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Pixar Heroines: Is Ellie Fredricksen The Most Important Character In Up?

Pixar Heroines, UP

Posted by Joanna • May 29, 2019

Today’s Pixar Heroines installment is a special 10th anniversary tribute to Ellie Fredricksen! Both Simoa and Joanna have plenty to say about this adventure-loving superstar.

Ellie is full of spirit, confidence, and love

Simoa

I loved Ellie almost immediately. It was when she took off her pilot helmet and all that unruly hair leapt out before getting flattened again. Then she smiled that goofy, toothy smile of hers. I just knew from those few seconds that I would love her. And in that short bit of time, we know that she’s a rambunctious extrovert, but she’s not totally wild. See the way she gently takes Carl’s hand and leads him to his balloon – foreshadowing!

Daniel Lopez Munoz (The Art of Up)

Ellie’s introduction is one of the best I’ve ever seen. From the way she pilots the house when Carl first sees her, to the way she ripped a page right out of a library book. It’s rule breaking that’s so specific to little kids; daring and innocent at the same time. Ellie’s daring, her unclouded belief that she can one day follow in her hero’s footsteps, are qualities I wish I had. She, like little kids all over, believe in the impossible and don’t fool themselves into being realistic. When Ellie demands that Carl take them both to Paradise Falls, I believe that she’ll get them there. More foreshadowing! And even as Ellie grows up, she never loses that spirit; not when life doesn’t go the way she planned and not even when tragedy strikes.

Albert Lozano (The Art of Up)

Our time with Ellie is so brief, but the magic of Up’s “Married Life” montage is that we believe she spent an entire lifetime with Carl. Not only that, but Ellie’s limited screen appearance still made audiences fall in love with her. I fell too, if you couldn’t already tell! She is my favorite Pixar character, even if she only has a few lines and dies so early on. But it’s her spirit that permeates Up. The film does get criticized for its wacky and absurd second act, which a lot of people think doesn’t live up to its first ten minutes. Talking dogs, a chocolate loving bird, flying a balloon powered house to Paradise Falls, who would’ve loved that? Young Ellie, who pretended the dilapidated house she was playing in was a plane, and who used a steering wheel that would later inspire Carl’s own steering apparatus when he got his house off the ground (foreshadowing). And also Older Ellie, the woman who became a zookeeper! And her spirit resides in Russell too. There are little moments that clue us and Carl into his wife’s presence. What would Up be without her? She’s always there even when we can’t see her anymore.

“While Ellie is alive, our color palette is heavily saturated. She brings color into Carl’s life. When she’s gone, the palette is desaturated to shades of gray. When Carl blows up the balloons to begin his journey, we bring back the memory of Ellie through those saturated, beautiful colors. Generally, we show Carl in the dark while Russell is in the light. Russell brings all of Ellie’s color back into Carl’s world.” – Ricky Nierva, production designer (The Art of Up).

Don’t we all want to be like Ellie? And if we can’t be her, have her in our lives? I honestly do get bummed out that I can’t actually hug Ellie because she feels that real to me. And it’s easy to imagine more of her story past Up’s first ten minutes.

I love that Ellie sees life as one big adventure with the people we love and care about. I love that she makes me believe that adventure is not only out there, but all around, right here.

Ernest Nemesio (The Art of Up)

I would be remiss to not include more Ellie artwork! Two of my favorites are by Ronnie del Carmen. Imagine her as an aviator?! Swoon. Becoming a pilot is an ambition of mine, so let’s just say that Aviator/Pilot Ellie means a lot to me.

Ronnie Del Carmen

 

Ellie is an adventurer, and an adventure!

Joanna

The audience may only see Ellie for the first 10 minutes of Up, but she still manages to be unforgettable. She is one of, if not the, most important character in the film. And while the audience only physically sees her for that painfully brief time, her presence is unmistakeable throughout the entire movie.

