yet, but I am sure to make a post on it when I do….. Anyway there is a section about a quarter of the way in where Clem discusses the effect that Disney had on her self-image as a child, with particular discussion around the implications for young girls. Being that I have previously talked about how I love Disney but think it does terrible things to our heads, I couldn’t resist making comment on Clem’s thoughts.
So Clem describes Disney as having had an overall negative effect on her perception and intereactions with other women. She talks about how the majority of the women portrayed are either ‘Princess-Prizes’ or evil hags. She mentions the modern successes of both Frozen and Inside Out. Now whilst I agree that both of these titles are worthy of respect and praise for the positive steps they take towards gender equality and nuanced protayals of identity. It frustrates me somewhat that Clem skipped over a fairly significant chunk of animated movie progress in the gender sphere. I’m not talking about Mulan…. I’m talking about a non-Disney film contemporary to Mulan though.
‘The Road To Eldorado’ – I adore this film. TRTE features one of my top picks for early 2000’s female characters, Chel. Chel is a wonderfully realised and complex character. Now some discussion may need to be had about reinforcing stereotypes of beauty, but I feel that that discussion is parralel to this one – and certainly some points are scored for the inclusion of a native female as love interest rather than a white character. So the reason I am so enamoured with Chel as a character is despite ending up romantically entangled ith one of the male leads. She chooses to be here, far more actively than most disney princesses. Initially the male characters express their attraction to Chel, but noting their circumstances suggest and romantic involvement with her would be inadvisable. Some time into the proceedings however Chel intentionaly isolates one of the men, whom she fancies, and seduces him. She does not passively consent or allow the man to fall for her; but actually thoroguhly seduces him – despite his initial rebuffment of her advance. This is a wonderful and powerful statemnt of positive endorsement for female sexuality in a medium that is regularly accused of repressing or punishing such things.
Added to this is her clear drive – we see snippets of her bargaining fo her share of the loot and she is baraganing for more than an even split. Chel is treated by the male cast as an equal and is thanked for her help when she resolves critical plot issues. The male characters are portrayed as somewhat bumbling whilst Chel is shown to be rather quick and sharp. The male characters are seen to fight becuase of her, not explicitly over her affections but rather the regular occurance of a new rlationship redefining existing ones. This is once again proof of the maturity with which Chel’s involvemnt and sexuality are handled.
Given that this film debuted some 13 years before Frozen it still boggles me how little attention this wonderfully realised character recieves. One theory I have relates to the fact that the film was not a commercial ‘success’ – but perhaps that is not a nuanced enough evalutation.
Certainly If she reads this I hope Clem goes back and revisits this bit of cinema. I think that Chel is a female character that many young women should take into account when formulating their identities from cinema influences and that she does not recieve nearly enough praise as a forefunner of the animated movie industries painstakingly slow shift towards more empowered female characters.