My daughter and I went to see Bolt last night. Probably my favorite thing about the film was the representation of Penny’s mother. She was fat. But, her fatness was not focused on, it was not used to characterize her, it was not used as code for “she is dumb.” Rather, it was represented as normal, as average, as not having anything to do with what type of woman or parent she was. She was a nice character who played a very small role in the film, yet this representation of fatness as something NORMAL, as just another body type, is HUGE as it so rarely happens.
Usually fat is used to indicate a character is dumb, funny, evil, lazy, gluttonous, and/or diseased. Often the fatness of the character becomes the primary focus – they are seen as fat first, and as human second, it at all. Fat is used as a sight gag in many movies – so much so that fat bodies themselves create an expectation of humor. If you are fat and not funny, you are breaking expectations.
Many films have done “fat-face” (akin to black-face and yellow-face). Fat face is like the ‘lookist’ equivalent of the racist tradition of black/yellow-face. Yet, when actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Edie Murphy, and Tyler Perry don fat suits for laughs, it is seen as funny – rather than discriminatory.
Thus, Bolt broke relatively un-trod ground in its depiction of fat as normal. Imagine if the majority of films and television shows gave us this “fat is normal” message; imagine how this could change the body hatred that has become widespread in the US. Imagine too how it would hurt the sales of the multi-billion dollar diet/fitness/surgical industry that seeks to make us all – fat, thin, short, tall, hairy, bald – find fault with our bodies.
This “love yourself as your are” message fit in with the grander narrative of the film – Bolt learns to like himself despite the fact he is not the super-dog he though he was. We would do well as a culture to learn this same lesson.
My second favorite thing about the film was the representation of Penny. She is brave, heroic, independent, and caring, or, as one review refers to her, she is “fully equipped with the habitual spunk of a Disney New Feminist.” Her lightening speed scooter riding skills are Bond-worthy and, for once, we have a chase scene where the female is neither sexualized nor incompetent.
While in the TV show she and Bolt star in, he is her repeated savior, in real-life, the two are equally heroic – Penny for her refusal to give up when Bolt is lost as well as for standing up to her evil studio boss, and Bolt for his refusal to give up the hope of returning home to Penny. While the end of the film involves Bolt saving Penny from a burning building (in typical male must save female narrative style), it is ultimately Penny’s mother who saves them both by realizing that the Hollywood life is not a good place for dogs or girls.
Thus, while the film does not shout it’s pro-feminist, pro-fat message loud and proud, it certainly goes a lot further than the likes of Wall-e or Kung Fu Panda in putting strong females front and center, and, in the case of Penny’s mother, stripping the fat body of its negativity. For these reasons, as well as for the wise female feline Mittens and the sly debunking of masculinized fan-culture in the character of Rhino the hamster, the film is worth a watch. And, as someone who has never managed to stay awake through a Bond movie (so repetitive, so yawningly macho, so tediously sexist), I would recommend it over Quantum of Solace any day