The XX Factor

David Benedictus Gets the “Token Girl” Right

In adding a new character, Lottie the Otter, to the Hundred Acre Wood (Winnie-the-Pooh’s terrain), author David Benedictus was bound to catch some flak, but he’s in keeping with tradition-both good and bad-in updating a male band of buddies with a new girl. The difference is that he managed to get it right. Benedictus was following in the footsteps of A.A. Milne himself, who added new creatures in both of the story collections he published about Pooh: Kanga and Roo in Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger in The House at Pooh Corner . By making her a girl, Benedictus landed himself smack in the middle of a whole roster of updating writers and producers who’ve felt compelled to add a token girl to a beloved band of boy creatures. But unlike such television additions as Abby Cadabby and Babs Bunny, Lottie doesn’t feel like a token. She’s a new character with a part to play, who just happens to be a girl, and that’s the way it should be.

Sesame Street has been trying for years to engineer a girl character with the popularity of Elmo and the name recognition of Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Ernie and Bert-trying, and failing. Similarly, every update of the Warner Brothers characters, from Tiny Toons to Baby Looney Toons to Loonatics Unleashed has attempted to add a girl to balance Bugs and Daffy, with varying degrees of success. Even Disney has already tried to add a dose of girly to the world of Pooh with the arrival of Darby in the mediocre My Friends Tigger and Pooh series. In every instance, the harder they try, the bigger the failure. Abby Cadabby looks like nothing so much as a Muppet Disney Princess, and every girl version of Bugs makes me think of the mechanized versions he chased with such delicious political incorrectness across the classic screen.

It’s a mistake to believe that girls will only identify with girl characters, and more than a little insulting to suggest that we’d rather be a supporting character than to put ourselves in the shoes of a bunny or bear who just happens to use the pronoun “he.” I agree that a lifetime of seeing only boy characters reach iconic status takes its toll, but the answer to that isn’t, and never has been, to pop a girl onto the page or screen just to achieve balance. The answer is to create adventuresome, entrancing girl characters that both sexes will love. (Do you hear me, Kate DiCamillo? J.K. Rowling? Pixar?) Meanwhile, it’s clear that David Benedictus didn’t think “let’s get some femininity in there.” He set out to add a character in keeping with the time and spirit of the stories, and he created a slightly snotty creature with a high opinion of herself who meshes gracefully with the other flawed denizens of the forest, beloved both because of and in spite of their eccentricities. She doesn’t compete with Pooh and Piglet (or strive to), and she may never achieve even the status of Tigger and Eeyore. But she has a place of her own in the updated Pooh cannon, and in a new set of Pooh Adventures ( I reviewed them for Xxtra Small here ). Benedictus may have added a token girl, but at least he did it well.