As I moved through this past weekend, yet another kid film “graced” our TV set- The Good Dinosaur (2015). One of Disney’s latest, Dinosaur follows a pretty standard narrative:
A young protagonist loses a parent, gets lost, makes an unlikely friend and finds courage in the face of challenges. Except it’s not, at least not exactly. Disney movies tend to use a mother’s death (think Bambi, Finding Nemo, et cetera) to show that either a father (Nemo) or surrogate (Bambi) can take on traditional maternal roles. Dinosaur follows the Lion King in killing off the father figures to allow young heroes to grow up in their footsteps.
Arlo spends the film’s expanse trying to learn bravery and courage- traits held by both of his parents. The film shows his mother in equal roles within the family farm, and long after his father’s death, she has lead her family’s survival efforts. His unlikely friend is a young caveboy named Spot who has also become separated from his family. Spot is truly fearless (and an adept hunter), while Arlo uses his size to protect his pint-sized friend.
Arlo’s physical attributes are less idealized than the ambition and drive needed for all of us to prosper. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really reaching in looking for the feminist messages of this film. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test and Arlo’s mother is hardly present past the initial scenes, BUT she also doesn’t require rescuing like Lion King, and she provides for her children and herself without a partner. Hopefully Disney’s next animated film can go the next step and allow a female character to take on the protagonist’s role.