“Beauty and the Beast” was my favorite film for many years, perhaps because I watched the Oscar-nominated production before the media slammed it for sending terrible messages to children. As a toddler, I viewed the film in the most basic way: it was about a girl who wanted more than her sheltered small town could provide, but nothing, not even her voracious love for books and knowledge, could convince her to abandon her father, the most important person in her life. Belle, who sees right through cocky womanizers and loves her dad more than anything, seemed like a solid role model, and I paraded around my pre-school pretending to be her without some buzzkill Debbie Downie telling me she was terrible for women.
“The Little Mermaid” eventually received similar criticism, as it supposedly shows little girls that they just have to shut up to be wanted, and these days, it seems like everybody is quick to find something offensive about today’s entertainment for youth. Maybe that’s why the new cartoon, “Epic,” ends the way it does (SPOILERS).
This weekend, I helped my mom babysit my two nephews, and after a beach visit, the four of us headed to the movies to see “Epic,” an animated flick about a teenage girl named MK who moves in with her eccentric dad following the death of her mom. The father is convinced a colony of advanced tiny people exists in the woods surrounding his home, but MK is skeptical, not just because the concept is insane, but because his obsession with the theory ultimately destroyed his marriage and family.
After a freak accident outside, the girl shrinks to the size of all the little people in the woods. Once she gets over the shock of being as small as a leaf, she worries she’ll never again see her dad, who’d been right about the little folks all along.
She’s welcomed by the good society of people, but not the bad guys, who intend to wipe out the nice population, so she finds herself focused on fighting evil rather than trying to become human again. It doesn’t help that she immediately has a thing with one of the cute small men, who also knows the pain of losing a parent.
Long story short, the young woman’s father eventually figures out the society of small people are, in fact, real and that his daughter has magically turned into one of them. She eventually becomes a human again, but as she’s about to go back to her normal self, she kisses the tiny guy she’s fallen for, seemingly hoping he too will make the transformation. She returns to her regular size, but the guy remains a little person, and they’re once back to being part of different worlds.
Both my nephew and I expected him to make the conversion with her, as that’s how Disney movies used to play out. Just think about my favorite film, “Beauty and the Beast”: in the end, the prince and Belle are the same species. In “Shrek,” Princess Fiona becomes an ogre forever and winds up with Shrek. But in “Epic,” the leading lady returns to her normal self and her boyfriend remains unchanged.
Luckily, the father’s technological developments allow them to video chat and stay in touch, but they can only engage in a limited capacity. It kind of reminds me of the “let’s stay friends” approach some people take when forced to break up. You go your separate ways, lead different lives, change as you’re meant to change, and though you choose not to stick together, you’re still friendly and happy to keep in touch. It’s a pleasant ending, and while my mom and I agreed it was more important for the main character to be with her dad than with her love interest, the last few minutes of the film did throw us off a bit. Kids movies just aren’t ending the way they used to, maybe because people know the standard fairy tale conclusion is unrealistic or simply because production companies don’t want to be blasted as anti-feminist.
Either way, I still kind of miss cheesy, albeit outrageous, kids movie endings. What do you have to say about all of this? Are we breeding a generation of realists or cynics, and will they be better off than we were?