Scott Pilgrim and the passive Princess?

On Saturday we got around to watching Scott Pilgrim vrs the World. Towards the end, my enjoyment started to be tempered with uncertainty.

Spoilers follow, so here’s a cut…

Does Ramona actually do anything? I mean, she looks brilliant, and she’s cool in that nonchalant way. She attempts to leave the seventh evil ex before the film starts, and she co-fights the fourth evil ex. But otherwise, she’s pretty passive. Maybe fatalistic. She’s made a mistake or two, which it’s then up to Scott to sort out for her. She’s his reward for defeating the villains, just another passive princess on the other side of a thorny hedge.

The husband tells me it’s less like that in the graphic novels, but it bugged me. And the reason it bugs me is because I’m looking for stories to tell my daughter.

I’m telling her variants on:
The Three Pigs, which goes a bit Grand Designs.

The first pig made his house from straw, which is a very good insulating material. The second pig made his house from wood, finished with larch shingles that would weather beautifully. [etc]

The Three Bears, which is based on an early version with a girl called Silver Hair.

“This bed is just right, and it’s still got a hot water bottle in it,” said Silver Hair. And she curled up under the covers without even taking her shoes off.

And, of course, the most iconic story of all, Red Riding Hood. It’s one that’s easy to modify. I’m told it’s the one where kids have heard the most versions, including one in which the wolf doesn’t eat Grandma. And making Red the heroine is as easy as putting an axe in her basket (or a pistol in her knickers if you’re Roalh Dahl). “It all goes a bit Angela Carter,” as the husband says.

I’d pulled out my 1920s edition of the Complete Anderson and Grimm, thinking to tell them to GJ. I excitedly started The Red Shoes only to discover it goes very preachy, so that’s out until I can write a more secular version. There’s a whole dull chapter of The Snow Queen involving flowers which I skipped but otherwise little Gerda is a decent role model. She goes on a quest to seek her friend Kay and is helped by all kinds of different women, from Princesses to an old Finnish woman. (You can tell it’s an old translation as she’s a “Finlander”.)

But when I started to tell Sleeping Beauty, I quickly realised there was no way to alter it so that the Princess is an active agent. She is punished for her curiosity and then literally lies around waiting to be rescued. That’s no role model I’m willing to present, even at this young age.

The reasons for Sleeping Beauty‘s narative make perfect sense. For the 1800s. Which is why seeing a similar narrative in a twentyfirst century film bugs me.

I’ve over a decade of this kind of double-viewing to come, haven’t I?


(Disclaimer: The husband has pointed out that it isn’t “Ramona Flowers vrs the World”, which is true but doesn’t make me any happier.)

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8 Responses to “Scott Pilgrim and the passive Princess?”

  1. Tweets that mention moosifer jones' grouch » Blog Archive » Scott Pilgrim and the passive Princess? -- Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Clapham, Matthew Badham. Matthew Badham said: RT @markclapham: RT @magslhalliday: blogged: Scott Pilgrim and the passive Princess?: [...]

  2. CathyBy Says:

    Yes, exactly!

    I was ready to see, on the second life, Ramona realise she is being passive and step in to defeat Gideon. Scott and Knives play a much greater role in this. After all, Scott got the power of self-respect, shouldn’t Ramona?

    Within the film, of course, a lot of her passivity might be attributed to the chip. But it’s a shame this wasn’t emphasised a bit more. It would have been interesting, for example, if Ramona had been less “cool” and more enthusiastic or warm in the closing scene. Having Wallace or Kim (the most clear sighted in the film) wonder why she is so detached earlier on might also have spotlighted this.

    Even if you take the whole film as a metaphor for Scott and Ramona overcoming their baggage, transformed to video game in Scott’s head, this criticism holds. In that reading Ramona is an image, the princess Scott fights for. At the end of the film that’s still what she is. How much stronger if he saw her real face. There isn’t a clear indication that that is the case.

    Basically I think a few changes to the end if the film might have addressed these issues successfully. So Scott vs the World still applies :-)

    If I watched with my kid, I’d highlight the chip, and talking about how some want to control others rather than connect with them. Gideon used the exs to get what he wanted – seems to be his style.

