Monday, May 8, 2017

Storks and The Dove Foundation

family approved Doe Foundation seal The Dove Foundation is a Christian based review site. It is a non-profit, that's mission is to: "promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment."

And yet what constitutes wholesome entertainment isn't clearly defined anywhere on their website. Their seals of approval include: family approved (all ages), family approved (for 12 and older), faith friendly, and faith based.

While it seems that The Dove Foundation aspires to something of the Hayes code values, it's hard to know. The lack of clearly defined requirements for what is considered "wholesome" gives some freedom for the site to be vague about their own values. For instant in their review of Love Free or Die (2013):

"This is a controversial DVD for sure. There are not many people who take middle ground when it comes to the debate on homosexuality and its place in the church. Although conservative voices speak up in this documentary, it is slanted toward the acceptance of gay leaders in the church, a stand which many of our Dove conservative viewers will have a hard time swallowing."

This film did not receive a family approved rating, but the foundation also never specifies whether homosexuality in of itself is a reason a film could not receive an approval. They also specify the feeling of the Dove conservative viewers, but not whether or not The Dove Foundations own values align with a conservative perspective (one assumes that they do). In their review of ParaNorman they say:

"The use of “Sweet baby J” is one line which, with other factors included in the content, doom the picture from receiving our Dove Seal. It is certain the term is not used in respect. In addition, the ghost of a hippie is clearly seen holding a lit marijuana cigarette and, along with the strong occult themes, a young male character named Mitch tells a girl that is interested in him that she would like his “boyfriend”."

Recently Storks was granted a Family Approved seal.

Junior the stork, Tulip the redheaded human, and little pink haired baby what's-her-name.

Tangent for a moment, because Storks is a new favorite of mine. This movie is wonderful. It is about a world where Storks used to deliver babies, but now deliver packages. When a soon to be promoted Stork  gets mixed up with a human orphan (that his company has raised), they must team up to try and deliver a mistakenly created baby from the old abandoned baby factory... If that plot summary sounds odd, it is.  I don't have the words do this movie justice. Full of slapstick visual humor it is an increasingly chaotic adventure where every situation escalates to a humorous extreme. Just as I thought I would know where the plot was going, it would pivot slightly. I have, as of this blog, now seen this movie on six occasions, because I'm obsessive, and it's lovely.

Junior the stork is looking mighty happy while he hangs with the baby.

And the Dove Foundation highly recommended it also.

So, here is where things get interesting, (and a bit spoilery). At the end of this film the storks deliver bunches of babies all across the world. All different types of families are shown receiving children, including: single parents, interracial parents, and gay parents. While some other Christian-targeting review sites list this scene with gay couples as a reason for concern, the Dove Foundation does not. Which brings up the question of whether the reviewers did not notice this scene, or if there is a shift within the organization over what is considered appropriate.

Junior the stork, and orphan Tulip in a sea of babies. So many babies.

I want to be optimistic. Perhaps The Dove Foundation has changed there opinion on what they find appropriate, perhaps they are testing the waters to see how their more conservative viewers feel. But it's probably that Storks has simple done what children's cartoons have a long history of doing: sneaking things passed the censor. Recently on The Dove Foundation's Facebook page, an angry fan (whose name I've redacted) pointed out this scene.

a screen cap of a comment someone left. Saying how disapointed they are that Dove Foundation gave Storks a decent review when, quote, "same sex couples are presented as a family unit in a postive light."

There has been no reply, and no changes made to the Storks review. Take that as you will. And take the time to watch Storks, it is great fun and well worth it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Lion Guard - Timon and Pumbaa - Bunga's Uncles

Timon and Pumbaa are back in Disney Junior's newest addition to the Lion King universe: The Lion Guard. They are still a part of Simba's family, and have adopted a new kid; a honey badger named Bunga. I can't say this show is particularly... of substance, but it's nice to see the Lion King's "two uncles" are still together and going strong.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ever After High: Lesbian Princess

For those who have yet to watch Dragon Games, this happened:

In case some of you readers are not up on your product-based animation series, Ever After High is both a fashion doll line and a web/Netflix series produced by Mattel. It is about the children of fairy tale heroes and villains attending a boarding school together. It is also a huge part of the reason Disney switched their Princess line to Hasbro. 
three dolls from the ever after high line in dragon rider outfits
Ever After High dolls
Descendants dolls similar design to Ever After High, but with more Disney style faces
Descendants dolls
According to this Bloomberg article,  at the same time Mattel was working on this princess spin-off of their Monster High doll line, Disney was developing Descendants (a Disney version of the children of fairy tale heroes and villains going to boarding school together) to be produced by Hasbro. Because of the competition with Ever After High, Disney moved all their princess dolls to Hasbro also. As Clair Suddath writes:

"Several former Mattel employees point to the 2013 release of Ever After High as the last straw for Disney. Chris Sinclair, a Mattel board member who took over as CEO in January, agrees."

