Ex Situ: Ice Age 3: Can a Queer Utopia Be Built on Prehistoric Gender Roles?

October 28, 2009


Never saw Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, but since it’s coming to home video soon (I wish I got paid for that plug), it’s time for an apropos update.

Page Schilt has mixed feelings about Ice Age 3. On one hand, it shows animals of heterogeneous gender permuting peacefully. On the other hand, it does its best to reinforce stale stereotypes, particularly masculine tropes. Here’s a bit:

In an attempt to create a compensatory family of his own, Sid appropriates a trio of dinosaur eggs. Now in nurturing mode, he begins referring to himself as “Mommy” and even–unless I’m much mistaken–using feminine pronouns.

All of this, I know, sounds really queer.

But, like so much pop culture, Ice Age 3 simultaneously subverts and reinforces sex and gender norms. All the stuff it’s dredging up from our collective cultural anxiety closet–changing gender roles, the anti-sociality of the nuclear family, alternative communities, homoeroticism–is, I would argue, kept in check by the film’s policing of traditional gender roles.


The utopian nature of the collective is emphasized by the subplot about heterosexual romance between two squirrels. The female squirrel, a hot femme fatale, repeatedly uses her sexual wiles to part the male squirrel from his nut (pun intended, I’m sure). After battling it out in SM foreplay for most of the movie, the squirrels briefly succumb to sexual bliss before descending into domestic hell.

It’s a good read, with some links that I’ll probably highlight individually in the future.

Ice Age 3: Can a Queer Utopia be Built on Prehistoric Gender Roles?
> Catena Ex Situ


September 29, 2008

  • I don’t know if others have noticed, but Pepe Le Pew is a glaringly insulting portrayal of the French people and all things Gallic. The cartoon relies on the stereotype that the French don’t bathe, hence Le Pew being a skunk, a rather malodorous animal. (Some people might think that the cartoons portrayal of the French as oversexed is a stereotype but, as anyone who has been to France knows, this is an astonishingly real picture of the French.) He speaks with a funny accent, too! It is completely galling! Could it get any worse? At least there was never an episode of Pepe capitulating to the Nazis. Vive l’amour!
    -Contributed by Mark C.
  • Brendan S. mentions several characters seen in the feature Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that were created after 1947, the year the film takes place. I read an interview with the filmmakers where they stated their excuse for this was that these characters were hanging around Toon Town in that year until they were “discovered” a few years later by the studios, as if they really existed and shared the same legends as live action movie stars. A bit of dramatic license. I think a bigger problem is the glaring lack of Tom and Jerry in the film. I guess they couldn’t get the rights to these characters.
    -Contributed by Mark C.
  • Is it just me, or does Panthro of the Thundercats seem like a feline representation of a black man?  It’s interesting to me that even when human protagonists are replaced with somewhat more bestial protagonists, that animation directors would feel the need to express racial diversity.  If you ask me, Thundercats was already demonstrating diversity by depicting feline humanoids, which have been grossly under-represented on television and elsewhere.  (I mean, just because they don’t exist doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be represented, right?)
    -Contributed by YHN

Ex Situ: Freeing the Elephants

September 21, 2008

There’s a delightful article by Adam Gopnik in the latest (September 22, 2008) issue of The New Yorker about some controversies surrounding the Babar series. Here’s a clip:

In the past few decades, a series of critics on the left, most notably the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, have indicted Babar in the course of a surprisingly resilient and hydra-headed argument about the uses of imagery and the subtleties of imperialist propaganda. Babar, such interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the “good” elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. The elephants that have assimilated to the ways of the metropolis dominate those which have not.

Fascinating. As is the rest of the article, which among other things touches on: a wholly different controversy regarding the fate of Babar’s mother, the occupations of animals, nationalistic representations of order and disorder in children’s literature, and Matisse.

Freeing the Elephants >Catena Ex Situ

From the archives: A Discussion of the “Blasting the Arm Off” Incident in Gargoyles

