Despicable Me 2 was a film that answered the question “what do you get the villain who has everything?” with “a inept/insane wife”. As I watched the film, I found myself wondering what message was being sent. It’s ‘just a family film’, yet the implications of that classification lead me to thinking what children were coming to learn from the characters on the screen.
At the beginning of the film, we have Gru, an example of modern masculinity in the form of a super (villain) dad throwing the best party his little girl could ever hope for. He does his best to give her all she wants, even going to the lengths of dressing as the fairy princess when the woman who was hired fails to show up (one of the several female let-downs in the film). He is questioned by the children because fairy princesses are apparently not fat, ha ha. Sorry chubby cheeked little girls, if baby got back, they don’t got a crown! Don’t be foolish.
And don’t be telling me children say the darndest things and would ask that question of a fairy princess because they could ask other darned questions that didn’t tie to weight, perhaps like “why do you look just like Agnes’ daddy?” or “what are these little yellow things?”
Princess Gru then makes the point that he eats to avoid his problems, which is totally fine because people don’t do that in real life! Ever! Let’s laugh about the thought! Ha! Over-eating and body image issues are a joke! HA! Fat shaming is funny especially when the person being shamed is a man in a dress.
Anyway. That wasn’t even the problem that really got under my skin. I mean, it clearly annoyed me, but it wasn’t the worst part. Imagine!
Enter one of the most reasonable characters of the film, Jillian. I found this woman inexplicably hilarious because she was painfully like women I’ve met, and yet what plot she brought along with her should have stayed home. She could have been brilliant as a nosy neighbour offering up her ambrosia recipe and tips on raising the girls for Gru but instead, Jillian was the harbinger of the unnecessary parade of ‘inadequate women’ to be compared to the perfect match Lucy was to be.
Bachelorette number one was Natalie. Let’s hear about her, shall we?
“…she’s a riot. She sings karaoke, she has a lot of free time, looks aren’t that important to her..”
And let’s see why!
Oh, I get it. No T, no shade, but girl has a face for radio. She can’t have high expectations! Look at the state of her. That’s fine then. She should be happy with what she gets! It’s funny because that whole body image issue thing as mentioned before isn’t a thing. Kids should totally laugh at people that look funny, and expect to be laughed at if they look any different than the other kids. They’re walking jokes who should expect no better. Also, who dressed her, Professor Philip Brainard? Jillian should have said something. Also, she breaks the table behind her. Because she’s fat. Which, as we have learned already, is not acceptable. Go home, Natalie.
Then we meet Lucy.
Lucy with the coordinated car for her outfit, svelte figure, and even her weapon is dainty and feminine! Who says you don’t have to be a lady when you are using a taser? Besides anyone on the opposite end of the tasing, one imagines. Lucy, who parades as a independent woman with her weapons and sass and cupcake beating (she doesn’t have to be smart if she can beat people up and wear cute outfits!) until, much like Daphne from Scooby Doo, she gets kidnapped and used as leverage against the hero.
However. My problem doesn’t lay in the way Lucy acts or that Gru likes her over the other women (I’ll talk about his date in a moment), but rather that the movie tries to get away with the “weird love” angle where two odd balls fall in love and it’s sweet when it fat shames, slut shames, and then makes one half of the “weird love” a pretty woman and the other a bald headed, scrawny legged penguin-esque man–the mis-match Hollywood loves to make. Think about how many sitcoms feature hot wives and average husbands. Now think of the sitcoms with hot husbands and average wives. If Gru was to fall in love with her personality (as it seems to imply), why did Lucy have to be made to look like the societal norm for pretty? If her personality was the important part, why was she adorbs?
Let’s look at Gru’s other date.
Jillian shows up mid film (the bit where Gru hasn’t realized Lucy is the best yet) with another date offering. Gru has shown himself to be afraid of dates (due to past rejections) so naturally, he ends up with a non-threatening woman–ohwaitnoshebeatscupcakes. Whatever. Anyway. The date.
Shannon is Jillian’s second offering to the slaughter, a blonde haired, big lipped woman on a cell phone who has no interest in anything but taking care of her figure and hating ‘phonies’ (which is what Gru is being on their date, which makes her threatening in the end–unlike the woman who shoots her with a dart). Now, this character is another stereotype, but rather than going on about how she is represented, I’d like to talk about how she is treated. In a horrifying show of abuse towards another human being, Gru and Lucy take Shannon home in a way that is justified by…what? Comedic value? They have a cute talk on the porch? Oh, that’s fine. That’s fine then, because Shannon might have a concussion and injuries and mental trauma from her night out, but Gru and Lucy are cute, so whatever! She was asking for it, anyway, by being…what? Being what? Shallow? That makes it okay to strap someone to a roof like a prized buck you got hunting? That makes it okay to watch as their head gets continuously battered in a door? What does watching the two characters haul around this woman tell kids? It’s okay as long as you are drugging and dragging someone with friends? Or dates? Or if it makes you laugh?
If this was a romantic comedy aimed at adults, this wouldn’t be as big an issue for me. Adults make the choices to watch things, make the choices to act on their own knowledge and their own life experience. Children, however, learn from the world around them, and that includes what is on the screen.
The last thing I want to look at is the tale of Margo and Antonio. It actually wraps up the narrative started with Natalie in the beginning. Margo is a cute little girl. She has plain looks, wears unique outfits (little blazer!) and has glasses. She is not the society’s norm for a ‘pretty girl’ (
look at Gru’s crush, Lisa, for example) but she is smart, kind, and protective of her sisters.
Antonio is a Mexican boy who is charming, suave, debonair–everything Margo deserves and desires, as told by her brilliant “say whaaaaat” expression when he speaks to her. It’s great. It’s like ‘hey, girl, don’t you worry about your prescription eye wear or untucked shirt. I dig you.’ and all the little girls who relate to Margo get a moment of “say whaaaaat” along with her because clever girls with glasses and cartoons on their t-shirts can get boys, too, damn it!
She doesn’t get him. Margo gets her first taste of what this film’s society seems to value when she turns to find Antonio dancing with a girl in a little dress with matching shoes and matching accessories. Much like Lisa and Lucy. Because if you aren’t coordinated, you are just not going to be happy. Even Gru can match a scarf to his outfit, ladies!
So the lessons we learn are: don’t be fat, don’t be blonde, don’t be shallow, don’t be brainy, don’t wear mismatched outfits, and don’t worry about men’s looks, you’ve got your own to work on!
That is if, after all that, you even want a man.