Written by Renee; Originally published at Women’s Eye on Media
Having two young boys means that I am often forced to watch cartoons. Some are better than others, and I would have to say that Gnomeo and Juliet falls into that category. As you probably already know, the movie is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I suppose that when you consider the source material, it would have been pretty tough to mess up however, putting a modern spin on a classic does not necessarily equal the reduction of isms.
As you would expect, Gnomeo and Juliet meet and fall in love despite the fact that their two families are at war. In Shakespeare’s version of the story, Romeo and Juliet are from two waring houses with no distinct markers to separate them, whereas; in Gnomeo and Juliet, the discernible difference is colour – Juliet is red and Gnomeo is blue. The two families are at war because they are owned by humans that are at war.
Juliet’s father is worried that something will happen to her and therefore seeks to place her on a pedestal, where he believes that she will be safe from harm. I thought that the pedestal reference was interesting, because it functions as a symbol of so-called benign sexism. The male red gnomes are encouraged to engage in dangerous lawnmower races, but Juliet is deemed too delicate and fragile. In a bid to prove that she is capable of so much more than her father believes, Juliet leaves the safety of her yard and attempts to capture an orchid growing on top of a run down greenhouse. It is during this mission that she meets Gnomeo.
What makes their initial meeting interesting is that Juliet and Gnomeo complete complicated moves in an attempt to claim the orchid. Not only does Juliet keep up Gnomeo, she bests him several times. Their love continues to blossom as Juliet realizes that Gnomeo does not see her as wilting flower in need of protection, but an equal being who is his match. I loved that their relationship was absolutely based on equality. I think it sends a good message to children about the nature of a good relationship and even more specifically, a positive message to girls about the value of being themselves and not downplaying their abilities for a man.
Unfortunately, all the work that went into making Juliet a well grounded character, ended when her father literally glued her feet to pedestal for daring to love Gnomeo and to leave her garden. I found this absolutely triggering watching her stand and cry with her little feet glued to stone. It made me think of all the women who are trapped in their homes because of male control. In the end, instead of rescuing herself as any capable woman would do, Gnomeo comes to her rescue when her life is in danger during a war between the Gnomes. It sent the message that no matter how capable a woman is, she always needs to be rescued by a man. I don’t understand why the writers went to all the effort to fill Juliet with agency, only to end the movie this way.
When her father ordered Juliet glued to her pedestal, he told her that she brought it upon herself, and this is classic victim blaming. Justifying the abuse of women is a part of our culture, and to see it in a child’s movies is disheartening to say the least. Her father didn’t even apologize for what was clearly an act of abuse, because he found it sufficient to declare a truce with the blue gnomes. This means that the wrongs committed against Juliet were not even remotely addressed, and yet the writers were more than content to end the story on this note. Why don’t women deserve justice and what message does this send little girls watching this movie? The fact that Juliet didn’t even bother to confront her father, tells us that once women meet their prince charming, that the fight for independence is over — which suggests that love erases the role that sexism plays in male/female interactions. Any woman, who has been in any kind of relationship with a man for any length of time can tell you that sexism is something that constantly needs to be negotiated.
I really wanted to love and embrace this movie because Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, but the way in which the abuse of Juliet’s character was handled greatly disturbed me. It really is a shame, because the movie started off so very promising. I was hopeful in large part because as far as children’s movies are concerned, there is a lack of strong independent female characters, who are not beholden to a man in some way. Silly me for believing that by the year 2011, that it was possible to watch a children’s movie in which a female character is validated and not punished for daring to strive for independence.