My partner and I walked out of the new animated kids’ movie Monster House the other day. For one thing, the film is boring and badly paced – a shame, because a monstrous house could be truly scary, or funny-scary, in a good way. Any artistic work risks that sort of failure, of course, and that’s not the reason we walked out.
What’s truly objectionable, and monstrous in a different way, is the film’s casual, hateful, use of stereotyping.
Three of the central characters are kids right on the cusp of adolescence. Two are boys old enough to have started noticing girls, but not quite at the point where their voices are changing. One is a stereotypical fat kid sidekick: dumber, slower, more prone to panting, more of a nag than his slender friend.
Two minor characters are a pair of cops; they’re stereotyped in different ways. One is white, older, cynical, disbelieving of what the kids have to say. The other is a trigger-happy, fast-talking-almost-in-dialect young African-American man.
So, we’ve got racist and fatphobic stereotyping. We’ve also got some truly horrible teasing of one of the kids by the adults around him; they bait him and are cruel to him. I hated that part.
But it gets worse: eventually, we find that the house is a monster because it has inherited the spirit of a dead woman who was fat. Not only was she fat, she was crazy, and she becomes evil (as the house, she’s the source of evil in the movie). She was once a sideshow freak, rescued from that existence by a thin man. His love for her is portrayed as pathology.
The New York Times reviewer A. O. Scott reviewed this film positively. He didn’t mention any of the stereotypes; he either didn’t notice them, or didn’t think they were important. I disagree.
Movies and TV are a good portion of how kids get the message about how the world works. This one not only teaches bad storytelling, it teaches exactly the kinds of stereotyping that kids (and adults) don’t need.
You can skip this one, and encourage the kids you know to skip it as well.