The Dark Secret of Max and Ruby


This is what comes of watching too much children’s television with your kids.

A favourite series on Netflix right now is Max and Ruby, the tale of rabbits Max (3) and Ruby (7) as they go through life having misadventures. Max is usually more aware and clever than his sister, even though he’s not old enough to put more than a few words together. He’s also pretty precocious, such that sister Ruby often finds herself at her wits’ end, dealing with his persistent demands to be included in her activities, his refusal to go to bed quietly, or his constant pointing out of the obvious things she’s missed. You know: your typical three year old.

It’s actually not too bad. The narrative can be clever at times, and the animators triumphed with the design of Max, whose eyes and ears are among the most expressive in the business. However, after watching this Treehouse series a couple of times over (it’s really a favourite among my kids), I’m forced to ask a simple, but very pertinent question:

Where the hell are their parents?

Throughout the entire 56 episode run of the series (which, since each episode contains three separate stories, amounts to 168 stories), you see no sign of Max and Ruby’s parents in their lives. Ruby is in charge of the day to day activities. She cooks for Max, cleans the house, organizes his birthday parties, goes to the grocery store for food, and is even responsible for putting Max to bed, and tending to his needs when he wakes up in the middle of the night. The only parental figure that’s in any way related to Max and Ruby is their grandmother, who shows up every few episodes to save the day.

Indeed, the only evidence I found that Max and Ruby even had parents is a single picture seen hanging on a wall in the first episode. It never shows up again. And even with this piece of information, it really is evidence of nothing. More on this later.

The severe lack of any parental influence, and the fact that Ruby is in charge of just about everything in the household, led comedian Bill Corbitt to ask on Twitter whether or not Max and Ruby killed their parents. And he found a fair amount of support for the idea. The way Max’s eyes narrow, and the way his ears go back when he’s riled, could be downright scary if it wasn’t so gosh darn cute. However, thinking this over, a more realistic, and yet tragic, reason for the lack of any parents comes to mind: clearly, Max isn’t Ruby’s little brother.

Max is really Ruby’s son.

I mean, doesn’t that just make more sense to you? How else would Ruby’s mothering skills come so naturally? And given how much responsibility she has, she’s clearly older than she looks. A lot older.

Why the deception? Well, consider the time period we’re looking at here. There are no computers in this series. Max’s toys are all wind-up and rarely feature any electronics. Many of his toys are robots, or aliens, or astronauts — toys whose heyday fell in the fifties and the sixties. And there’s the jaunty music, and the fact that whenever Ruby turns on a radio, the only song that comes out is a saccharine advertising jingle that sticks in your head with the tenacity of toffee (“start your day in a healthy way! Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!”). This isn’t modern day America, folks: it’s the time before Free Love, the time of McCarthy and the Great American Dream of two cars in every garage. It’s a time when pre-marital sex was frowned upon and a single mother was an object of shame.

Clearly, to protect Ruby’s honour and the family’s reputation, Ruby’s mother started posing as Max and Ruby’s grandmother in order to perpetuate the deception that Max was actually Ruby’s little brother. And that picture that was hanging on the wall earlier? Well, it’s more than possible that the mother in the picture is Max and Ruby’s “grandmother”, posing with her husband, now passed away.

And who is Max’s father? Well, that’s anybody’s guess, but my suspicions are on Roger, a suave brown-furred rabit upon whom Ruby clearly displays a crush. I can’t help but notice that he often takes time out of his social life to throw a football around with Max and participate in Max’s games, as any father would. Guilty conscience, perhaps?

So, clearly, Max and Ruby is the tragic tale of a young mother forced to deny the reality of her family and hide her love for her son, due to the restrictive norms and prejudices of society. It’s a story of Ruby’s struggles to raise a child in secret, with no help from her son’s father, and limited support from her own mother.

And this stuff is supposed to be for kids?

Further Reading

I am, apparently, not the only one to notice this. Here are other takes on the web:

It should also be noted that this post refers only to the Max and Ruby television show, and not the original books by Rosemary Wells wherein the parents were most definitely there.

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