Is Pixar a ‘boys only’ club?

Honestly, I’d never even thought about this until Prairie brought it up after we watched one of the trailers for Cars, when its predominantly male-centric theme got her started thinking about the rest of Pixar‘s oevure. We got started talking about it again this morning, after I noticed this quote from Bonnie Hunt excerpted on the Luxo weblog:

One night John [Lasseter] said to me, “The next movie I’m writing, you’ll be the girl in it.”

See that? The girl. Really, that sounds about right. Just where are the girls in Pixar films? Let’s take a quick look…

  1. Toy Story: Bo Peep, Andy’s Mom, and Hannah (the infant sister). All definite supporting characters. Andy’s Mom and Hannah are barely there, and Bo Peep is little more than a cute flirtation gag.

  2. A Bug’s Life: More women, but more characters overall, also: Princess Atta, Princess Dot, The Queen, Gypsy Moth, and Rosie the Black Widow. It’s still a male-dominated cast — even the ladybug is a boy (it’s a great gag, but when looked at from this context, suddenly it’s not as funny).

  3. Toy Story 2: Jesse, Mrs. Potato Head, Tour Guide Barbie, Bo Peep, Andy’s Mom, and Hannah. Jesse, admittedly, is a wonderful character, but still definitely a supporting character — this is still Woody and Buzz’s story. The other additions are an overbearing housewife and a dim blonde. As Prairie said, “Hooray for womankind!”

  4. Monsters, Inc.: Boo, Celia (Mike’s Medusa-like girlfriend), and Roz (the supervisor/secretary). An infant, a neglected love interest, and a stereotypical crone of a secretary (voiced by a man, no less).

  5. Finding Nemo: Dory, Peach (the starfish), Deb/Flo (the fish whose ‘sister’ is her reflection in the tank), and Coral (Nemo’s mom). Dory’s certainly a major character in the film, but still essentially a supporting character (this is, after all, Marlin and Nemo’s story)…and she’s addled to boot. Sweet, lovable, and funny…but addled.

  6. The Incredibles: Helen Parr (Elastigirl), Mrs. Hogenson (who?), Violet, Mirage, Edna Mode, Kari (the babysitter), and Honey (Frozone’s wife). To date, Helen is Pixar’s strongest female character, and the closest they’ve come to a female lead, but again, the movie is about how Bob (Mr. Incredible) adjusts to the changing circumstances in his world. We certainly can’t ignore Honey, who is only present as a voice haranguing Frozone as he tries to find his costume.

  7. Cars: Sally’s the only female character in any of the previews. According to the IMDB, there’s also a Lizzie and a Flo. Until the movie appears, we won’t really know just how strong of a character Sally is, but the trailers make it obvious that this is, once again, a boy’s movie (to the point that Prairie isn’t looking forward to Cars as much as she has other Pixar films, due to the automotive theme).

  8. Ratatouille: This one’s so early in development that the only definite information to date is that it’s about “a rat named Ratatouille who lives in a upmarket Parisian restaurant run by an eccentric chef.”

To date, there’s not a single Pixar film that has a female main character: The Incredibles comes the closest, but even there, both Helen Parr/Elastigirl and Violet are supporting characters, and it’s Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible that’s the hero. Look at the ‘poster wall’ on Pixar’s website. None of the poster designs feature a female character…even the rollover effects exclude every female character save Dory.

As Prairie pointed out to me, where there are plenty of Disney films that girls can spend hours playing and pretending to be the Disney Princesses in (most of them, at least), there isn’t a single Pixar film that she would have wanted to play as a child.

While some might argue that Disney as a whole is sexist, I don’t quite see that. Disney’s older works are often based on traditional fairy tales, where the missing mother/evil step-mother is an integral part of the tale (as is the handsome prince coming to the rescue); newer films have been much better. Tarzan, for instance: while Jane’s mom is conspicuously missing (presumably permanently, and not just left behind in England, as Jane’s father cheerfully joins her in remaining in Africa) and Tarzan’s parents (mother and father) are killed, Kala is a very strong and loving mother figure, and Jane — like Megara, Mulan and Kida before her — is a deliciously strong woman in her own right.

It’s a pity that, as one commenter posited on the Feministing weblog, movie studios in general are both constrained by and unwilling to challenge what appears to be a very male-dominated movie audience, even for children’s movies.

The two big reasons for the dearth of females in G-rated films are that a lot of the source material (childrens’ books, fairly tales) feature male protagonists, and more importantly, a number of very well-made childrens’ films featuring female protagonists underperformed at the box office (A Little Princess, Matilda, Because of Winn-Dixie…), leading a lot of executives to believe that boys won’t watch films with female protagonists. So while studio executives bear a large measure of responsibility for not pushing harder, they’re also reacting to the market in this case.

