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).