About a year ago, my good friend Vanessa and I discussed the women in Pixar’s films. While we both came to the conclusion that, yes, there aren’t as many as there should be, Pixar still has some strong female characters in their flicks. Now, you may have read Jenika’s awesome write-up of the female characters in Pixar movies (and if you haven’t, the hell’s wrong with you?). It’s…not that optimistic. This article is nothing like that one, however. Instead, think of it as a companion to Jenika’s article. An honest look at the women in these movies.
Check past the break for Vanessa’s article in full. I promise it’s good stuff.
Toy Story – Little Bo Peep. Now Bo has some very abbreviated screentime, but whenshe’s there, she’s awesome. She has the southern belle thing going on, and largelytakes charge of the relationship she has with Woody. “I’ve got my moving buddy” is the first thing she says after Buzz Lightyear walks on the scene; she knows what she wants, and she’ll get it by crook or by shepherdess hook.
A Bug’s Life – A fairly big theme of this story is people (or bugs, rather) coming into their own. Princess Atta is introduced as nervous and unsure of herself as an authority figure, while her mother the Queen is a very capable boss without sacrificing any charm. Atta’s feelings are mirrored in Princess Dot, who believes she’s inferior because of her small wings. Both Atta and Dot find their strength by the film’s end. This goes without mentioning Rosie, the black widow spider, a much more charismatic character than Gypsy Moth, who really just hangs out with Manny. (I could talk about Francis and the whole transgender lining there but that’s another discussion.)
Toy Story 2 – We see even less of Bo, unfortunately, but in her place as the strong female character of the movie we get Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl. Jessie also dominates practically everyone, literally lassoing her way into a starring spot. She even rounds up Buzz. What doesn’t gel with me is that she spends the movie wanting to “belong” to someone, which does make a certain amount of sense because she’s a toy after all, but it’d be nice if the story had acknowledged that she also belongs to herself. Mrs. Potato head is no pushover either, but she’s fairly generic.
Monsters Inc. – This one sorely lacks a strong female character. You really only have two true female characters to begin with: Boo/Mary and Cecilia. I can’t count Roz because, let’s face it, she doesn’t have any femininity to speak of (literally, because she’s voiced by Bob Peterson). This is too bad, because Roz turns out to be the one secretly in control from behind the scenes. While Boo certainly leads Mike and Sulley by their inhuman noses, she’s a toddler who gets things done through emotional reactions. (Some feminists I know would microscopically interpret this as saying women are unfair with their feelings, but I don’t see this. Boo is a child, and her actions in the film are gender ignorable. My guess is she’s only a girl because Mike and Sulley are male and what father figures wouldn’t go gooey at those big eyes?) In Cecilia’s case, she doesn’t necessarily take Mike’s crap, but neither does she really put her tentacle down. Not the greatest example of a strong Pixar lady – even with snake hair.
Finding Nemo – Dory is one of Pixar’s most popular characters. She has the best lines and a fantastic monologue. She’s clearly the darling of the film. But can we call her strong? I think we can call her resilient – she really bounces back from all her own crazy – and she’s a major driving force in the story, but she’s not really a character we can admire for her accomplishments. Although she does read English, which is impressive for a fish. Other lady fish in “Nemo” are significantly less noticeable because they’re either crazy supporting cast (Deb) or there and then gone (Coral).
The Incredibles – I think this is where Pixar starts to really find their footing in regard to strong female characters. Helen Parr/Elastigirl is a force to be reckoned with as both a superhero and a mom. When she thinks Bob is cheating on her, it takes some prodding, but she goes to confront the situation head-on. She has Bob’s back 100%, readily defying his wish that she sit out the final battle. Edna Mode is a wonderful character (one of my favorites from Pixar) but not entirely recognizable as a woman, given her rather androgynous appearance and (great) voice acting by Brad Bird. Violet has pretty much the same case as Princesses Atta and Dot, finding her own power within herself. There is also Honey, Frozone’s wife. Honey is only in one scene and she’s off camera, but it’s obvious she has a great deal of control in her marriage to a superhero (we don’t know if she’s a super as well). It’s honestly too bad we don’t get to see more of her. Mirage, I think, is the first Pixar woman to show what Pixar women can be. She’s in a questionable relationship with Buddy/Syndrome but she acts of her own free will. Later, when Syndrome bids Mr. Incredible prove his “strength” by crushing Mirage – all without batting a villainous eye – she dumps him like a woman scorned, like which fury Hell hath no. And then she steals his rocket. Insert phallic joke here, and Syndrome is effectively stripped of his manhood by his own femme fatale.
