A Feminist Disney review of Quest for Camelot.
Overall Score: 2.2/4 stars (see bottom for details)
Over the past few months, I had received several requests to review Quest for Camelot. While it is not Disney, the animation, audience and impact are comparable, and more than anything, I was intrigued by a very pronounced split in the Asks I was receiving. About half of them wondered if I agreed that the main female character, Kayley, was “feminist” in characterization, and the other half made sure to let me know that it was a horrible fail of a “feminist” aspiring movie. I had seen it so long ago that I wasn’t sure. So who was right?
In my analysis, I would have to say the second group was more on target. At first, I wasn’t sure what the problem was. Sure, the lyrics were both cheesy and forgettable in the songs Kaley sung, but hey, here was a girl who aspired to be not a princess, but a knight like her dad.
Very quickly, some common tropes emerge:
-a focus on the relationship with the father, while the relationship with the mother exists but is never really a focus or addressed. In itself, not a problem, except the majority of films have this focus and not the other way around. Mothers are seen as dependable, always there; fathers are seen as someone whose respect you have to earn, want to earn (compare this movie to Treasure Planet). Reasserts the idea that motherhood is both inherent to women (an instinct not worth exploring) and less worthy of narrative examination (since it never is). As has been quoted more fully in the Tarzan review:
“Fathers become the center of [their] lives. Mothers are cast as less important.…
Their children treat them as less important too. Mulan wants her father’s approval and seeks to honor him, while Hercules wants to join his father Zeus on Olympus; neither mentioning their mother. Tarzan seeks Kerchak’s approval and recognition, not content with Kala’s. Milo tries to fulfill his grandfather’s legacy in finding Atlantis, never mentioning a mother or grandmother.”
-Going off of this, the mother herself becomes a bit of a trope in that she is never shown to be more than a mother/nurturer/encourager. Often in films, fathers have duel roles as both fathers and employees, friends, whatever (Mr. Incredible, Chief Powhatan, Bambi’s father, Mulan’s father, etc). Mothers, if they are in the film at all, almost always have no role other than to be a background dependable force for the main character. They are consistently made less complex, as if they are all more or less interchangeable people/roles. They aren’t complex people- they’re “just” moms.
There was another trope in the movie of the player boy/jealous “ugly” girlfriend that reinforces the idea that men are roped into relationships by women who constantly have to try and “fix” them. Strangely enough, in this movie the characters playing into this trope were chickens. It came up several times though and was supposed to serve as a humor point in the movie (“There’s that big chicken again, getting mad at her husband for flirting!”), and by the end of the movie he realizes the Importance of Wuv and Family, and so finally treats his chicken-wife like he actually likes her. Another troubling moment is when the female chicken beats up her hubby for flirting. Yes, it’s funny because it’s chickens beating themselves up- but is it not small, collective moments like this that normalize domestic violence for us? Is humor like this not one of the reasons we tend to disbelieve/find male victims to be less “victimized”? Their struggles are always a punchline, one we’re exposed to from a very early age?
The plot moves onward; I still had no real problems with Kayley. I was surprised that she found herself completely capable to fight the bad guys as she’s fleeing in order to find the sword. She fought them by herself and was brave; didn’t seem to fit with the resounding critique of her. That is, until she met Garrett and everything about the criticism started to click.
Garrett was interesting. I completely forgot he was blind until I re-watched, and it was at least “cookie worthy” that they made one of the most lead characters blind. However, the representation of the disabled in this movie was quite sub-par. As a now removed user said in this post,
“Why is it that in almost every case in which a disabled person has been prominent in a story, he or she has been superhuman in some way? I offer you Rain Man and Charles Xavier of Marvel comics as two of many possible examples.
It’s sad, but I think the people in charge of media do not know how to look at us (“us” here meaning disabled folk) as people. Maybe we are not sensational enough without powers; maybe there’s some guilt around telling stories involving disability and realizing how bad ableism can be; maybe the powers are a way of distancing the people in charge from the people they are trying to include, so that any errors in portrayal might be overshadowed by all the AWESOME ABILITIES that the token disabled person has.
Why can’t we just exist?
Please, write us going to school, falling in love, having drug problems, fighting crime (sans superpowers, please), getting our Masters’ degrees, struggling with language boundaries, laughing at concerts and dealing with human things.