August 30, 2008

  • Another cartoon in which characters have been seen to die is Gargoyles, although I only remember it happening once onscreen. In the episode “City of Stone”, Demona has turned everyone in the city into a stone statue. She then goes on a rampage, blasting the statues apart with vicious glee. It was one of the most disturbing images I’d ever seen in supposedly children’s television.
    – Contributed by Kender D.
  • The image of her viciously blasting the stone humans wasn’t nearly as disturbing as the way she blasted them. She shattered many of the ones she blasted, but one in particular caught my attention. She blasted the arm off a young woman! She didn’t take the time to shatter her, she just blasted the arm off! “So, Ms. Johnson, how did you lose your arm?” “A humanoid lizard with a hatred of humanity blew it off.” When she turns back to flesh, to her only a moment has passed, yet her arm is gone, leaving a bleeding stump.
    – Contributed by BlueNight
  • In reply to the whole “City of Stone” death business, Greg Weisman made it pretty clear that a major wound like losing an arm in statue form, would simply mean that the person simply never transmutes back into flesh.  Also, there was a significant character death at the end of “Avalon Pt. 3″: the Magus. After the fight with the Wyrd sisters, it’s pretty obvious that his little nap isn’t temporary. “Future Tense” also had a lot of fun killing off all the major characters. Broadway’s death, especially, was very well done.
    – Contributed by Jing-Jen Sun
  • OK, God forbid that Disney should actually make a teen-oriented show. Gargoyles was great and it handled its death sequences very well. Demona is a psycho killer. She doesn’t care about the lives of humans, so she shot some when they were statues. Big deal. Didn’t see anyone complaining that a whole clan of Gargoyles was killed in the beginning of the show. (oh, and the woman would have awaken to find she had no arms, but wouldn’t have any bleeding stumps, it would just be a stump.) Hey, stuff like that happens. Teens understand this and don’t appreciate all the sugar coating that goes on on teen-oriented shows. The Magus’s death was handled very well. It was tragic, but not pointless. And the deaths in “Future Tense” were all just a dream, made to put a little shock into Goliaths system.
    – Contributed by Brooke H.


May 24, 2008

  • A discovery while viewing Underdog- It’s rather baffling to observe that Underdog, his alter-ego Shoeshine Boy, Sweet Polly Purebred, Riff Raff & Tap Tap the Chisler (an evil Underdog look-alike) are the only anthropomorphic dogs in an otherwise all-human city. And no one bats an eye over this!
    -Contributed by Brendan S.
  • There was one major exception to the “nobody dies” rule in G.I. Joe. I refer to, of course, the memorably haunting two-part “alternate universe” episode. A group of Joes went through a dimensional portal to a world where Cobra had taken over. This episode contained several shocking scenes (like a Cobra Commander statue replacing the Statue of Liberty), but none more so than scenes of the Joes coming across their own skeletons, or rather those of their counterparts from that dimension. In that universe, the entire Joe team had been killed, and we saw the remains to prove it. One other note: being an 80’s cartoon, that episode’s obvious underlying message was, “this is what will happen if the Commies ever take over the U.S.” A similar theme, with aliens replacing terrorists, was later taken up in Exo-Squad (easily the most disturbing “children’s” cartoon I’ve ever encountered.)
    -Contributed by Christopher H.
  • One thing that always bothered me was that back when Scooby‘s villains were just people in scary costumes: why did they have super strength? I mean, you would see them pick up insanely heavy objects like sofas or filing cabinets and throw them like they were pillows, or they would smash through wood or metal doors, or even walls with their bare hands. They should have been very seriously injured, but they just kept on going like it was nothing.
    -Contributed by Tim M.
  • The only problem I have here is the origin of Sancho Panda. I understand he’s a parody of Sancho Panza from Don Quixote but Pandas have never been found in Spain where the show takes place. Plus, I’m not too sure of this, but Coyotes aren’t exactly numerous in Spain either.
    -Contributed by Dante W.


May 13, 2008

  • Here’s a theory you might have missed behind “Casper the Friendly Ghost”.  It goes that Casper is symbolism of homosexuality and the struggle for gays in society.  Casper is a boy ghost or male who constantly seeks the company of other boys or other males.  The boys seem to think Casper is a nice fellow and find nothing wrong with his company. After a short while of cute playing, the friendship is ruined when grown ups, who represent the more “traditional” views of society, intervene. More than frowning on such relationships, they fear it terribly and steal the innocent boy and run away from poor Casper, who is left to seek out the next relationship.
    -Contributed by Dave R.
  • In Tex Avery’s “King Size Canary,” a cat and canary compete by “growing” larger with the use a vitamin serum; the bigger one has the edge on the other.  It goes back and forth with no resolution other than running out of serum as they stand on a basketball sized earth.  This is all a metaphor for the US vs. USSR nuclear arms race!
    -Contributed by Dave R.
  • There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the fact that Smurfette is the only female Smurf in the entire village. People automatically assume that Smurfette is responsible for the propagation of the entire Smurf population. This is an erroneous assumption, because this theory postulates that Smurfs reproduce sexually. I offer forth the idea that Smurfs reproduce asexually, much like amoebas. I believe that when a Smurf takes off his little white hat, the hat grows a new Smurf, and the old Smurf grows a new hat. In the case of Smurfette, well, there is at least one obviously homosexual Smurf in the village (that being Vanity), so why not two? I submit the idea that Smurfette is simply a cross-dressing male Smurf, and there are no real females in the village. No real female acts that over-the-top feminine. I have converted many unbelievers to this theory, based on the simple logic that it puts forth.
    -Contributed by Natalie.
  • For me, the show that brought the whole anthropomorphic vs. realistic animals debate home for me was none other than The Get Along Gang. It struck me as weird to begin with; you stick a moose on his hind legs and he looses something fundamental about being a moose. And Montgomery has antlers, which brings up the issue of whether they could be considered a weapon in his society. But the episode that sealed it was the one in which the Gang ends up in a snowy town where they must search for an escaped elephant. A non-anthropomorphic elephant. From the zoo! I always thought that if you’re going to create a world of humanoid animals, you might as well go all out and populate your zoo with humans.
    -Contributed by Farnie6.

