This is a part of a series that I am doing to cover the portrayal of gender in studios, and the first addition is females in Pixar.
Pixar Animation Studios is an animation company that has gained affluence throughout the last two decades, and does not seem to be slowing down. Despite this well-deserved reputation they have been given, the studio has received some critiques and criticism. The studio is infamous for having a lack of female characters (as there are currently 3 films in the canon with female protagonists), but they do have a lot of supporting characters that are females. Does Pixar represent females poorly? Let’s get right to it. .
Bo Peep is the first female Pixar character, which a lot of people tend to forgot about. In Toy Story, she is the love interest of Woody, and gives him a lot of affection when he does a good deed.While she does not have a huge role in the action of the film, she is the oozing words of wisdom that calms him down, and is great at lifting up his spirits when he is down. She is a very positive and optimistic voice for the group, and never doubts Woody, even when everyone else does.
In the second film, her role is much more reduced, as she is yet again isolated from the action in the film. When Woody is preparing to go to cowboy camp with Andy, and he loses his hat, Bo Peep is the only one to calm him down, and to remind him that Woody does not care about a silly hat. She is reduced to just being a love interest, and it is disappointing to see her never involved in the main action of the film, but she is never put in a position to be the damsel in distress; outside of when Andy is playing her. She was sold off before the events of Toy Story 3, and the others do miss her, so she was respected. Definitely not the best female character, but there is something there. Bo will have her chance to shine in a few years with Toy Story 4, since she is one of the main characters.
Princess Atta is the deuteragonist in A Bug’s Life, and is different than Bo because she is in a position of power, while also being distressed throughout the entire film. She is in the middle of a major rite of passage for ants, and is a natural worry rat in general, which makes it worse. I found it interesting that they have her be a worry rat, since it is rare for female characters to inhibit that characteristic. It is usually that they are a badass, or a damsel in distress. Seeing a female character being shown to learn the political aspects of running a kingdom is an important part to note, since it shows that females are capable of being leaders, which is not emphasized enough in animated films.
Her mother is the current Queen of the ant colony, who is bound to give up her throne to her daughter. From what we see, the Queen has a large sense of humor, and tries not to let herself get stressed out, though she rules her colony with an iron fist. This may be due to her being used to the responsibilities for all these years, so she refuses to let it get to her. People give Brave and Frozen a lot of credit for strong female interactions, but this film did it before either of the others it without being rubbed in our faces. The interactions between Atta, Dott, and the Queen does not involve a man at all, and is reminiscent of a realistic interaction between either mother-daughter, and sisters. Dott is the younger sister of Atta, and finds herself teased by the little boys of her colony, due to not having her wings, and being smaller. Overall, she is the cuter embodiment of “little sister” syndrome.
There is not much to say about either “The Black Widow” Rosie, or Gypsy. Both are extremely friendly rings, who are just as useful (or useless) as all of the other circus bugs. Rosie went through 12 husbands who all died, while Gypsy has been married to her husband for a long time. Nothing else of note.
Jessie is included as one of the major characters in the first sequel, and leaves a lasting impression. She is extremely excited to be put on display at a museum with Woody and the rest of the toy collection, since it is revealed that she has grown strong anxiety since her toy abandoned her in a box for years. When Woody sabotages her plans with wanting to go back to his owner, she becomes very argumentative and harsh with him. Woody tries to make amends with her before she leaves, and she tells him about her time with her last owner Emily, and how it lead her to develop claustrophobia. After this, Jessie’s role in the film becomes reduced, as she ends up getting stuck on the plane, with Woody saving her. She is taken to the Davis house with her horse, and starts a relationship with Buzz Lightyear.
We go into the next film, which starts with the toys being stuck in Andy’s toy box, and has been for years. After a last ditch plan to get him to play with them, he puts them all but Woody in a garbage bag to donate him. She is the most insistent that he was throwing them in the trash after they almost got taken by the garbage truck, and stars fighting with Woody, who is insistent that they need to be with Andy. She comes up with the idea to join the Sunnyside Daycare donation box, which Woody tries to stop. After realizing how horrible the daycare really is, and after Woody returning, the two make up. Her role in the film after this is focused on Buzz Lightyear’s odd behavior, and how she continuously and unknowingly ends up seducing him. There are some comedic moments between the two, and it is sweet. Jessie has been sighted by many to be the first strong female character, and while I do think the others before her are great in their own way, she is a lot more active in controlling plot points. Personality-wise, she is very similar to Atta, but is more aggressive and ready to fight. Apparently, Lasseter’s wife wanted a strong female character to be inserted in the second film, which lead to her creation.
