Where the Boys Are

by robbiefreeling
June 22, 2009 6:47 AM
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We like Up. We really do. But it really got some of us here thinking about the complete lack of female protagonists in the entirety of Pixar's impressive decade-plus output. Perhaps Up magnified this fact because a) it's the most explicitly stated "Boy's Adventure" film they've done so far, with its father-grandson bonding and its boy-scout sidekick, and b) because it foregrounds so literally the divide between the space of male-action and female-domesticity, even as it fights against it by making its major female character, Ellie, the more adventurous tomboy. Undoubtedly the end of the film is exquisitely tearjerking, with the deceased Ellie's [spoilers?] photo album, always intended to be filled with images from a lifetime of derring-do and journeys to the outskirts of the world, now filled with snapshots of marital bliss and happiness, which she implies that she has happily taken over the more traditional, childhood adventures she had always planned, but which financial obligations, household practicalities, and old age had curtailed. It's all beautiful and true, but the more I watched Ellie smiling, satisfied from her frame on the wall as her surviving husband Carl flew to Jules Verne-esque lands, the more hyperaware I became of Pixar's boy's club mentality. Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles (the only debatable one), Cars, Ratatouille, Wall*E, and now Up, are all inoffensive in their gender bias, but it's there nonetheless. And the occasional strong female character has always been in some way subordinate to the male. It's never their story. It's perhaps a calculated move away from the Disney Princess aesthetic and target audience, which has often branded other animated Disney films as too riskily "girly," but in comparison even to the in other ways retrograde Beauty and the Beast (with its head-spinning mix of headstrong, booksmart, anti-marriage, independent-minded heroine who . . . falls for her beastly abusive captor), Pixar's advancements can seem occasionally backwards.

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