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Conclusion - What Is a Family?

It has been noted that animated films, particularly Disney, present a heteronormative, conservative view of family structure (Ayres 2003, 18). Families should consist of breadwinner and patriarch father, a submissive mother, and children. Other family constellations, such as non-heteronormative, or single-parent families, are shown as dysfunctional and unhappy. Wooden and Gillan have demonstrated that Pixar films also construct female-headed single households as damaging, and single mothers as incapable of raising sons. Mothers on their own cannot raise ‘happy and successful boys’, they only produce bullies, such as Buddy in The Incredibles and Sid in Toy Story (Wooden and Gillan 2014, 139).

I would argue, however, that male-headed, single households are not regarded as dysfunctional, nor even as incomplete households. As I have discussed elsewhere (Astrom 2015b), a household consisting of a widower and children can be viewed as a complete family. Buck, Marlin and Tim all become good fathers, and there is no suggestion that their households are not complete without a mother. There are no hints that Tim or Buck feel the need to look for a new spouse, and there is no suggestion that Dory and Marlin are anything but friends. The children do not need a new maternal figure; they only need to connect with their fathers.

The same message continues to be repeated, for example in the 2014 film Mr Peabody and Sherman (DreamWorks). In this film, where the rich and well-educated dog Mr Peabody adopts a boy and invents a time machine in order to give him history lessons when the historical events take place, social services are trying to take Sherman away. They do this, however, because Mr Peabody is a dog, not because he is single, or male. In the end, it is recognized that Mr Peabody is an excellent father, and the child is allowed to remain with him.

At least since the 1970s, feminists have called for greater participation from fathers, suggesting that this would lead to greater equality between men and women (Chodorow 1978; Dinnerstein 1977). Possibly as a result of this, US fathers are now more involved in childcare than fathers have been in any earlier period (Kimmel 2013,139). Participatory fathers are also now more in evidence in animated films, but it is doubtful whether the films demonstrate an increased equality between parents. The films investigated in this chapter, which all in one way or another follow ‘family value plots’ (Wooden and Gillan 2014,138), create a postfeminist version of family, where mothers are surplus to requirement. They may be allowed, if they remain in the background, supporting their husbands. But it is best for everyone if they are removed, leaving father and son to create their own family. Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, parenting roles have been questioned and re-negotiated, but the result in the cultural imagination seems to be that mothers are still marginalized, elided or disappeared. Fathers, on the other hand, have gone from being bumbling and inept to being the only parent a child, particularly a boy, needs. It appears that participatory fathers in animated films are not prepared to share their children with the mothers.

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