Mrs. Potato Head is given to Andy as a present in the end of Toy Story, but does not make her first appearance until Toy Story 2. She is of course married to Mr. Potato Head, and she has just as much of a temper as he does, though their relationship is never toxic, and is a lot more loving. When it is time to go to the road trip, she is left behind with Bo Peep, which…….. Okay, I get why Bo Peep was left behind (being made of porcelain and all), but why was Mrs. Potato Head left behind? At the end of Toy Story 2, she ends up adopting the three aliens that her husband ended up bringing back from his trip.
She is given more focus in Toy Story 3 , and her role mostly emphasizes her missing eye. As they travel, she sees through her other eye (that is still at the Davis house) that Andy is upset about the missing garbage bag, and she realizes that he did not mean to throw them in the trash. Mrs. Potato Head is funny, and can be useful, but she is never given as much focus as some of the other female characters in the films, so she is much more of a supporting character if anything.
Celia is the receptionist in Monsters, Inc., and is dating Mike Wazowski. She calls him a bunch of affectionate names, and is very gooey over him. When she senses something is wrong, and their date goes wrong, she has Medusa-like anger, since she wants to know the truth. Regarding her role in the film, it is very minimal, since she is continually blown off, until it is time for her to forgive Mike. There is personality in her, but she does not do enough to make much of an impression.
There is not much to say about her, since she is a 2 year old who cannot talk, except for the three words “Boo”, “Kitty”, and “Mike Wazowski”. She acts like a normal toddler, so……. next.
Let’s get the elephant out of the way; she is voiced by a man because the studio liked the comedic voice. Roz is a secret agent who was pretending to be an administrator, and only appears in the end to reveal herself, knowing that there was something fishy happening in the company. Apparently she makes a cameo in Monsters University, stating that they will always be watching. Nothing of note really, and is just comic relief.
What I like about Finding Nemo is that gender and sex literally do not matter, and is never hinted or brought up. Dory is the deuteragonist of the film, where she bumps into Marlin, and decides to help him with finding his child. Her friendly, social, and optimistic point of view serves as an extremely useful foil to Marlin’s more pessimistic attitude, and it helps get them closer to finding Nemo. During her film, her short term memory loss starts to get better, and becomes good friends with Marlin along the way. Her quirkiness and weird solutions overshadow her short term memory loss. I like that her and Marlin only ended up friends, and her abandonment issues only cause him to feel more sorry for her.
All of this would be evaluated more in the sequel which she stars in. Her memory has improved a little bit (since she does remember Nemo’s name), but we learn that her memory was a lot worse before she met Marlin. We know this because we see what happens to her from the moment she is stranded from her parents, to where she bumps into him. It takes Nemo and his classmates mentioning parents for her to remember that she was split apart from her parents. Dory instantly decides to go to find them, and once it ends up causing Nemo to almost be eaten, Marlin snaps at her about her forgetfulness, but she does not really let it get to her. She remembers being in California when she was a child, and knows that they have to go there, which makes it easier when aquarians capture her to be in a marines. During the course of the film, she reunites with her friend Destiny, meets Hank, and ends up finding where she resided as a child. Her memories get stronger as the film goes on, and her wacky tactics eventually reunite her with her parents. I think Dory found self worth with her disabilities, and that she is capable of anything she wants. A lot of her mannerisms are explained even more, and I can go on and on. She is a brilliant character, and it is even better that her sex and gender never matter.
We see very little of her, since she is killed off in her only scene in the beginning of the film. From what we see, she is very loving, playful, warming, and supportive.