So how about it, Pixar? You’ve shown the world that not only does Disney not have a lockdown on animated films, but that “children’s” films can be made that are good family films as well, rather than aiming the films so low that the unfortunate parents have to grit their teeth for an hour and a half whenever they take their kids to the movies. For over a decade now (since Toy Story‘s debut in 1995), you’ve consistently produced some of the best films — not just animated films, or children’s films, but best films — around.

How about letting the girls in to play as well?

iTunesAnother World” by Beborn Beton from the album Tales From Another World (1997, 4:25).


I found the following anecdote in a Home Theater Forum review of the Finding Nemo DVD, and thought it was wonderful…

The marketing people at Buena Vista are surprisingly cool. The first package I got…which looked like the normal mailer they send me for DVD marketing material…had a letter stating “Here is the DVD to some movie that I can’t remember!”. There was no DVD. The message was printed on a color printer on “Finding Nemo” letterhead and was signed “Dory”. Ok so Dory is forgetful…so I figured she’d just forgotten to include the DVD.

The next day I get the typical bubble-mailer (the way BV sends me all their DVDs) with a DVD case with a note “Oops! Forgot to send the DVD the first time! here it is!”…signed… “Dory”. Opening the DVD case revealed…there were no discs inside. Ok…at this point the folks at Disney had me. I placed a call to their PR department just to make sure that they were aware of the mistake. I left a message on their answering machine which had the voice of…you guessed it…Dory. Dory was kind enough to return my call and when I got home she assured me that she had discovered that she had sent out all the DVD packages but had forgotten to include the actual discs and that they would be sent forth shortly.

The next day a third package arrives with yet another letter on Nemo stationary apologizing for the previous mistakes and this time containing 2 Nemo DVDs (Discs 1 and 2) in a shnazy little custom Nemo 2-disc plastic holder. All in all I’m impressed with Dory’s promptness in discovering her mistakes, her self-awareness of her memory problem and her ability to make it all come out right in the end.

The DVD, by the way, is incredible (as is the movie). Gorgeous to look at, and a good selection of special features. I highly recommend taking the time to watch the commentary track. Not only are Pixar’s commentaries generally among the best that I’ve listened to, they intercut the movie with behind the scenes clips that focus on whatever particular effect, technique, or moment that they’re talking about at the time. Very nicely done.

And, of course, there are a few fun easter eggs to be found…

…including an ad for the AquaScum 2003!

AquaScum 2003

The AquaScum 2003’s hermetically sealed dual phase motor technology is not for use as: air conditioner, fountain, tire pump, pool sweep, water purifier or laser pointer. Not approved for fresh water fish. The AS2K3 contains a class 3 laser. WARNING Laser beams may cause permanent eye damage. Filter canisters contain ammonium nitrate, may cause ichthyological diarrhea, scale warts, cankers, fish gout and/or bloatation. One additional canister filter supplied in EAG compliant areas if purchased on 3rd Sunday of the month. Free keychain on purchase of two or more at participating Fish-a-ramas.

Finding Nemo

I love going to see Pixar’s movies on opening weekend. Preferably during the day, when the theater is full of children — kids get so wrapped up in the movie, it’s an absolute joy to be able to sit in the midst of all that excitement.

Pixar continues their as yet unbroken string of excellent movies with Finding Nemo, the story of a father’s hunt for his missing child. Quite simply, the movie is flat-out gorgeous — set in the ocean off of Australia, the entire film is a visual treat. Everything from the eye-popping colors of the tropical fish to the depth and fluidity of the ocean is captured perfectly.

As usual, in addition to the pervasive eye candy, Pixar has kept up their usual excellent standards of creating a true family film — one that can be enjoyed just as much by adults (and children at heart) as children. Excellently acted all around, in many ways the real star of the film is Ellen DeGeneres as Dori, a scatterbrained but very sweet and optimistic Blue Tang.

My personal favorite characters, though, were actually secondary characters — a flock of seagulls, whose language and constant squawking consists of a single word: “Mine!” A little hard to describe in print, but they got laughs out of me every time they showed up on screen.

All in all, an excellent film. Go see it — and when you do, sit through the credits. No outtakes this time, but some funny bits with characters swimming around during the credits, and one post-credit gag that’s one of the best in the film.

I really have to wonder just how poorly Disney would be doing if they didn’t have the film deal with Pixar. Seems like lately, the only truly good films coming out of the Disney stable are Pixar’s animated gems, and about the only thing that’s really “Disney” about any of them is the logo on the front of the film!

Other good Finding Nemo reading: