To counter the passive princesses often targeted at girls, it’s been a regular parenting pastime of mine to seek out stories with female characters who subvert this stereotype.
Fitting neatly into this are the LEGO movies, which have given us a succession of kick-ass women. Unfortunately – while these characters are proactive and engaging – none of the movies are about them.
Beginning with Wlydstyle in The LEGO Movie, then Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in The LEGO Batman Movie, and most recently Nya in The LEGO Ninjago Movie – these women are strong, confident, smart, brave, and resourceful.
But these women have nothing much to do in the story other than a) be ‘strong’, b) be brilliant, c) be better than the hapless male protagonist, and c) support said hapless male protagonist in fulfilling his quest.
Happening in one LEGO movie, ok. Twice in a row? Unfortunate. Three consecutive times? It’s an established pattern.
This is part of the wider trope identified by Tasha Robinson as Trinity Syndrome. Named after the confident kick-ass Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) of the Matrix movies, her character’s place in the story is merely to help the bumbling Neo (Keanu Reeves) be become superhero terrorist messiah man.
Other examples include Mako Mori in Pacific Rim, Astrid in How to Train Your Dragon, and even (I hate to say it) Princess Leia in Star Wars. All are more capable than the male protagonists whom they eventually enable to complete their quest. Women are relegated to being literal supporting characters – supporting the male hero achieve his greatness.
Recently, there have been high profile attempts to counter and subvert this. Star Wars took it head on with Rey and Jyn Erso in the new films, Wonder Woman single handedly saved DC movies from impending doom, and Moana was ably supported in her quest by the ‘strong male character’ of Māui. There was also a brilliant subversion of the whole trope in Cars 3, previously a bastion of male dominance in kids movie brands.
But the LEGO movies continue to follow the Trinity formula for their female characters. By reinforcing this idea over multiple movies, that the role of brilliant women is to enable less able men to supplant them, a troubling idea is potentially taking root in children’s minds.
We love LEGO, and the brand has been working hard to encourage greater gender equality in its existing lines. More female characters are appearing in CITY and Superhero sets. The LEGO Friends line has more active themes and more male minifigures. DC Super Hero Girls LEGO is brilliant.
But when it comes to their movies, LEGO needs to build a better model for our children.