Guru Studio, a leading Canadian animation studio, produced all of the Ever After High cartoons in house. It is a stylized 2D ToonBoom animation, while there might be some complaints in similarity in character's body types (since all of the character's are going to be sold as dolls), outside of this it's animation is surprisingly fun.

The primary focus of the stories are that Raven (daughter of the Evil Queen) wants to escape her destiny and thinks others shouldn't feel trapped by their destiny either. The problem with this is that heroes (like Apple White) need their villains to be evil, otherwise the heroes will never receive the just rewards their own fairy tales promise. This sets up a surprisingly fun look at villains that want to be good, and heroes who need them to be evil (with some not so fun advertisements for tie-in products smooshed into the stories).

Which brings us back to the are-they or aren't-they kiss of Dragon Games.

Apple White's curse was meant to be broken by true love's kiss. But, Daring Charming (her fated prince) was unable to wake her when he tried. It was his sister, white knight Darling Charming, who succeeded. Of course, this was not through a kiss, exactly, but CPR. Which, like most double coding, can easily be ignored by anyone who might be offended.

While, a lot has changed since I first started this blog, it seems unlikely that Mattel would make one of the main characters of this series gay, but they are letting everyone sit with the ambiguity.

In their most resent season Epic Winter, it seems that Daring Charming's failed kiss has caused a rift between him and Apple White. It has yet to be established whether or not Apple knows who it was that actually woke her, but Daring get's a new love interest. Perhaps this was simple a smart marketing decision to sell a new doll duo.

Still, I'm curious to see if Mattel simply writes this all off as "friendship is a form of true love" and never mention it again, or if they will continue to hint at a second reading of Apple and Darling's relationship.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Zootopia's Judy Hopps Reblog

An article I've been working on just went up today over at the Animation World Network. It was so wonderful working with Dan Sarto again. He really helped narrow my idea, and I'm so pleased with how it turned out. Check it out HERE. The article is about gender in animation, and looking at what makes the primary protagonist in Zootopia so unique.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Disney Gender All Theatrical Animation

      All American animated theatrically released Disney films (released under Pixar Animation Studios, DisneyToon Studios, ImageMovers Digital, Skellington Productions, Walt Disney Animation, Walt Disney Television Animation), excluding films that included live action, straight to video films that had a single theater or international premier only, shorts, Disney package films, and films not produced by Disney but distributed under the Disney label. 

All Gender 1993-2012

This study looks at the gender break down of primary protagonists in family-targeting American animated films from 1993-2012. Including all G or PG-rated American (or American co-produced) animated theatrical releases that were released to at least 500 theaters and were primarily animated (there could be live action scenes, but focus was on animated characters in an animated world). Excluding package films.

151 films (percents rounded)

4 male and female co-protagonists (3%)
23 female primary protagonists (15%)
124 male primary protagonists (82%)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Male Duo: Jumba and Pleakley (part the second)

Double Coding

It might seem like I am tossing in a ton of examples in the following, but I actually had to cut down to make this readable. These are some of the more prominent examples. Check out part one for some video examples.


The franchise has consistently shown that Pleakley likes dressing as a woman not just because it is a part of his disguise, and that he has insecurities over this (particularly at the start of the franchise). He clearly think that this might not be considered socially acceptable behavior for an earth male, it seems not to be for his species (Season 1, Episode 14). He will quickly justify his love of female clothing by reminding everyone that it is for his disguise.

For example, in Season 1, Episode 22 Pleakley wanders into a conversation that Lilo, Jumba and Stitch are having about one of the recent experiment cousins they are trying to find.

Pleakley is holding a pair of long dangling earrings.

"I can’t get these earrings to stay on. Has anyone seen the duct tape?" He asks.

Lilo, Jumba and Stitch all realize at the same time that because Pleakley has no ears, he will be perfect to help them catch the cousin. They all simply stare at Pleakley in silence. He becomes nervous about this, assuming the silence is them being judgmental about his want to wear earrings.

"What? I’m going to the store. It’s my disguise, remember?"

In Stitch! The Movie, Pleakley gets caught on the phone with the New You Wonder Girdle Company. (girdles are marketed as shapeware for women in the U.S, and the name winks at older audiences with it's reference to Wonderbra). Pleakley becomes flustered and unconvincingly denies having ordered a girdle (since it's an undergarment for women... why would he need that for his disguise). This movie also shows a conversation between Nani and David, in which Nani confides that she believes Pleakley has been secretly trying on her clothing (he has).

Pleakley is presented as effeminate in a way that can easily be read as queer, similar to the "sissy*" coded characters that have shown up since early Hollywood days (Who's a Sissy? homosexuality according to Tinseltown). *But thankfully Pleakley is not considered a joke because of his nature, jokes tend to have the punchline about his enthusiastic misunderstandings of human culture. He is also into fashion and in an alternate timeline episode is shown as being a very flamboyant world famous fashion designer (Season 2, Episode 6).

Pleakley sitting on Gantu's lap, throwing shade.
Pleakley clearly enjoys his disguise, and enjoys playing the part of wife to Jumba.

In Season 1, Episode 25, Nani, Lilo's older sister and guardian, is applying to a job at a rental supply shop. She ends up hosting her potential boss, Jameson, for dinner in order to show her aloha hospitality. The cousin of the episode is Nosy, a gossip who likes to tell everyone's secrets.

Trend setting Pleakley serving Bulletproof Coffee, before it was even invented.
Nani introduces Jameson to her family, including her Aunt Pleakley and Uncle Jumba. Pleakley is excited to get to try out his hosting skills. Predictably things go poorly, ending with Nosy revealing everyone's secrets. Nosy loudly proclaims that "Aunt" Pleakley is not a woman. Pleakley runs into the house upset, leaving everyone else to sit outside awkwardly. Jameson ends up offering Nani the job based on the fact that she must be a caring person to have such a diverse makeshift family.

Keoni, Jameson's son, talks to Lilo about Pleakley not being a woman, and then shrugs the whole thing off as not a big deal. However Pleakley personally identifies within the show, Keoni and his father would be left to naturally conclude that Pleakley is trans (or somewhere on the spectrum) and is in a relationship with Jumba, and everyone is fine with this.


Jumba is more emotionally distant then Pleakley. Unlike Pleakley he has female love interests mentioned (well, two). He had a wife he divorced at some point before the franchise started. In an alternate timeline episode he mentioned having made himself a robot wife (Season 1, Episode 34), but this is also the timeline in which something terrible happened to Pleakley that Jumba won't talk about. Alternate timeline Jumba gives regular Jumba the advice to never built a robot wife, so presumably this doesn't ever happen in the real timeline.

Jumba and Pleakley's room (Jumba has top bunk)
His friendship with Pleakley is domestic, but at times dysfunctional. Jumba and Pleakley live together in a shared room, but sleep on bunk beds. In only one episode are they shown to have shared a bed (Season 1, Episode 8), when on vacation in a shared room with Lilo and Stitch. Pleakley does things like bringing Jumba his favorite meal when he is having a bad day (Season 1, Episode 19), but in this same episode Jumba threatens Pleakley if he tells Lilo or Stitch that he has created a new evil experiment.

Jumba takes pride in being an evil genius and, particularly at the start of the series, this can cause tension in his friendship with Pleakley.

Jumba and Pleakley-

In the first film they are forced together, and share a mutual dislike, bound together by circumstance.  Their overarching character development though the franchise is about their friendship, and building of an ohana (together).

In Season 1, Episode 14 we are introduced to Pleakley's family.

Lilo is woken up by Pleakley's phone going off in the middle of the night. Jumba explains that it is Pleakley's mother calling to try and pressure her son to find a wife.

Lilo is surprised, “A wife? Like a lady to marry?

Pleakley replies, “No.No. No. There will be no wife. NO LADY. And no marrying.” 'No lady' is said at a louder volume, and Pleakley pulls off his sleeping mask to emphasize this line, before snapping it back on and saying 'no marrying', in a less angry tone. “My earth studies are my life. I don’t have time for a relationship.” 

This entire episode reads, to use the fandom term, very slashy. But it is exchanges like this which are very interesting. Pleakley's emphasis on not wanting to marry a lady, and specifying the gender neutral "relationship" does give nods to a queer reading of this episode. This episode makes it clear that Pleakley's family wants him to always present male, and marry a woman. He doesn't want to.