Because that is what we are: human. Like everyone else.”
Unfortunately Garrett reinforced stereotypes about disabilities and troublesome troupes. He has almost super-power fighting and hearing abilities, which is great, except this is always the case with disabled individuals in movies. Also a bit stereotypical that the person with the disability would be agonizing over it their entire life and withdrawing from society. While of course this sometimes happens, it shouldn’t be the single narrative we always see/hear/read about people with disabilities. It would be great to have movies where they simply exist and their disabilities aren’t constantly made into some huge metaphor for non-disabled people about the importance of working past the things that hold you back or whatever.
While Garrett himself was awesome, as soon as Kayley met him she lost all abilities to function as a rational being. She says some insensitive things about blindness when she meets him, and to his credit he answers her pretty sarcastically.
She suddenly loses the ability to rescue herself and throughout the rest of the movie, has to rely on Garrett and his super-hearing abilities to save her from every possible danger she could place herself in. Typical “flirt with you while you teach me a fighting stance” ensues. When they’re walking through what is clearly a dangerous, dragon infested place, she starts speaking incredibly loudly about nothing- she sounds like a complete bubblehead, like they’re having a convo in a high school hallway- and her talking, predictably, places them in danger, because I guess since she’s a girl falling in love she can’t do logical things anymore like not almost kill them all.
She continues to risk their lives about ten times by talking too much and suddenly Garrett’s all, “Your love helps me seeeee.” See comments about about the unnecessary metaphor-cation of disabilities. It’s awkward, but also speaks to the overwhelming heterosexual romance expectation and how it leads to watered down character development. From an IMDB reviewer:
“Where did that come from? One second they hate each other, then after spending, what - a couple of days together? They’re in love. They only fell in love because in a movie like this the main male and female characters typically fall in love, there’s no development to their relationship, it only happens because it’s expected.”
A line from the two-headed dragon:
“Kayley deserves someone who will… make her feel like areal woman.” Because you’re not a “real” woman until a man wuvs you a lot? That’s when you’ve truly grown up! Not when you save yourself from magical sword people, or when you save the country by finding that sword- nope, it’s when Garrett wants to kiss you, that you truly grow. To put the cherry on the ice cream, she is so distracted by thinking about Garrett after she leaves the forest that the bad guys surround her and get the sword without her even putting up much of a fight. If people who think women can’t serve well in the military watched this movie as children, I’m not sure how much I can blame them for the impression that women who do normal things like fall in love are completely useless in combat.
Predictably, some more predictable moments occur… she falls off a building, but no worries, Garrett is on top of a flying dragon ready to save her.
In other representation issues: No POC characters, unfortunately but not surprisingly. Have to love a world where dragons and magical swords can exist, but Pseudo Historical Accuracy ™ means all the characters will be white.
The two-headed dragon was interesting. At times, the one half seemed a bit queer coded, or at least drawing from past cultural references of what gay men (are thought to) like to do. Nothing definite though and it might have been more an english thing than anything else.
The ending was meh. I was glad it ended with them being declared knights instead of married, but okay, it still served very obviously as a visual metaphor for it from the dress to the “Just Knighted” sign. It’s like they wanted “feminist” credit for the movie not ending in marriage, but they were too chicken and did everything anyway except actually have the rings. Strange detail IMDB notes that I didn’t pick up on: the dress she refuses to wear in the beginning (she prefers pants and frollicking I guess?) is the one she wears at the end of the movie (except it’s completed). A strange way to wrap things up.
Overall, the film is okay. Not the worst movie for kids to see, but as a whole it feels like a first draft that needed a lot more development.
Promotion/Equal Voice given to women: ***
Representation of Women present (are they more than typecasts of female stereotypes etc): **
Racism/Classism: ** (only white, upper-class people shown)
LGBTQ representation: ** (no one really present, but no queer villain coding)
Gender Binary adherence: **
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- genderbutt said: Haven’t seen the movie but the dress thing is probably a symbol of growing up. Because growing up = becoming heteronormative. Obviously.
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- starvingstarling said: Aww, bollocks. I used to really like this movie when I was a kid. Though anything with fantasy, fighting, and romance worked for me at the time. DAMN it. Thanks for the great review, though! c:
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