Brave

This weekend, I went to the cinema for the second time in as many weeks. I took my two daughters, aged 10 and 7, to see Brave in 3D.

Now, I must confess I did this somewhat under duress. I don’t really like the Scottish. Note: I actually do quite like Scottish people, who are generally lovely. But aggregate them into a nation and, Mcglashan-like, they seem to acquire a sense of entitlement and anti-English hatred that would be completely unacceptable if practised in reverse. I really didn’t like the trailer to Brave, which seemed to pander to the Scottishness of the characters. Surely this would be merely a prequel to an hour and a half of English-bashing. Braveheart, just without the heart, if you like.

In fact I only took them at all because it was vital that we did something together as they had been on holiday abroad, without me, for the previous ten days. Even though you’re completely in the dark and can’t talk to each other, there’s something nice about going to the cinema. The sense of anticipation on the way there and the way you roar at the cheesy adverts prior to the film itself are all great bonding rituals.

So, dear reader, I am delighted to admit that I was totally wrong about Brave. The film is a gem, and fully deserves to be join the ranks of classic children’s animated films.

I won’t spoil the film by unnecessarily revealing too much of the plot, but the core of the film is the relationship between a princess and her mother, the queen. Early in the film, they fall out and must spend the rest of the film doing whatever it takes to get back together. Because they realise that their relationship is worth saving. They grow to appreciate that they were so wrapped up in what they wanted that they weren’t listening properly to what the other was saying. And there’s a wonderful happy ending.

What really makes the film special is that the female characters are so strong. In one part of the film, the male characters are brawling. The queen tells her husband to sort it out. He does, but peace lasts only for a few moments before they start fighting again. The rabble only falls silent when the queen walks – speechlessly and imperiously – through the middle of the room. Later, the princess gives a rousing and deeply moving speech that has the entire, male, audience enthralled. This is a brilliant film for girls, as it demonstrates that the traditional female stereotypes in films are simply unnecessary. You can make a good film without having to have violent, dominant male characters and meek, submissive female ones. You just need a director with a bit of bravery.

As of the time of writing, the film is on general release. Go see it – at an independent cinema near you, if you can.

Stories about parental relationships

The Day of the Dead Dad rapidly approaches. And, to get you in the mood, I have two stories for you about the nature of parental relationships.

For some time, I’ve been listening to a variety of podcasts. Some are non-fiction, such as the excellent Freakonomics podcast, Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time and NPR’s Planet Money. But all work and no play makes Fr Adam a dull boy, so I mix it up with some fiction. And one of the fiction podcasts I listen to is Escape Pod, which serves up science fiction stories.

Now, to be honest, Escape Pod is a bit hit and miss. Their stories are narrated rather than enacted. In other words, it’s a person reading a story rather than a piece of radio theatre. That makes listening more difficult, as you have to listen to every word in case it is salient. It can also stray a little bit into science fantasy for my liking. And some of the stories are very long. One recently was over 90 minutes, which is a pretty long time investment.

However, when Escape Pod gets it right, it gets it right. And two recent stories knocked me off my feet. Curiously, they both deal with the relationship between generations.

The Paper Menagerie describes a Chinese immigrant to the US who is particularly skilled with origami. But her son finds her Chinese ways embarrassing and begs her to be more American. The story charts his path towards realising how foolish he was.

And The Homecoming is about an estranged son who seeks reconciliation with his parents. Mur Lafferty, who created Escape Pod and hosts this episode, said that Mike Resnick, the author of the story, tends to make her cry and did so again with this story. I don’t regard myself as nearly so sentimental. There was no way he was going to make me cry. But, at the end of the story, I found myself wandering up Kingsway bawling my eyes out.

Neither is particularly long, and if you don’t fancy listening to the podcasts, you can read the stories in full on the website instead.

Leave your children’s genitals alone!

The Dead Dad wasn’t circumcised, and he never circumcised me. The very idea that my sister might have been “circumcised”, ie mutilated, was never an issue for our white, comfortably middle class family.

But, as Newsnight last night showed, female genital mutilation remains a problem in certain parts of the world, even though it might be technically illegal there. And, of course, male circumcision, or male genital mutilation if you like, remain widespread and legal across much of the world.

The Church of the Dead Dad does not require FGM or MGM. In fact, we will excommunicate any parent who does either procedure to a child. It’s laughable to presume that our loving Father would exclude an innocent child from Heaven merely for having intact genitalia. Should any person wish to hack at their bits when they’re old enough to know what they’re doing  that’s their prerogative. But it’s an appalling abuse to inflict it on an unconsenting child.

Some will argue that their religion “makes” them do it. No. Religion does not. You are a parent first. Treat your innocent child with the respect they deserve. And don’t you fucking dare mess with their naughty bits.