Helen Parr, otherwise known as Elastigirl, starts the film as one of the top superheroes, who does not want to slow down and settle in normalcy, because she is representing how females can be on par with the best male superheroes. This is unlike her fiance at the time, who seems to slightly resent being a hero, and wanting the normal life. Once we exit the prologue, we see that she has become a housewife within the last 15 years, which she seems content with. Helen ends up dealing with all of the strife happening with her family, from her daughter secluding herself, her son getting in trouble, her husband not engaging with the family, and also dealing with a toddler. She is the supermom, and the one who has the control in the family, which proves to be straining as she handles each of her family members differently. I like that they showed that a housewife IS a strong woman, and does a lot more than just stay at home. We get a plot twist where she thinks her husband is having an affair with her, as they get into countless arguments about hiding their superpowers, and Bob sacrificing everything to go back to the glory days. It is her that has to tell her children to embrace their powers, after they join her to get their father, and to save him from Syndrome. Helen is a passionate, witty, perceptive, quick-thinking, and is not only one of the strongest females in Pixar, but one of the strongest characters period.
What we learn about Violet is that she is deeply insecure, and resents having super powers, since all she wants to do is fit in with the others, and to be a normal teenage girl. Her entire arc involves her to not feel invisible like her powers, and to gain more confidence within herself. A prime example of this involves her crush on a boy named Tony. She hides from him whenever he is near, and lashes out at her brother for bringing it up. In the end of the film, she initiates a date with him, and dresses in lighter clothing, feeling more confident in herself.
Yes, Edna is voiced by a male, and falls under the same category as Roz. She is a fashion designer who is the main reason why Helen ends up finding out about what her husband is doing. Outside of that, she is mere comic relief.
She is a minor character in the film, where her deceptive, technological, and seductive skills are a major focus. She ends up being a punching bag in some sorts, and Syndrome not caring for her safety caused her to turn on him, and to help the Incredibles.
Sally is the only female character in Cars with a presence that is more than minor, and I will say that her role is to only be a love interest. If you look past that, there is some depth to her. We learn that she was an attorney in Los Angeles, but got tired of the fast, urban life, so she left until she ran into Radiator Springs. After learning more about the history, she wants to recapture the full essence and glory of 1950s Radiator Springs. In a sense, she is a lot like Lightning, because they were brought up with urban uprising, and lose some focus on what really matters. Sally is the main reason as to why Lightning develops in the film, and she is one of the least annoying characters in the film. I also forgot to mention that she owns a Motel service, so she knows how to juggle more than one job. In Cars 2, she takes a severe downgrade, as she is rarely in the film. Sally ends up being a plot point of the film, as she convinces Lightning to take the protagonist Mater around the world with him for the World Grand Prix. There is also her weird fascination with Francesco Bernoulli, that she denies for Lightning’s ego, but that is it for her tole in the sequel. She will be back in the third film, so it will be interesting to see if she has a bigger part like in the original.
I was debating about including Flo, but then I decided, ehh….. why not. What we know of Flo is that she ended up being stuck in the town, and decided to stay when all the other models left. She met her husband Ramone, who thought she was too beautiful to be painted over. I guess herself and her husband are supposed to be the old, married couple, and doesn’t have much of a role in either film.
Collette is the only female character in the film, and her role is very self-realized. She works in the male-dominated industry of culinary arts, which means she needs to work twice as hard, and twice as tough. Seeing her work the kitchen the way she does, and her aggressive attitude does not fail to deliver. We do see a more vulnerable side of her when she is with Luigi, who she of course ends up starting a relationship with. The motto of “Anyone can cook” is something that stick with her, and she lives her life that way, which is pretty nice. This causes her to stick with Remy and Luigi at the new restaurant, when everyone else left. Definitely one of the best characters in the film, and another way to carry the message of the film, even though she is a romantic interest.
Honestly, there isn’t much to talk about in a feminist sense, since……. she is a robot, and is programmed to destruct everything until she finds the plant. After spending a decent amount of time on Earth, she ends up falling in love with WALL-E, but her purpose on Earth has been fulfilled, and she is sent back to space. Of course, WALL-E comes along, and when she wakes up, she tries to send him off. Some romantic action happens, and they end up restoring Earth together. Very sweet and aggressive character all together.
