One of a child's first challenges is to understand his or her own world. For gay dads this presents its own set of issues, because much of the material we use with our kids basically ignores our very existence. Kids' programming, books, and toy sets all reflect the mommy/daddy standard. That is not likely to change, that standard being the majority, so LGBT families find ways to cope. I was constantly editing as I read my boys "good night" books, changing the word "mommy" to "papa" so that they heard a story about a world that they found instantly recognizable.
Gay dads don't get many advantages in the parenting landscape these days, what with cantankerous celebrities and bogus "studies" bashing us at every turn. The one area that can be our friend is the local DVD outlet, however. For whatever reason, due to a patriarchal Hollywood complex or just mere coincidence, there is a full treasure trove of great, father-affirming family material available.
I truly wish that in this piece I could trumpet material that is great for all LGBT families, but sadly there isn't a lot of it. The horrifying fact is that it sucks to be a mom in animated movies. Being a birth mother is tantamount to being a victim of some horrible, misogynistic plague, because if you are one, the likelihood is that in these movies, you are either dead (Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hoodwinked, and more) or absent/abandoning (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek, Tangled). If you are a stepmom or adoptive mom, it is worse: You are just plain evil (Snow White, Cinderella, Tangled). Even in the latest offering, Brave, the mother/daughter dynamic struck me as less than ideal; however, some of my women friends felt it did present a good mother/daughter dynamic.
So, lesbian moms, it is with a little guilt that I offer up this list of the 10 best gay-dad-friendly movies for kids. I wish there were similar offerings for your families. There should be. Whenever you are ready to go picket Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar, and others, I will march with you. In the meantime, here is my list, from the good to the best. I hope you agree.
10. Despicable Me (2010): Gru is despicable and inept at his profession of being a villain. In the end he demonstrates what it takes to be a good father, putting his kids first.
9. Cars (2006): Lightening McQueen has all the testosterone of a teenaged kid. He is finally tamed by the sage, gnarly, tough love of a surrogate dad, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), and due to that influence he grows up.
8. The Lion King (1994): I am sure the question is not why this is on the list, because it has the theme of fatherhood all over it, but why it is not higher. Simba's guilt over his father's death, the saintliness of his father, and the cavalier silliness of his two surrogate dads may be a bit much for kids in gay-dad households to handle. It's still good, though, but it requires some dad hugs and statements like, "Don't worry, I am not going anywhere."
7. Pinocchio (1940): This movie is filled with gay-dad heart, even if it is a little dated. A man denied fatherhood creates a son in the only way he can, and with the help of another surrogate dad who happens to be a cricket, and through rites of passage, the artificially created son becomes a real one.
6. Toy Story (1995): This one features a bit of a flip-flop in terms of the father-child dynamic, because the two "dads" are owned by the child. Well, maybe that is not so much a flip-flop as a deeply accurate perspective. Not only do Woody and Buzz strive to hold the child Andy as the core of their lives, but they also play father to the band of various toys in the nursery. One of the great themes for gay dads is: Can I be as good as my hype? What happens when my kid finds out that I can't really fly? The answer: He or she won't care, because in their eyes, you can.
5. Ice Age (2002): A family is formed when two surrogate-dad types, a mammoth named Manny and a sabre-toothed cat named Diego, come together with a goofy-uncle-type sloth named Sid. The bond is sealed when they set the love and welfare of a human child as their highest priority, much to the disapproval of their kin.
4. Monsters, Inc. (2001): Unlike the guys in Ice Age, the surrogate-dad types in Monsters, Inc., Sully and Mike, already have kind of a bromance going sans child. When the human child enters their life, there is a sense of taboo, and an element of "us against the outside world" that they experience. Ultimately, they show that they are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of and love for the child in their lives.
3. The Incredibles (2004): This movie does not predominantly feature male parental figures like the other movies on the list, but the opposite-gender parents are fully actualized, empowered (literally) people who can save the day on their own. The element that might appeal to a gay-dad household is the sense that "our family is special, but not all outsiders will understand," and that "normal family squabbles do not change the fact that we are there for each other at the end of the day." The movie also features the androgynousish "E" Mode, a superhero costume designer. Moreover, Helen Parr is the best kids'-movie mom ever. If, per my previous point, great kids'-movie moms were not an endangered species, I would move to make her an honorary gay dad.
2. Over the Hedge (2006): Two surrogate fathers vie for the heart and leadership of a family of woodland creatures displaced by a housing development. One, RJ, has some self-serving motives, but the other, Verne, is for pure, fatherly love. In the process, and with some great music by Ben Folds, RJ sees his error and steps up to a real dad role. Plus, this movie has a hilariously skunky Wanda Sykes, who does an interspecies-romance thing with a cat.
1. Finding Nemo ( 2003): I am cheating a little: My "best" pick is based on an edited version of this film. My sons have never seen the part of the movie that occurs before the title sequence. I always started the DVD, picked "Scene Selection," went to the second panel, and started it where the title "Finding Nemo" comes up. I would recommend that you do the same, unless you think your children watching a mother fish and the majority of her offspring being eaten is desirable. I didn't. So, for me, this is about the rest of the movie. In my opinion, this is probably the best dad-and-kid movie ever made. Single dad Marlin has trouble not being overprotective. His world revolves around his son, Nemo. Nemo embarks on an adventure where he inadvertently falls out of his dad's protection but is guided by a surrogate father, Gil. Nemo learns to become self-actualized, and Marlin learns to let him. The movie is woven with parental adages like "just keep swimming, just keep swimming" and this exchange:
Dory: "He says it's time to let go!"
Marlin: "Let go?! How do you know something terrible isn't going to happen?!"
Dory: "I... don't!"
They let go to find, an instant later, that they are exactly where they needed to be. The father/child bond in the movie is complex and perfect. My sons have watched this movie thousands of times, and I still never tire of it. In the end Marlin learns to let go and to respect his son -- and he has Ellen DeGeneres as a best friend. I mean, come on, how gay-dad is that?!
So there is my "best" list. What is yours? And lesbian moms, what would you like to see in a kids' movie?