I admit it. Yesterday, as a grown-ass adult, I enthusiastically attended a screening of How to Train Your Dragon 2. The first one was cute, and hey—3-D dragons are always cool, no matter your age.
My verdict? The film is gorgeously rendered and offers a nice mix of tear-jerks and adorability. But the central plot point is surprisingly weird, subversive, and actually kind of infuriating: a mom abandons her family for 20 years . . . and no one cares.
Seriously. The mother of the protagonist goes off to live with dragons, leaving her husband and young son to believe she's died. And when she's found, both son and husband not only forgive her, but straight-up embrace her re-joining the family. There's no scorn, no issues, no lamenting the selfishness of how she up and abandoned her newborn baby to live a carefree life of dragon-training in the great beyond.
It's yet another example of a strange double standard in society: "Deadbeat" dads who leave their families in the lurch are (justly) chastised, but moms who do the same are ignored or swiftly forgiven.
Mothers Who Leave
The idea that abandonment is only a problem when fathers do it is both reverse-sexist and outright sexist. It assumes fathers are more likely to be deadbeat parents, which (of course) isn't necessarily true. In fact, according to census figures, there are more custodial fathers who haven't received full child support from moms than the other way around. And that's to say nothing of the dangerous myths surrounding African-American fathers, who are often saddled with the "deadbeat dad" stereotype, even though the numbers say otherwise.
In other news, it's also offensive to assume a mother's absence won't have the same emotional impact as a father's. In reality, a mother who leaves her family does a good deal of psychological damage to her children, saddling them with issues ranging from low-esteem to a fear of abandonment.
This is all hardly the fault of a (maybe!) innocent children's movie about dragons. But it's worth asking if studio heads would've greenlit the film had it featured a dad who abandoned his family for 20 years, and then was warmly welcomed back. (Perhaps this is Dreamworks' way of re-poaching Disney's success with orphaned-protagonist films?)