Mary is one of the two humans who are used to execute the message of not counting so much on technology, and to actually experience and learn for themselves. This happens after she bumps into WALL-E, and has her Axiom setting disabled. She ends up disabling John’s axiom, and he ends up learning the message of the film as well. There isn’t much character to her, but she is used as a plot decide to portray the main message of the film.
We only hear Ellie speak as a child, where she is a spunky and adventurous little girl, and brings Carl out of his bubble. When she is silent, we see her get married, work at a zoo, get pregnant, suffer a miscarriage, and encounter most of the right of passages in the film. When she dies, it is emotional, since we do get to know her, and see her age. Her impact is felt throughout the entire film, and she tells her husband in her last written note to have another adventure, thanking him for giving her the adventure of her life, which is their marriage.
We only learn Kevin is a female because she runs to tend to her kids, though they….. still….. call…… her…… Kevin. Not thrilled at all. She is the plot point who everyone is fighting over, and we learn that she is protective of her kids, and like chocolate.
There were a bunch of Barbies in Toy Story 2, but there was never focus on a specific Barbie doll. In Toy Story 3, that is the case when Molly separates her (and we clearly see that she was kept away from all of the other toys). Wait, so Mrs. Potato Head and Bo Peep were Molly’s dolls, who stayed with Andy and his toys, but Barbie was in her room? Anyways, she is sopping profusely for being tossed in the daycare donation box. As soon as she gets there, she meets and grows an instant attraction with Ken. After a few minutes, he begs her to live with him, and to join him in the big kid section, separating her again. Ken hides a bunch of things from her, and when she finds out, she decides to go to the little kid room with the other toys, breaking up with him. Barbie uses her seductive skills to get Ken back on her good side, and to set Buzz Lightyear back to normal. She ties him up only in his underwear, and plays her part in the escape plot for all of them. Because Ken loves her so much, he decides to grab her before she jumps into the garbage chute like all of the other Davis toys, and the two rehabilitate the daycare to a more fair, fun, and safe place for toys. Barbie is not afraid of action and to take control of dangerous situations, without losing her feminine characteristics. For a franchise where the female and male dolls are so crucified in the media, Toy Story 3 did the Mattell dolls justice on their portrayal.
Trixie is the most vocal toy out of Bonnie’s toys, and she is introduced in the film when Woody is brought home. She is obsessed with computers and video games, so when Woody wants the route back to Andy’s house, she is the one to help him. At the end of the film, her and Rex become good friends, as they are both computer and video game freaks, and spend a lot of time playing together. She is confirmed to be in Toy Story 4, so I would not be shocked if her and Rex end up starting a romance.
Dolly is not as vocal compared to Bonnie’s other toys, but she is seen to be one of the smarter ones. She is also one of the people who helps Woody the most. Other than that, she is an extremely minor character.
I know I probably should have added her to the “Toy Story” section, but she was extremely minor in all three films, and the pictures of the human characters in the early pictures are not that flattering, so………. here she is. What we know about her is that she is a loving, doting mother to her two children, and that she is a single mother. Think about it; the father of her children is NEVER seen, and NEVER mentioned. Usually when a single parent is mentioned, the death of the other is always emphasized, but not with this series, so she is kind of revolutionary in a sense. Otherwise, she doesn’t have much character, since the film is in the perspective of toys, and she is never with the toys. She is going to make some sort of return in Toy Story 4, so it will be interesting to see how she evolves.
Not much to mention, but felt the need to include her. She was an infant and toddler in the first 2 films, and a tween, who reads magazines, and listens to IPods in the third film. The only interesting thing of note is that Bo Peep and Mrs. Potato Head are her toys, but they are always in Andy’s room.
We do not know much about Holley Shiftwell. We know that she is a part of statistics, but was brought on the field for some reason. Holley is very capable of handling her own, but we do not get to see much traits or depth to her as a character, as Mater kept on flirting with her throughout the film. I guess she learns what sentimentalism is when Mater talks to her about the dents he got with hanging out with Lightning, so she keeps one that she got at the climax scene. Holley ends up being Mater’s girlfriend at the end of the film, and…… yeah. She was a bit disappointing to be honest in my eyes.
