Just a few years ago, there were no openly identified gay characters in any children's or family movie or tv series, ever. Then, gradually they began appearing, in quick, blink-and-you miss it scenes: two dads drop off their son for a sleepover, a boy has a rainbow flag on his wall. More often than not, they still refuse to Say the Word, leaving the "lies, secrets, and silence" intact. 120 years after Oscar Wilde, it's still the "love that dare not speak its name."
I heard that the new movie The Mitchells vs. the Machines was different: it doesn't try to hide the fact that protagonist Katie is gay. So let's go through and find out.
Prologue: Some real family photos, with the taglines "blessed" and "family first," and a voiceover: "We all want to be the perfect family." Ruh-roh, "family is everything" rhetoric usually means "only heterosexuals need apply."
Scene 1: We start in the midst of an apocalypse, with robot monsters searching for "the last humans," and the family driving in a panic.
Flashback to a few days before. Katie Mitchell tells us that she has always felt like an outsider -- she never "fit in" -- (queer hint 1), so naturally she became a filmmaker (queer hint 2: a rainbow button. But you have to be looking for it to notice). Dad and Mom are film-phoboc nature nuts; brother Aaron is obsessed with dinosaurs. They are constantly feeling inferior to the "perfect" family next door, Jim (voiced by John Legend, top photo), Abby, and Hailey.
Katie has been accepted to film school in California; her flight is tomorrow.
She teases Aaron about liking girls. Ruh-roh, heteronormativity!
Dad criticizes her choice of film school: "Do you really think you'll be able to make a living with this...stuff? Failure hurts, kid!" Now is the time to bring up your objections? The night before she leaves? They argue; Katie's laptop gets smashed.
Scene 2: Katie goes to her room and looks at photos of Dad in the old days, before he got all manipulative and controlling. Meanwhile, Dad watches home movies of the old days, before Katie developed interests that differed from his. A daughter with her own life! How awful!
Scene 3: Morning. Katie gets a text from Jade: "We'll be roommates! See you tonight!" (No queer hint.) She rushes downstairs to find that manipulative Dad has cancelled her plane reservation so the family can drive her to California instead. He expects her to be thrilled, but of course she's furious. "But I'll miss orientation week...campus tours...registering for classes...a mixer...there's this cool girl, Jade..." (Maybe a queer hint).
Montage of "Road Trip Disaster": eating at a greasy spoon, throwing up afterwards, crashing through a work zone to avoid traffic, getting a ticket, a "mule trip" in which one of the mules is literally killed! But Katie still prefers face-time with her college friends to wilderness hikes with Dad. He's distraught.
Scene 4: Mark Bowman, whose corporation makes all of the world's cell phones, laptops, and ipods, is unveiling his new line of personal robots. But suddenly the robots go rogue, imprison him and fly off into the sky.
Meanwhile, in the car, Dad is still trying to bond with Katie by forcing her to do the things she liked when she was five years old.
They stop at one of those horrible "roadside attraction" diners with some inflatable dinosaurs on display. "These dinosaurs are inaccurate!" Aaron yells (voiced by Mike Rianda, left).
Suddenly an army of robots lands (at a roadside attraction in the wilderness?) and starts shoving the humans into pods, which fly off into space.
Scene 5: The robots have very efficiently managed to get all the humans on Earth into the pods (strikes me as a logistics nightmare that would take months). Apparently only the Mitchells tried to fight back, and easily defeated the robots in spite of being clueless. So they are alone, the last humans left on Earth. Mom and Dad want to hide in the diner for the rest of their lives, but Katie sneaks out to save the world.
I'll skip over the saving-the-world plan and the Dad-and-Katie-learning-to-work-together scenes, to the moral: "You have to give your Dad the benefit of the doubt, because even though he doesn't always get it right, he's trying harder than you ever knew."
Scene 15: In the wreckage of the world, as everyone is exiting their pods and starting to rebuild, Aaron asks the Girl of His Dreams for a date, but then changes his mind and runs off, embarrassed. Dad: "I'll have to have a talk with that boy." Facts of heterosexual life stuff?
Apparently not much rebuilding is necessary: the college is still running. They drop Katie off at her dorm.
Scene 16: I thought this was a scene of Katie meeting her new classmates, but apparently some time has passed. Mom calls and asks if "You and Jade are official, and will you be bringing her home for Thanksgiving?" Katie: "It's only been a few weeks."
Meanwhile we see Aaron hanging out with The Girl of His Dreams.
AND we see the heterosexual nuclear families of the cast and crew during the closing credits.
Gay Representation: Two or three minor hints until the last scene, and even that has deniability written in: "I meant they were officially best friends, not girlfriends!" Aaron's heterosexual romance is WAY more obvious.
And, disappointingly, they follow the cardinal rule of depicting LGBT characters in "family" movies and tv: never, ever Say the Word.