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As the parent of two girls—and a fairly non-stereotypical woman myself—I have in many ways been troubled by the portrayal of many animated women over the years. In writing this, I know how ridiculous that sounds; of all the things there are to worry about in this world, I'm bothered by the portrayal of women who aren't even flesh and blood.
Hear me out, though.
I love Disney movies; my mother was a longtime Disney fan and I still have her VHS tapes of several of the classics. My kids have enjoyed more than their fair share of Disney movies as well, and really enjoy taking in new movies when they are released in theaters. However, when it comes to the Disney princesses, I can count on one hand the princesses that can actually take care of themselves. I don't care if you're talking about Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella—they've all needed a rescue by a handsome man. Even Mulan, the fierce Asian warrior who posed as a man to fight the Huns, was still reliant in many ways on Shang.
The few exceptions to this rule are Merida from Brave, who rescues her mother and brothers, and Elsa and Anna from Frozen, who effectively rescue each other; some might argue that Belle also falls into this category, but she is 'rescued' in many ways by Beast—from the wolves when she's outside and alone and some might argue she's also rescued from potential spinsterhood because she was so bookish at the start of Beauty and the Beast—as much as she also rescues Beast. There was never a time when I didn't see an abundance of women requiring rescue when they could have potentially been their own heroes.
To my utter delight, Ralph Breaks The Internet—the excellent follow-up to 2012's Wreck-It Ralph—completely turns the stereotype of a woman needing rescue by a man on its head. Rapunzel (once again voiced by Mandy Moore) asks Vanellope (the always-awesome Sarah Silverman) asks, “Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big, strong man showed up?” To which Vanellope replies, "Yeah! What's up with that?" in one of the most charming—and in a way historic (given pretty much all the ladies who originally voiced the princesses feature in the film) - scenes in the movie.
Sure, the scenes with Vanellope and the princesses are not without their faults; both my daughters noticed that Merida's (from Brave) Scottish accent is so thick as to be nearly unintelligible, with one of the princesses commenting that they never had any idea what Merida was saying. Certainly, the stereotype of the Scot as never quite being understood is one that has been in film for decades. For the most part, though, the scenes with the princesses are among the best in what is already a great film to begin with. Without giving it away—I hate spoilers—the Disney princesses and Vanellope send the stereotype of needing rescue simply because they are women for a complete 360 degree turn.
Then there's Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot. Shank is a character from the online world that Ralph and Vanellope visit to try and fix Sugar Rush and is the top driver in the enthusiastically destructive Slaughter Race. One would figure that with a game like Slaughter Race, a male character would be the top dog, as it were, but instead, it's Gadot's Shank who has the hot car and is in charge of her own gang. My youngest's face lit up at this, and it struck me that even for her, even with as far as we've supposedly come, girls aren't usually in "cool" roles where they are the best at something or they are in charge without being incredibly difficult to please or get along with.
Shank, of course, is gorgeous, even by animated standards, and even though she's in charge of a gang whose sole purpose seems to be to protect Shank's ride and position as the best driver at all costs, she is incredibly nice. Her interests in friendship and her sincerity appear to know no bounds as she is quite kind to both Vanellope and Ralph, who are interlopers in her virtual world, and even extends an invitation to Vanellope to join her in Slaughter Race.
Finally, who runs the show as the top algorithm online? Yup, another female, this one named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson). It's Yesss who helps Ralph on his quest to fix the broken Sugar Rush machine while also providing a neat commentary about how the online world works. It would appear that the days where women were in need of rescue by the men might be done in the Disney realm.
If you want your kids to see a really fun, warmhearted sequel that is on par with—or even better—than the original, you need to see Ralph Breaks The Internet. While there are plenty of laughs, the implied social commentary sends a great message to any audience.