Netflix’s “Animal Crackers” Belongs in the Trash

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Animal Crackers movie trailer

Any parents out there on the constant look out for new movies and TV shows to entertain their kiddos during COVID? Me! That’s why I was excited this past weekend to see a new movie called “Animal Crackers” on Netflix. This circus film has a star-studded cast, including Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Danny Devito, and Raven-Symoné, plus it’s about one of my favorite foods – animal crackers! I thought this would be a recipe for success, but these ‘animal crackers’ disappointed and belong in the trash.

The story didn’t stink (though I did think it was just so-so) and my daughter liked it, but in the first 10 minutes of the movie, a few things irked me. First, a woman was hired solely because she was beautiful (the moment before the characters saw her face, they told her they weren’t any positions available and then changed their minds and got all googly-eyed when they saw her). Also, an unnecessary story line was introduced – a story line about a clown with a “carb problem,” eating croissants and ballooning up causing parts of his clothes to pop off. When I saw this, I got a knot in my stomach. I actually turned the movie off for a bit, but then allowed it to be turned back on. I wondered if I was being too sensitive. But as I later realized, I should have gone with my gut.

There’s a part in the movie where there is a kid’s drawing of all the characters and my five year old pointed to the woman I referenced in the beginning and said, “She’s my favorite!” I asked, “Why is she your favorite?” “Because she is BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!,” my daughter replied. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong, things are beautiful. People are beautiful. Physical attraction isn’t bad. But it’s when it is taught that it’s the most important thing, the thing that provides worth or the thing that gets you a job (like in this movie!) that it is so harmful. This emphasis on her looks in the beginning of the movie took away from all of the really amazing traits of the character.

Common Sense Media recently published an infographic about children’s body image that said, “Children as young as five express dissatisfaction with their bodies.” As young as five!!! This makes me want to cry. But this movie – and tons of other “kids” movies out there – are some evidence of why.

When looked at individually, these shows/movies don’t seem like that big of a deal. But if your child is consuming media every day (and I mean, whose isn’t these days?!?), they are getting these messages way more than we think. And it’s not just movies/TV, it’s books too. During shelter-in-place, my daughter and I read a few of the Little House on the Prairie books and I had to skip parts of the book when Laura was talking about how Mary’s blonde curls were way more beautiful than her brown hair. Again, it may not seem like that big of a deal, but why would I even want to introduce that idea to my child? I’m not naive enough to believe that she won’t hear these messages elsewhere throughout her life, but I don’t want them being introduced or communicated by me, and I don’t want her hearing them when she’s only five. As she gets a bit older, I’m going to follow Glennon Doyle’s lead and call out this BS and discuss it with her to help her reject it.

So here are some of my takeaways:

  • Don’t assume a “kids” show is good for kids. No matter how much I desperately want my child to be able to just pick a show on Netflix (and me completely check out), I have to stay vigilant in monitoring the shows and messages she’s receiving. Since this weekend, during “break time” (for her and ME) , we’ve actually stopped watching Netflix and gone back to shows I know are appropriate and have good messages. Common Sense Media has some other great tips and info here.
  • Shift the emphasis. Looking back, I wish when my daughter said she like the character because she was beautiful that I had shared all of the other traits I liked about the character – her creativity, bravery, dedication, etc. Even though I didn’t know exactly how to respond to the beauty piece in an age-appropriate manner, I could have easily shifted the emphasis to the character’s admirable traits.
  • Trust your gut. Even if Netflix says a show is appropriate for your child’s age, trust your gut. Even if everyone else is watching it, trust your gut. If your gut says this isn’t good for your kid, trust your gut.
  • Point out the lies. As Glennon Doyle says below, “We gotta help girls SEE these lies, POINT to these lies, and REJECT them … One thing we say over and over to our kiddos: ‘Hey, babe. Look at that image, commercial, advertisement. What are those people selling? What are they trying to say about what it means to be a woman? How are they trying to get you to feel?’ Spoiler alert: They are always always always trying to make us feel LESS THAN. Because women who feel less than BUY MORE.”

I hope this is somewhat helpful. If you have any other tips or takeaways, please do share!

-Amy

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