Cars – Sally Carrera is an ex-lawyer car! She’s moved to the country and loves it! So she’s not a snob! She’s basically every mediocre female character we’ve seen in a movie ever; there is personality to her, but her key acts are to play hard to get and then make Lightning McQueen see the good in “hillbilly hell,” as she calls Radiator Springs, with a big, unoriginal pep talk. I find it difficult to be too disappointed in the character, though. “Cars” is not a bad movie. It’s actually really cute and enjoyable, but it’s pretty hard to relate to.
Ratatouille – Pixar gets a gold star here. Colette, the female chef at Gusteau’s, is even better than Mirage! She asserts herself well, and the flak she gets for being a talented woman in a dominantly male profession is openly discussed in her brilliant, if aggressive, tutelage of Linguini. She respects herself enough to fall for Linguini but not let him tie her down – because, really, he can’t. We get to see her make the choice to return to the restaurant and help him out, which is a really nice touch as opposed to the method of laying on her return as a not surprise. So far, Brad Bird is the man when it comes to portraying great female characters at Pixar.
WALL-E – I’ve heard angry theories about the Wall-E/Eve relationship, including date rape, and I have to reject the majority of them. Wall-E is nothing but respectful toward her, even while she’s asleep and percolating that plant, which she doe sall on her own without any male assistance. Considering Eve’s potential to, say, completely demolish Wall-E with a wave of her transformer hand, I’d say she’s got the advantage. She evolves throughout the movie from a task-focused, one dimensional character to a loving one. Personally, I think Andrew Stanton’s terrific movie has been highly overanalyzed.
Up – Setting aside the fact that “Up” is simply a genius piece of work, there’s Ellie. Seen mostly in flashback, it would seem that Ellie doesn’t get to say much in the scope of the movie. In reality, though, she says volumes. In her introduction, Ellie renders little Carl Frederickson entirely speechless with her bombastic presence. In the beautiful montage early in the film, it’s clear that Ellie takes the initiative in her marriage to Carl. It’s such a shame to see her go, but Carl’s memory of her keeps her in the film as he perceives his beloved home as the symbolic representation of his wife until he does eventually come to realize that “it’s only a house.” Like Dory does for Marlin, Ellie motivates Carl to be the person he should be.
Toy Story 3 – The summer of 2010 gave us perhaps the most unexpected of strong Pixar ladies: Barbie. “Toy Story 3” shows a heap of character development in its main cast as the toys come to terms with the ending of Andy’s childhood. Just as well written is Barbie’s personal growth in the film. Wonderfully voiced by Jodi Benson, she overcomes Molly’s rejection of her, plays an integral role in her friends’ escape, asserts herself as more than just Ken’s pretty-faced counterpart, and finds her place as a leader at Sunnyside. Andy’s mother is not to be overlooked either. Although we never learn her real name as even the toys call her Mom, she is definitely one of the most admirable of Pixar’s characters, male or female. We know she throws a great birthday party! She’s a single parent who raises two children on her own, always encouraging Andy’s imagination as she plays with his toys. By TS3, she must simultaneously deal with a petulant tween and a soon-to-be college boy. What’s not to love about Andy’s Mom?
That is a LOT of movies in Pixar’s repertoire. I look forward to seeing what kind of female characters return and/or emerge in “Cars 2” this Friday. And then there’s “Brave,” which will be Pixar’s thirteenth movie and their first to feature a female character in a leading role.
To conclude: Cumulatively, there is a good deal of strong female characters of Pixar (can there ever really be enough?) but in each work individually, they mostly operate as “the strong female character of this movie” – which is why they get special attention in the first place; they’re often the only one there. If there was more than one to each film, it wouldn’t downplay her importance, it would simply acclimate American audiences to strong characters regardless of gender. With each new film Pixar has demonstrated a firmer grasp on this concept, and I believe the studio will continue to make the best film they possibly can. So we’ll all wait in anticipation. Let’s hear it for the ladies!