From the archives: Little Bear, Franklin, and Arthur – Anthropomorphic Hierarchies

May 12, 2008

Contributed by E.L.

I take care of my nephews a few times a week and they love watching Nick Jr. and PBS. I was very fascinated with some of the things that were happening in some of these cartoons, Little Bear, Franklin, and Arthur in particular.

First, I noticed that these animals all take on human characteristics. At least the main character, but others included, all have opposable thumbs. They have the ability to write and pick up utensils–they can do tedious, intricate work even though they are equipped with a paw or wing. When a character does have wings instead of “arms” those characters have the ability to utilize their feathers like fingers, being able to bend and hold things with them, they also generally have one feather that is the place of a thumb and can thus write and hold things like the other creatures. In the case of Little Bear, the character Cat does not have a opposable thumb and walks on all fours, instead of on two legs–this does not limit its ability to stand on it’s hindquarters and to grasp items with its front paws. How it does this escapes me. It has no opposable thumb, per se, yet it can hold and play a tambourine–a naturally sticky secretion perhaps? magnetism?

Along these same lines, the characters (again, at least the main character) lives in an upper-middle class suburbia. Although Franklin and Arthur both have towns or cities which they live in, they live on the outskirts of these. They are equipped with large houses that have indoor plumbing of some sort, furniture of some sort, refrigerators, ovens with stovetops, and plates, forks, knives and spoons and other utensils. In Arthur, some animals live in the city in apartments, but never the main character. In Franklin and Arthur, the characters go to school where they have the capability to learn reading, writing and math. I also find it interesting that in Little Bear and Franklin, few characters are given actual names: “Cat” is a cat, “Duck” is a duck, “Hen” is a hen, “Snail” is a snail. Yet Franklin’s a turtle and in Little Bear the human girl is named Emily, they aren’t called “Turtle” and “Girl.”

I’m proving these points because there was something, in Arthur and Franklin mostly, the disturbs me slightly. In these worlds, where animals are the ones in charge, not all animals are equal. As a world wide community, we may have racial discrepancies and prejudices–which are unfortunate–but a human is a human. Period. These shows obviously take place in an America like setting, where democracy is the ruling practice and the citizens have to abide by laws. In America, we no longer practice servitude and slavery. No one will argue that point–things aren’t equal by any means, but we don’t force others into a slaveship. In these cartoons, they show the characters with pets, generally a dog or cat or a fish. I find this wrong. I realize that they are merely illustrating humans through the animals, but by giving the animals pets, they are saying that not all creatures are allowed equal rights.

Arthur has a pet dog named Pal. What makes Arthur and his friends and family above the species of dogs? Why was the puppy not enrolled in preschool with the rest and given the chance at an education? Why was enslaved into being a stupid mere animal without the higher thinking capacities and motor functions? In Franklin, a similar thing happened: Franklin passed a store window that had a puppy in it. What did he do? He talked to his parents about getting a pet. Again, why was the dog forced into the position of pet and not given the chance to make something of himself? We don’t look at a certain denomination of humans and decided that they will be our pets–our slaves. That doesn’t happen in today’s society. Why would these shows want to present the idea of equality among the species–except for those who will be pets. I doubt kids will see this and think, “oh, that Aardvark has a puppy as a pet, how cruel!” They see it as a reflection of human society in reference to owning a pet.

Also, there are no problems with the animals being carnivorous. In one episode of Little Bear, “Duck Soup,” they jokingly made a duck soup. They had Duck sit in a large pot while they put in other ingredients. Cat and Little Bear and the others added in this and that while duck swam around in the water. Why is the idea of eating another fellow animal all right? They play and get along with their friends, yet they have no qualms in eating another animals’ flesh. In our human society, yes, we eat animals, but we don’t eat other humans. Being a cannibal is highly looked down upon, except in cartoons, where a second thought isn’t given.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but I feel that in a society where animals prevail, either there should be a definite hierarchy of animals where the strong eat the weak and it reflects upon nature or all animals should be given the same rights and privileges, and should be vegetarian. In cartoons like Franklin, Little Bear, and Arthur, they gain nothing by having the characters be carnivores or by having them own other animals as pets. It breaks down the idea that we are equal and all have certain rights, even though we may look different and have unique strengths and weaknesses.


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