She is a minor character, who is Luigi’s aunt, and sees Guido as family. Her part in the film is to remind Lightning to not be mad at Mater for him being who he is, even though it is embarrassing.
Merida, Merida, Merida. I am not thrilled with how much of a brat she was throughout the film. In the beginning, she is not interested in learning about her kingdom, and just wants her freedom, so she can gallivant to do whatever she wants. I get that, and I feel for her, but at this point in the film, she does not get there is a price to pay for freedom, and it’s not that simple. She changes her mother, and we all know what happens from there. I like that she has to take a more political approach to unite the clans, and actually does change. While I am not thrilled with her as a character, I like that her interaction with her mother was the main plot point in the film, which is rare.
Queen Elinor is a complete badass, and I was on her side with the conflict with Merida. She is a queen who tries her hardest to compose her anger, handles all of the political affairs, and teaches her daughter about the history of the clans, which I like as a history buff. There was a point in time where Elinor was more fun and aloof, but times changed, and she bosses everyone around about appearances and the status quo; even her husband. While I do not like that the men are intentional buffoons, it does not mean Elinor is any less of a strong character. She is the reason why the political aspect of the film is shown to us, which is something that is often missing in animated films. And….. she turns into a bear, which I did not like. She still kept a lot of her elegant qualities, which did give some comedic moments, but she ends up having to be physical to avoid death. At the end of the film, her hair is loose, and she becomes the more fun, aloof, and relaxed woman she once was.
The witch is physically present in one scene in Brave, and as a hologram in another, so she is overall in 2 scenes. We see her try to rid of Merida because of receiving too many unsatisfied customers, but is convinced to help her out. She forgets to tell Merida something, but records a hologram for the lad, since she leaves for some sort of festival.
I am going to start positively, and say that I like that the film captured that a more curvy, plump, and overweight woman can find love as well, which is not portrayed often enough in media. We see overweight men get love in films, but almost never the women, and it makes real life women insecure due to the lack of representation. Outside of that, I do not like how she was used as a complete joke and punching bag throughout the entire film. She is either screaming and running from something, being pranked and made a fool of by the triplets, and there was a scene, where……. one of them penetrate her breasts. Very distasteful.
Dean Hardscrabble has all of the characteristics that would be put on a female villain. She is cold, a bit vindictive, shrill, a bit snobby, and pretentious, but the difference is, she is not out to get anyone, and she just wants the best to be in her program. Hardscrabble is the one who is telling our characters that they can’t do it, and while the film in itself is kind of predictable, I am glad they did not make her an outright villain. Her presence was easily the most interesting aspect of the film.
The Python Ny Kappa sorority girls are the only other female characters in the film, and while they are scary and fearless, they are supposed to come off as bitchy, catty, and gossipy as well.
In the film, sex and gender is rarely mentioned, though I am sure that it contributes to why certain emotions are male or females. Joy is the peppy one, and she knows she is the most important emotion, though doesn’t come off as an arrogant snob. She has to understand the importance and value of the other emotions. It was interesting to see her navigate throughout the film, and the lesson she had to learn was unique.
Sadness is gloomy, depressed, a bit negative, and…….. sad. Her lesson in the film is to find self-worth and self-importance in herself, since she feels like she has no purpose, and makes everything worse. The duo of her and Joy made the film, and I know a lot of feminists would be proud with most of the female depictions in the film.
Disgust is a lot more flat than her other co-workers, as she is kind of snobby and overtly girly. It works, since she is supposed to stop Riley from doing things gross and nasty. As her own character, there is not much there, but she serves a brilliant contrast to Anger and Fear.
Riley is like Andy in the Toy Story series. What I mean by that is that there’s not much character to her, as she is seen as much more of a plot device. We do learn about her interests, likes, and her strongest values, which all lead up to her being a loving tomboy.
There’s not much to her, but I do find her a bit more interesting than her husband. We learn that she had a chance to get with a Brazilian pilot, and after dealing with her oblivious husband, she often dreams about her ex, which is pretty funny. Overall, she is supportive and loving, though is somewhat impatient.
