I’m working on putting together a movie review podcast with some work friends and I’ve noticed a trend. The Dad character in family movies either sucks or he’s absent. Think about it. Beethoven, Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, Angels in the Outfield, Free Willy, Air Bud, the list goes on and on. My question is why?
Initially, I wondered if it’s because fathers (on average) tend to be more distant emotionally. That’s probably part of it. Movies often take a feeling or experience that has universal familiarity and then exaggerate. Also, men tend to be more likely to abandon their children.
It also happens that, literally all the movies I’ve noticed this trend in take place after the initial success of the Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas’ sci-fi blockbuster was heavily influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell and the concept of The Hero’s Journey in particular.
In that framework, the Hero is often orphaned or separate from his father. The repair or replacement of that relationship is an essential part of the Hero’s Journey. However, I’m not sure the writers of Air Bud were thinking on that level. I think they wanted to make a movie about a golden retriever.
Another thought occurs. Movie makers need you to care about what happens to the main character. Its how they make money. Sweet delicious money. If the main character is a child, a distant or non-existent father is a very effective way to make the audience feel for little Jimmy. That sounds a little closer.
I know what you’re thinking. Why not kill the mother or make her too wrapped up in work to attend little Jimmy’s softball game? Some family movies do have a deceased mom. But when they’re alive, they usually aren’t emotionally distant from little Jimmy. Why? I think it would bum everyone out too much.
Like I said at the beginning, women (for all their faults) are less likely to have a low attachment to their kids. In most cases, the bonding starts before little Jimmy is out of the womb. When we do come across an emotionally distant mom, we wonder what deeper problem she has. With men, the defect is all too common.