I had a big weekend watching children’s movies. I don’t have children myself, and often find it hard to get anyone to go with me. But I enjoy them and often find them better than the dramas clearly designed to go after awards. First I saw “Madagascar: Back 2 Africa”. If you love animals (especially anthropomorphized ones) as I do, it’s a good ride and worth it just for the little dik-diks.
I never saw the first “Madagascar”, so I can’t say how it compares or works as a sequel, but I noticed that one of the main (supporting) characters is obese. Gloria the Hippo (voiced by the very lithe Jada Pinkett Smith) is the love interest. She’s a hippo, so one might expect her to be big, but she’s a big hippo, and you know she would wear her spandex proudly. She has rivals fighting for her affections, one of whom is really obese and speaks incessantly about how attracted he is to her largesse(ness). And she in turn is nearly blinded by how attractive he is to her. He does lose out to the one who really loves her, and not just for her body, but clearly the point is that fat is beautiful and obesity more so. I thought it was novel and an acknowledgement that obesity is nothing to be ashamed of and we should get over our fat prejudice.
Then I saw “Wall-E”, in which ALL of the human characters are obese. It clearly critiques our over-consuming, not-able-to-nor-needing-to-move (thanks to machines), diabetic lifestyle, but having just seen the Madagascar sequel, I was stunned to once again see obese characters. I know they are out there, I shop at Costco where it is nearly impossible to find clothing in sizes smaller than XXL, but I live in LA and don’t see that many people who wear them.
Then I watched Kung Fu Panda, in which the lead character Po (voiced by Jack Black) is also obese, which starts out as a problem for him, but without losing any weight, he finds his self-esteem and saves the world from evil. Classic Disney never had obese animals (or humans) as leads, only occasionally a small role like GUS GUS in “Cinderella”, for example. “Shrek” could be considered the toe in the water, but unlike these 3 films, Shrek is not considered normal, is a foul-breathed ogre, and though we have compassion and empathy for him, Shrek is not our everyman. Yes there was Fat Albert. Pretty much the exception that proves the rule, and of course his name is FAT Albert, as opposed to Albert who just happens to be fat. And he only got to be in film after years as a TV Star.
Have these films caught up with who we are now? Or are they pandering to the super-sized moviegoers at the superplex with the 50-gallon tub of popcorn who are watching them instead of playing Wii Fit? Of course this trend, and I think three out of three can be called a trend, applies only to animation at this point. Live action films seem to still prefer anorexic women and washboard men. Sometimes there’s a character actor who might be plump or fat (in the case of men), or a size 10 in the case of women, but we are not seeing obese characters (Eddie Murphy and John Travolta in fat suits don’t count). Comedy has allowed for some weight, but not so with the dramas. So whatever is happening in the animation world has not made the cross-over. Guess no one yet wants to tap that on the casting couch, or admit that they have.