As Gillam and Wooden said in their article, Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar, male characters have done a complete 180 in terms of their masculinity. So long macho men, a new, more mature man is in Pixar town. Gillam and Wooden focus on Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, Buzz and Woody from Toy Story, and Lightening McQueen from Cars. While these men have matured into an acceptance of “feminine aspects”, they’re the only characters that seem to be multi-dimensional or able to develop over time.
The often singular women roles in these movies portray the female as a sidekick or less complex person. They’re often still sexualized in either their image or their effect on men, perpetuating the idea that their sex appeal is one of the greatest things they could accomplish. The story is told from the men’s perspective about men’s issues with little concern about the women around them.
But that’s not the only group getting put in a box. Diversity is still lacking in these Disney/Pixar movies. If there’s a minority character, they’re usually a minor role and stereotypical. The hispanic car in Cars is recognized only by his accent and seemingly clownish attitude that is often attributed to hispanic men in children’s movies. The main characters remain white men in leadership roles. While they may be emasculated and more well-rounded, emotionally complete men, they are the only ones largely progressing from their old, static expectations. Their improvement is great, but if the characters around them don’t become more prevalent and progress with them the story still lacks a fundamental perspective that is left out of society, even though it makes up a majority of it.
The movie Brave is a step in the right direction, featuring a strong female lead who rejects the traditional gender role of women and the expectation that they have to marry to become anything of worth. While she is a strong female character in that she stands up to her mother’s demands, partakes in sports, and adventures by herself, she is still only representative of the white perspective. And the other dominant female in the movie, her mother, is the same stereotypical role of womanhood that involves primping, cooking, being polite and quiet, and marrying young to a prince who could take care of you. The main male figure in this movie also takes a step back in comparison to the previous Pixar movies. Instead of being this “new man” touted by Gillam and Wooden, he blunders around as a large, masculine moron who’s main desire is to take down a huge bear to prove his essential manhood. Granted he doesn’t urge his daughter to marry as much as her mother does. Even with this new movie Brave, it’s still the only one out of many Pixar movies that even has a female lead.
With these examples in mind, it seems that Disney/Pixar would have us believe that if a man is progressive but still powerful, the women have to remain in their static secondary roles. And if a woman is progressive and powerful, the men then have to stay in their static “macho” roles. Essentially, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. But is this true to real life? Are men and women not permitted to both be multi-dimensional and strong if they’re within sight of each other? Methinks not. In fact, if men and women are constantly fighting over who can be the interesting one, both lose. The “winner” is bored by the lack of equivalent companionship and the “loser” cannot enjoy their own faculties. To say that it’s mutually exclusive for a man and women to both possess dynamism is complete and utter bullshit. Intelligence is a public good in that it is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Being in the presence of another intelligent human being does not lower your intelligence, rather it provides an opportunity to learn from each other, thereby increasing both participants’ intelligence levels. So I challenge you, Disney/Pixar, to make a children’s movie in which both male and female characters represent the reality, that we can in fact eat our cake and have it too.