In all film productions there is always a female presence. The latter adds another dimension to the work, acting sometimes as an assistant to the main character. Sometimes she also happens to be the heroine. How has Pixar been using its female figures in its films over the past 25 years?
When you think of Jessie, the cowgirl from the Toy Story franchise, you immediately think of a girl who is hyper and very vigorous in her words and body movements. Though it is in her nature to be as such, we may consider another approach to the character. Could this not be an armour she has built? Discarded by Emily, her former owner, she no longer trusts humans. This is in fact her greatest weakness, one which she conceals and that Woody will not fail to detect. Jessie’s song, "When she loved me", sums up how she feels deep down. This heartbreaking experience has become deeply embedded in her mind. Confined to her box, it is only when she gets out of it that she makes the most of her "freedom". This is why she gets angry at Woody who refuses to go along with her. However, through spending time with Andy, she recovers her joie de vivre and becomes a leading member of the toy gang to the extent she is even made to team up with Buzz and Woody in the young boy’s games. From a discarded to then a confined toy, she reaches the same status as Andy’s two favourite toys. She is shown as less excited, perhaps the love she feels for Buzz has tempered her.
Another woman who also suffers from a certain fragility that is not quite so obvious is Dory. Just like Jessie, she is always excited and happy. However, this is only thanks to her failing memory. Everything is always new to her and her inquisitiveness and gullibility lead her into unlikely situations. Through spending time with Marlin, she managed to remember something which brings her to make progress. When the clownfish tells her he must part from her, Dory is very soon saddened for she does not want to lose him. She realizes her condition has probably made her miss out on major opportunities, such as making a friend here.
Up to now (early 2012), Ratatouille is the only Pixar to include one sole female presence among its characters from the beginning to the end of the film: Colette Tatou. She says so herself when she is given the responsibility of training Linguini, she is the only woman in the kitchen and has worked hard to get where she is. In addition to having helped show through this film that cooking is not just a man’s world and that a woman can belong there (though with difficulty, as Colette reminds us), she is the one who will serve as Linguini’s love interest. As a result of her work, so she is very strong-minded and iron-willed, working with many men (you may notice she rides a motorcycle, a more masculine than feminine means of transport). Yet that does not mean she is a "tomboy", as she retains her feminine touch if only through her body movements. It was even women animators who dealt with Colette so as to add the feminine side to the character’s movements. She also distinguishes herself from the other cooks since she stays right to the end, even once Linguini’s secret is disclosed. It is not so much out of love that she comes back as it is thanks to Gusteau’s motto: "Anyone can cook". Only she had understood the idea her mentor was conveying.
Though it is on an entirely different level, Princess Atta has a duty to be strong. As future queen, she must make the right decisions for the general good of the colony. She first blames Flik before realizing there may be hope in his idea. The disappointment is all the greater when she discovers the mercenaries’ true nature since she is putting the entire colony in danger having trusted Flik. Here is a disappointment which will also become more acute with her nascent feelings for the ant and his unbridled inventions. Towards the end of the film, she fully assumes her role and rebels against Hopper, chasing the grasshoppers away for good and enabling her to accede to the throne.
The Incredibles is the film which is in all likelihood the closest to the theme dealt with in this feature. First of all with Helen Parr (Elastigirl). Ever since the ban on superheroes, she has completely moved on and looks after her children. From what we see in the film, she apparently does not have a job and devotes herself exclusively to her family and looking after the house. Admittedly, this depiction is not very flattering when it comes to women’s position in society (husband at work, wife at home), but let us look at it one step ahead. Is she not a superhero too? A two-level superheroine what’s more. First as Elastigirl. She is a feisty woman who refuses to be sidelined (which causes her to argue with her husband before confronting the Omnidroid), and who makes major decisions for everyone to survive. The other level is in the private sphere. She looks after her three children, but what matters most is that she guards them from their true nature and ability. She grapples with Dash who uses his speed to play pranks in class and her husband who longs to wear his suit again. She thinks further ahead than Robert Parr does, as she now thinks of her children and not of her bygone glory days.
There is another woman who devotes a lot of time to her children: Ms. Davis, Andy and Molly’s mum. The first thing to keep in mind is that Pixar chose to feature a single-parent family. The father is never mentioned or brought up in any way whatsoever. Ms. Davis is a loving and engaging mother with her children, one who is never strict. No mention is made of her job either. We can assume she has a job but the latter remains a mystery.
Starting with Mrs. Potato Head. Behind her grumpy side (like her husband but a more temperate version), she proves fearless when going against Lotso in Toy Story 3. But she is first and foremost a woman in love, who takes care of her husband and is concerned about him. She even considers “starting” a family by adopting the aliens.
Still in the Toy Story franchise, we can also mention Barbie who is madly in love with Ken. While being shown at first to be a sensitive woman, she radically changes through spending time with the Sunnyside doll. Having now become affectionate, deep down inside she hides a character you would never suspect at first sight. Is it not she who masterfully takes part in the escape? She is also the one who utters a sentence on democracy when facing Lotso. In the end she runs the day-care centre along with Ken.
There are two great loves that everyone remembers in the Pixar canon. One is EVE, the sensuously-shaped robot who falls under WALL-E’s spell. She will take longer to develop feelings, but they will set in over time. It is when she sees how fond the little robot is of her that she starts looking at him differently. By the end of the film, she is afraid to see him gone forever having been rebooted.
The other great love in the Pixar canon is the Fredricksen couple. We see love bloom, grow, and the couple will pull through despite its problems. When Ellie in her hospital bed gives Carl her adventure book, she asks him to carry on the adventure alone. We obviously know the rest of the story. Though out of his life, Ellie is still there in Carl’s heart and he longs for only one thing: to live with her again. This is why he becomes so attached to his house and endeavours to make his wife’s dream come true.
In a different vein, Sally belongs to the "women in love" category. But not with Lightning (though this will subsequently happen). She cares about her area, its residents, Radiator Springs: "I fell in love...with this". Sally does not really have a feisty character, but she wishes to see to it that the town recovers its former splendour.
One female character is missing from this feature: Holley, the spy from Cars 2. She kind of comes under each of these categories: fragile at the beginning of the film (she is a not a field agent), strong during missions and in love with Mater by the end. Yet this combination does not make her any more important than the other characters which have been named.
Some people often say that in films, women act either as trophy wives, serve as fantasies or are tomboys… among other reasons which are not necessarily valid. It has even been said, regarding the work The Lord of the Rings, that Tolkien was a misogynist since he gave only very little room to women in his books. But were they not the ones who enabled great things to be achieved in the story? The same goes for Pixar. Dory is the one who will find Nemo, enabling him to be reunited with his father; Colette is the only one who will stand by Linguini and together they will open up their restaurant; Sally will change Lightning’s behavior by making him a much better character; EVE will enable the humans to return to Earth thanks to her love for WALL-E;…
Of course, we cannot end this feature without mentioning Brave, the first Pixar film whose lead has been handed over to a woman. From what we can see through the various trailers, Merida is very strong-willed and has firm principles, but a heart-warming sensitivity probably lies beneath her exterior, as when the viewer sees her cry on her horse.