Pleakley lies to his mother about already being engaged, and so his whole family shows up. He and Nani have a short lived fake engagement for his families sake, but when Nani finds out that their marriage will be legal, and that their vows would be eternal and galactically binding she bows out. Jumba takes her place, dressed as a woman. The marriage ceremony is interrupted just before they are pronounced man and (wife). Instead of being glad that he was saved from a legally binding marriage, Jumba yells, "You are interrupting climax of earth ceremony."

Leroy and Stitch concludes the series, tying up loose ends and finishing characters arcs. All of the cousins have been found, and in reward the Galactic Council gives Jumba back the key to his evil lab, and Pleakley is granted a position at a galactic community collage as a professor in Earth research. Lilo realizes that it would be selfish to ask her friends to continue to live with her family, and so she encourages them to pursue their dreams.So, Jumba, Pleakley, and Stitch all leave earth.

Back at his evil lab, Jumba creates an exploding saliva solution, and excitedly calls out to Pleakley to show him, only to remember that Pleakley isn't there. He then puts on a record (that Lilo gave him), that plays "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry" by Elvis Presley. A sad a montage of all the characters being lonely follows.

Later it cuts to Pleakley in his new office. He has two things on this desk, a framed photo of Jumba, and an earth rock that Lilo gifted him. Pleakley calls Jumba, bursting out with how much he misses him, and how he wants to see him. Jumba is pleased that Pleakley called, but doesn't want to continue the conversation because the evil Hamsterviel is in his lab. We then get this exchange:

Pleakley: "But don't you miss your Aunt Pleakley?"

Jumba (under duress from Hamsterviel, to hang up): "No."

Pleakley: "I'm wearing the wig."

Jumba: "No. Not coming back. Never coming back. Never wanting seeing you again."

Pleakley: "Yeah? Well, me neither. What I mean when I said: I miss you so much, can I visit? Was: I don't miss you at all, and I never ever wanna see you ever again, either."

Pleakley hangs up the phone and begins crying hysterically. Jumba is equally upset that Hamsterviel forced him to hurt Pleakley.

After apparently crying it out, the next thing Pleakley does is to fly to Jumba's lab. Unfortunately he shows up mid epic battle between Stitch and the baddies (which results in all the good guys being captured). Pleakley explains to Jumba that he just wanted to make up. To which Jumba affectionately replies, "Next time send flowers."

The movie ends with Jumba and Pleakley choosing each other as their ohana, and deciding to go back to Earth with Lilo and Stitch.

As I mentioned in part 1, there is no way to guarantee what the intent was by the creators behind all the elements of the franchise. Still, it seems unlikely that the consistent characterization of Jumba and Pleakley's relationship could have been written so carefully with no one involved realizing the possibility of a gay reading (particularly since so many jokes seem to rely on this second reading of the characters). To quote my favorite line of Provenzano when he described this type of ambiguity in Ren and Stimpy (Advocate, 1994, pg 56-58), Pleakley and Jumba are at the very least "Not NOT gay." 

Japanese Series

Co-produced with the Japanese anime studio Mad House and Disney, this series was conceived as an alternate imagining of the characters, with Stitch landing on a Japanese island and befriending a girl named Yuna. Part way through the series it was tied back as a sequel to the American show, with the character of Lilo showing up. The show has been dubbed in English, but only the first five episodes aired in the United States. Whether or not this series is considered canon is something for fans to argue about. So, I'll start that argument: Not canon.

BUT if the series is viewed as a continuing story years down the road from when the American series ended, the implication is that Jumba and Pleakley view their ohana as each other and Stitch. This shows the priority of their friendship to each other, but at the cost of their complicated emotions about their makeshift family in Hawaii. When Lilo is finally reunited with Stitch, there is no conversation about reuniting with Jumba and Pleakley who lived with her and acted as her Aunt and Uncle for most of her childhood. 

In terms of continuity issues, in the Japanese series Pleakley describes his species as not having a gender. In the American series it is clear that he is male, and his culture has similar gender norms to the U.S in terms of expectations of men and women and how they should dress and act (and the default assumption that they will marry someone of the opposite gender).

1)"Evidence for Fibber" and "Stitch! The Movie Evidence" by justbeus, 2003. 

Both these essays were helpful while researching double coding in the series, unfortunately they appear to no longer be available anywhere online.