    I did love this movie though – pushed my geeky buttons (even if the extra life triggered an assumption Scott would need it before the metaphor was evoked, which did spoiler the end a little :)

  3. Mags Says:

    Yes, it being a good, enjoyable geeky film is what made my inner Angela Carter more annoyed. ;) It’s easy to see the “tyranny of pink” and resist it, it’s harder to resist these more insiduous things without sounding joyless.

    I like the idea of discussing the chip as a way into discussing Ramona’s role, comparing it to Kim’s signing of the deal (and the bow! I love the dreadful bow she’s wearing in the final ‘level’, and her change of yell in the second life).

    I’m also thinking that my real response should be to ensure GJ is equipped with the skills to question Princess narratives. Not in those Milli Tant terms, obviously, but to say “why does Snow White marry the Prince?” or whatever. (So far the only Disney film I know I’ll show her is Mulan.)

  4. Trina L Short Says:

    I noticed the lack of decent female role models in fairy tales when rewatching Faerie Tale Theatre a year back or so. It was rather disappointing to see that, apart from The Princess & the Pea and Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, there weren’t a whole lot of proactive women.

    Even Dahl, who was (still is) a favorite of mine, didn’t write many positive female role models till later on (The Witches for the grandmother, Mathilda, and the girl in The BFG). I’ve been very pleased with Pratchett’s young adult books, but I have to admit that Nation and I Shall Wear Midnight are more for the older youth.

    At least I had Elizabeth in the Tomorrow People and Moose in You Can’t Do That on Television to help me find myself when I was a youngin. Heh.

  5. Mags Says:

    Cinderella is complicated because Cinders is pretty active herself but requires the Fairy Godmother to enable her in order to go to the ball. It follows the same broad pattern as Snow White (beautiful rich girl forced into drudgery by wicked step-family but whose True Love spots her anyway). There are whole books devoted to fairy tale patterns…

    I was, unsurprisingly, a fan of George in the Famous Five. Although they weren’t approved of on class grounds.

  6. Mark Clapham Says:

    There’s a lot of nuance and ambiguity lost in Wright et al’s (frankly remarkable) achievement in cramming a six book series into 100-odd minutes of movie while retaining most of the major plot beats. Ramona is a more rounded and active character in the books, but the books also have a stronger suggestion that what we’re seeing on the page is inside Scott’s head – in other words we shouldn’t be surprised if everyone else in the story is a cypher, because we’re seeing Scott’s self-aggrandising view of his life, not a balanced view of events.

    That’s a far trickier trick to manage on screen than on the page, obviously.

    On the plus side, Knives comes off a lot better in the film than she does in the books.

  7. Mags Says:

    I’m reposting a comment here from Kelly Hale (co-author of Doctor Who: Grimm Reality in which a modern woman gets stuck in fairy tale narratives). LJ syndication posts expire and the comments are lost so…

    Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter is fantastic. A definite read-to book that can transition to read by herself. Although I am not a huge fan of Pippi Longstockings, I was very impressed with Ronia as a character. Oddly, a lot of the independent girls are from Scandinavian sources.

    The Grimms and Anderson imposed so much Christian and 19th century morality on everything. I’m writing for credits in Short Story witing, and remembered how much pondering I did about what the girls in the fairytales were thinking. The sister of the six swans that became my story Nettles — I remembered lying in the grass on a summer’s day wondering what she was thinking while she had to stay silent all those years weaving cloaks for her brothers? Married to a king and having babies and never ever talking. Not because she wasn’t capable of it, but because if she did her brothers would stay swans forever. I always wondered why the boys didn’t help her when they were in human form. They could have not be swans a lot faster:-)

    Anyway, the stories as they were prompted critical analysis. (And yes I realize that most babies are not good at critical analysis:-) I’m just saying there are other stories out there that don’t need altering.

    Mathilde is reading Little House on the Prairie books, which are much different from the tv show. Featuring an active, adventurous little girl.

  8. Mags Says:

    One of my favourites in the Snow Queen is the Robber Girl who initially kidnaps Gerda, then helps her escape. I can remember looking forward to her appearences when I’d be reading it.

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