She gives birth to her three kids, and contributes her role in the farm. When her husband passes away, she is depressed for a bit, but continues with life. She’s kind of flat as a character, and is just the typical mother who barely gets focus.
There’s even less to say about Libby. What I can gather from her is that she is the only daughter, who likes to pick on her brother Buck.
I don’t really know what to say about her. Ramsey dislikes bullies, and has no nonsense for anything. Very forgettable overall. The females in this film have little to no personality, or enough of a role in the film to be memorable.
Jenny is very emotional, as we see her cry in fear and frustration about what to do with her daughter. Other than that, she is supportive and optimistic. Most of her scenes involved flashbacks, so we didn’t get to know her very well.
Destiny is Dory’s childhood friend who has issues with near-sightedness, causing her to be anxious and insecure about swimming. Destiny is pretty comedic, and a lot of her interactions are refreshing. A nice supporting character.
Honestly, Pixar could do better with their female characters, and add some more protagonists that are female, and have these characters play a bigger part of the film. I know a lot of it involves the fact that it is easier for the directors and the writers to handle male characters, since they…. are male, but I do think the company is becoming self aware enough to get the message.
Despite that, looking through all of the characters, there is a huge variety in female characters regarding personality, and isn’t that what’s important? If I were to be honest, I would say that Pixar has a bit more variety regarding female characters compared to Walt Disney Animation Studios. A lot of these characters are funny and comedic in different ways, while they don’t have the stigma of “Princess” stereotypes that a lot of female Disney characters have.
In conclusion, Pixar is not sexist. The industry is male-dominated, but people need to remember that throwing any female in something does not instantly mean feminism. Feminism is about variety, equality amongst themselves and males, and having options to choose their fate. Pixar is becoming a lot more progressive regarding their female characters, and I’m sure we will get some females in the future that we will like just as much as the ones we have now. I, and many others have faith in them.
I will be making a post about DreamWorks females, WDAS males, and probably posts about Pixar and DreamWorks men within the next year. Thanks for reading.
7 thoughts on “Females in Pixar”
It’s not outright sexist, but let’s be honest here, Pixar only writes original stories and for most of them, it wouldn’t really matter if the protagonist is male or not. But they always default to male. For one female character, there are five male ones…and at a certain point that is a problem (and I guess this tendency is one of the reasons why The Incredibles is my fav of them…I never realized it before, but this is the one Pixar movie in which the gender ration is more or less even)
But yes, they do well with the actual writing part, though they have some trouble with “the love interest”.
The default is definitely the main issue, and it’s kind of sad how media in general made it that way. It is most definitely about the ratio than the actual writing about the characters, which is definitely more of an issue with other companies.
Though the ratio does create a problem for the writing of the characters since most of those females never get a scene with another female. The Incredibles, Brave and Inside Out are the exceptions, but then the letter two do present a conscious attempt of Pixar to do better. (And Brave has a ton of issue which most steam from the “strong independent women” problem).
Wow, a detailed analysis, how long did this take to write, lol?
But good analysis! I’m not the biggest proponent of feminism and I kinda go with what you hinted to in the last paragraph that it should be about being good characters more so than just having a lot of females or having females just to have females. I honestly don’t really have a problem with any Pixar females; they are what they are and I don’t mind them.
It took like a month and a half. There were many characters that I forgot to mention, and had to include.
I’m definitely not the most knowledgeable about feminism as well, and even the term has been twisted into so many variations. As long as the quality matters over the quantity, things should be content.
Honesty I think that while Pixar can have nice varied female types its more important to have more of them if you are targeting kids. It does makes the girls feel like the films are not really for them. And you can hire more female writers and stuff if that is the issue. But Pixar had done better since Brave (even if I did not like the film itself). I find it odd I have never heard of people complaining about Dreamworks (and other animated studios which have the same issue which is pretty much all expect Disney and Gibli). I guess more is expected from Pixar.
I am working on the DreamWorks women post in progress that is almost done. People just like to focus on Disney and Pixar, and use them as a scapegoat for an accusation that fills all animation studios.
They have definitely done better since Brave, and you can tell from their recent outputs. Hiring more female writers and producers is the first step for progress in the animation industry overall.