the pixar gender gap

Tim Carmondy, writing at kottke, has this to say regarding to the tendency of there not being any female protagonists in Pixar movies:

Here’s a different interpretation. Pixar’s movies are usually not just focused on men, but specifically on dads. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are the best examples of this, but even Up and Ratatouille traffic pretty heavily in father issues, if not fatherhood outright. Traditional Disney movies were really kids’ fantasies, even the ones seemingly targeted for boys, like The Jungle Book or Robin Hood. Pixar seems to have realized that if you can get the dad to come to the movie and love the movie, the whole family will come. Maybe more than once. And they’ll probably buy the DVD and the video game, too. That’s the formula.

I tend to agree with this bit, being a father now, though it never bothered me before that there weren’t enough women in the movies.

I can see why it happens though. The main people in Pixar are men, who are writing stories that they know and can relate to. Which just happen to be stories about male protagonists. I also think that this lends itself more to physical humor because I don’t find physical painful jokes as funny when aimed at women. Maybe I’m just old fashioned that way?

The men in Pixar movies tend to be flawed as well, both physically and emotionally, and their struggle to overcome said shortcomings is usually the crux of the plot.

Disney movies, on the other hand, tend to have wholesome, strong and independent female leads who, through the course of the film, overcome adversity in the form of evil step-mothers (e.g. Cinderella, Rapunzel) or conflict (e.g. Pocahontas, Mulan). The lead female characters never seem to have to tackle internal issues like jealousy or guilt but rather defeat evil because of their grit, grace and genuine selflessness (e.g. Belle choosing to stay behind so that her father can go free only to win over the beast with her beauty and character).

It’s a well-worn formula that works but somehow doesn’t apply to guys as well. In contrast the men of Disney movies tend to be 1 dimensional heros (e.g. Prince Eric in Little Mermaid or more so the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, I forget his name) or loveable rascals with less than desirable pasts. (Think Aladdin and more recently Flynn Rider from Tangled). Even Simba from Lion King runs away because of the guilt that he harbours over the death of his father.

The fact of the matter is that male and female characters tend to be treated very differently in animated films. Men are usually the comic relief, the hero who save the day or the one who went on a journey of self-discovery to save himself (and then save the day). Women are independent, full of spunk, self-sacrificing heroines

Pixar has decided to focus on the male aspect and I think that’s ok. It’s what the directors know about and can write about in a genuine heartfelt way which makes Pixar movies so moving. Here’s hoping that they continue to do so for many more years to come!


Tim links to some other good articles (also from the Kottke archive) that highlight the level of debate surrounding this topic:

Worth a read if you’re interested in this sort of thing.


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