The lack of moms in movies

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The only way Anakin Skywalker gets to be a Jedi Knight is by leaving his poor mother behind as a slave while he gallivants across the universe with the big boys. And she, appropriately self-sacrificing, lets him go to fulfill his dream.

His dream? He's 8. How come his dreams are so sophisticated they include ditching his mom?

But when you come to think of it, how many fairy-tale moms are a significant help to their children? In most fairy tales (and "Star Wars" is, arguably, a modern fairy tale), mom is either absent ("Cinderella," "Bambi," "Snow White"), ineffectual ("101 Dalmatians," "Peter Pan," "The Lion King"), or worst of all, really, really evil.

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This latter category belongs to stepmoms (see "absent" above), of course, but let's call them mother figures. She's the wicked witch, the nemesis, the catalyst for the heroine's whole destiny. And she often comes to a bad end.

And when it comes to fairy tales about males, her role is usually tangential to the hero's journey - mom is usually put out of the way before the adventure can begin (see "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace").

As a mom I must protest.

Now this summer's blockbuster, "Tarzan," is another story. Moms everywhere may heave a sigh of relief.

Here is a cartoon mother figure who saves a baby's life, helps him grow into a man, gives him sound advice, believes in and loves him for himself.

True, Kala is a gorilla, not a human. She is played by a brilliant actress, Glenn Close, and Ms. Close gives her depth of feeling, intelligence, and weighty sweetness any orphan would love to have in a mother. And she's not too sentimentalized either (see "Bambi's" mom). She is the antidote to all the cynical kid flicks perpetrated on families this summer (including "South Park" and "Austin Powers" because children will be watching, however "R" rated they may be) and the misogyny of fairy tales in general. Gorillas aren't characters to be used disparagingly; they fascinate us because they are smart, social, and beautiful. They are also endangered creatures whose habitat is shrinking, so we hope and work for them.

Without anthropomorphizing them too far, they appear noble to our eyes - and "Tarzan" manages to capture all our better feelings for them. So we are predisposed to care for Kala - who could be a cartoon idealization of Koko (the gorilla who loves kittens), the most famous and best beloved pongid in human history. But, besides all that, Kala is the best movie mother in years.

*Please send your comments on Arts & Leisure to entertainment@csps.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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