No Good Disney Role Models for Boys?

By | January 6, 2017

TarzanWriting at The Federalist, Allison Hull has a bone to pick with Disney: Why Does Disney Hate Boys So Much? All Their Male Characters Are Losers. There is much here that I agree with, especially the Disney Channel’s overwhelming preference for girls over boys. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if they could find a way to encourage CHILDREN to dream big, rather than just girls? (I’m sure Uncle Walt would approve.)

The argument, of course, is that boys get that message from everywhere, all the time. I kind of doubt that’s true in this day and age. The message boys get over and over today is that girls can be anything they want. Maybe this makes up for many years of the message going the other way, but I’m not sure how punishing today’s boys makes things better for girls of the past.

Still, Hull’s argument that there are no good role models to be found on the Disney Channel or in Disney movies, even recent ones, is wrong.

For example, her notion that Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates somehow doesn’t count as a strong male lead because he’s a pirate is silly. Jake is a good kid, in context. My children, who love that show, don’t really get that “pirate” means “bad guy.” In Neverland, there are good pirates and bad pirates. Jake and his friends are good ones.

Also, what about Miles from Tomorrowland? Miles is a strong male lead in a show that highlights the importance of a family working together. A good show for boys and girls.

And she gets it wrong about the Disney movies, too. Aladdin is a boy of exceptional character — he foregoes his own (stolen) meal to feed two younger, hungrier kids. He is the only one worthy of entering the cave of wonders. He finally learns to stop being afraid that he’s not good enough and do what’s right for everyone — even the genie. It’s a great story, and the fact that he starts out as a thief on the streets with “poor personal hygiene” (um, who cares?) doesn’t detract from any of that.

Likewise, Kristoff in Frozen is a good, reliable guy. He works hard and he does what’s right. He’s kind to animals and he has a good sense of humor. This is a good role model. The fact that he is a bit of a loner is a good thing. He is the very John Wayne character the author is looking for. Once again she makes a big deal about personal hygiene. I wonder if Hull lets her sons watch old westerns, or is she put off by how smelly those guys must have been?

Finally, no mention of Disney’s Tarzan. My five year-old boy loves that movie. Tarzan is brave, strong, kindhearted, smart, and he finds a way to bridge two very different worlds. I’m guessing the author disapproves based on the lack of shower facilities in the jungle.

Anyway, I think the bias Hull describes is real. But her case would be more convincing if she didn’t attempt to sweep all contrary examples under the rug.

UPDATE: I went looking for a picture of Tarzan to use and I stumbled upon this amazing story. So Anna, Elsa, and Tarzan are all siblings? That can’t be right. Tarzan is English, not Scandinavian. I don’t care who plays him!

  • Stephen Gordon

    Pixar also has a history of strong male characters:

    Buzz Lightyear
    Sheriff Woody
    Mr. Incredible
    Crush the Sea Turtle
    Mike Wazowski
    Lightning McQueen
    Doc Hudson
    Carl Fredricksen
    Remy the Rat

    to name just a few. I notice a thread connecting several of these characters. Flik, Mike Wazowski, Remy the Rat – they are innovators. This is an nontraditional thing to celebrate about heroes. My boys have grown up with these characters – and I think (hope) that they have made an impact.

    • PhilBowermaster

      Yeah I think the author had to skip Pixar altogether to make her point. And she was focused pretty much on the princess movies where, you know, having the girls take the lead isn’t such a surprising thing.

      • PhilBowermaster

        Another innovator right out of the Princess movies — Belle’s dad in Beauty and a Beast. By the way, I think I need to do a separate post on how unnecessary the new live action version of that movie is, and how pre-disposed I am to believe that it’s going to suck big time.

        • Stephen Gordon

          If they set their ambitions low: do a shot-for-shot remake, something that’s arguably a completely unnecessary cash grab – it might still serve to introduce a new audience to a good story. That said, it could easily suck if they tamper with the story or characters too much. Allowing too much PC in for example. Belle was just the right amount of PC in the animated version.

    • Nick Restrepo

      When it comes to a man to woman relationship, none of the Disney or Pixar movies that I can remember as a kid were helpful to me in terms of presenting a strong role model or relationship vision to look forward to creating. Girls have the concept of a prince coming to save them or enter their lives. I personally have no concept of a women or how to be as a man relating to women from any of these movies. I think THAT is what these articles are really about, not about equality or whatever. That’s all totally aside from the core point. And when I say male character I’m not talking about toys, lions, toasters, trains, ants, cars, dogs, or ANYTHING other than a human boys would actually connect with and want to emulate. Regardless – at the end of the day it’s the impression that counts, not necessarily how it’s delivered. For options the role models I can remember were Eminem and his wife Kim, Stifler or Jim from American Pie..etc you get the point.

    • Jen

      Most of those male leads are non-human (either superheroes or toys or animals). I want a movie with a regular boy. There’s plenty in books and movies for older boys (harry potter, original Star Wars etc) but none for ages 4-5. These boys are too old for Elmo and Jake and the neverland pirates but too young for Harry Potter.

    • september calendar 2017

      Thank you for this reply!

    • Sasha Wian

      I notice how most of these characters are either:
      1) not human
      2) are henpecked husbands to far better female counterparts who are more intelligent and composed
      3) are bumblers/idiots/arrogant jerks
      4) are from cartoons about 20-30 years old, or
      5) are multiple examples of the above choices.

      And you definitely almost NEVER see females who are #3, with the notable exception of Dory in Finding Nemo – again, a movie from 20 years ago.

      The only movie I’ve seen RECENTLY which bucked this trend was Ron’s Gone Wrong, which stands out because the main character is a boy who is not made to be an idiot, even if he has basic flaws that kids have, does the right thing, is not made better by making a female character look stupid (unlike how female characters are usually made to look better by making the male characters stupid or hugely flawed), and is a genuinely decent person.

      The more annoying thing, however, is that in most movies with the female character being the lead, she is usually not flawed at ALL – they’re always ultra-good at everything, PLUS the boys just suck in comparison. If they’re lucky, the boys are just average. It’s like Disney is so scared to write a decently written character for a girl who has flaws that they overcompensate by making them perfect from start to end. There’s no heroic journey – it’s a heroic straight line.

  • Stephen Gordon

    Two more male innovator-heroes that my kids have loved: the protagonists in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, and Meet The Robinsons.

  • John Eberhardt

    I find this to be true. Only older characters seem to hold up like Tarzan and Aladdin. One of the worst examples (not Disney this time) is the new Lost in Space. Try to find a good male role model in that mess. John Robinson was supposed to be an intelligent marine leader that went on many secret missions but all I see in the new series is a cowering boot-licker that has to ask his wife about everything. He does not seem to know how to clothe himself or wipe his bottom without asking his wife. Don is a lazy deserter (a direct quote from his female coworker in the second season) and Will seems to be the direct cause of all their misfortune in one way or another. But all the women are all brilliant leaders. What am I supposed to tell my sons? Just watch the classics?