Ellie drives the story of Up, with Carl always looking to her for reassurance and comfort, both during their marriage, and after her death. Pixar even devoted the colour magenta to her, so that each time you see it fade in or out on the screen you’re reminded of her significance. The magenta slowly disappears at Ellie’s funeral, and we’re quickly met with a very faded, desaturated sequence of Carl’s life as a widower. And when Carl bravely sets forth on his journey to Paradise Falls, the balloons are lit up with magenta hues that cast magenta shadows and lights over the buildings and fields below. Carl’s journey is powered by Ellie’s spirit: the spirit of adventure!

The fact that Ellie is so memorable and inspiring is not only a testament to the strength of Pixar’s storytelling, but also to the strength of her character. Ellie is fearless, creative, loving, and confident. She’s an adventurer, and she’s an adventure. She is everything a young wilderness explorer should aspire to be.

“For performing above and beyond the call of duty, I would like to award you the highest honor I can bestow: The Ellie Badge.”

Fun Facts

  • Pete Docter’s daughter, Elie Docter, voiced young Ellie and even drew the childhood art in Ellie’s adventure book!
  • According to Elie, Ellie nursed wounded pigeons after they were hit by boys’ slingshots, which is “really something only a kid would do.” (Take note that Carl and Russell would never hit birds with slingshots!)
  • Ellie, like Charles Muntz, was shaped like an exclamation point when she was young because she wanted to be an adventurer. “…sort of light on her feet and lifting up into the air.” – Albert Lozano, designer
  • The Ellie Badge is one of the Easter eggs in Toy Story 4!

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Pixar Heroines: Inside Out’s Joy

Inside Out, Opinion Piece, Pixar Heroines

Posted by Joanna • March 31, 2019

March is Women’s History Month, and we couldn’t let it pass by without continuing our ‘heroines of Pixar’ series. In case you missed it, here is last month’s spotlight on the strong and adorable Dot from A Bug’s Life.

It’s hard to choose just one Pixar heroine to write about (which is why I’m glad this is going to be an indefinite series) – there are so many influential female characters that have brought out in the best in Pixar’s movies over the years. But I’ve settled on Joy from Inside Out, a film full to the brim with a refreshing variety of heroines.

Making Riley happy is so important to Joy – here she looks up at Riley with total adoration.

Joy is interesting, because for much of the movie, she’s acting as the antagonist without even knowing it. She’s a little like Woody from Toy Story in the way she sacrifices herself for Riley – it’s only later that she discovers she’s been sacrificing others too. Joy is the most dominant of Riley’s five emotions in headquarters. She’s the boss, and she takes her position very seriously. Because she is in charge of expressing Riley’s happiness, it’s understandable why Joy is so determined to take centre stage – being happy is all that matters, right? Inside Out very cleverly reminds us, or even teaches us, that happiness shouldn’t always be the only emotion to aim towards. All emotions are important, and the development of Joy’s character encapsulates this message perfectly.

Why Joy is inspiring:

Joy more than lives up to her name – she explodes onto the screen with confidence, happiness, and determination. She’s funny, in-your-face, and – honestly? – a bit annoying. And that last bit, weirdly, is why she serves as such an inspiration to me. She’s flawed. And by the end of the movie, she completely admits she was wrong while still remaining true to herself. Admitting to your own mistakes, especially if it’s an inbuilt personality trait, is one of the hardest things to do, but Joy does it so well. Joy’s mistake was a drastic one: she valued her own role and her own beliefs above all others, which sent Riley’s emotional state into total chaos. But she fixed it, she changed the error in her ways, and she mended the friendships that she’d harmed along the way. I think everyone can take a little inspiration from that.

People often say they want ‘strong female characters’, and Joy fits into that category pretty well. But it’s her vulnerability that makes her an inspiration. When she falls into Riley’s Memory Dump with Bing Bong, her grief is so deep and raw, but she finds strength in that moment of fragility, picks herself up, and finds a way through it. One minute she’s at rock bottom, and then the next minute she’s flying a rocket in order to start her heroic rescue mission. Go, Joy!

In The Art Of Inside Out, Amy Poehler, the voice of Joy, gives a brief introduction to the book and talks about how much she enjoyed being a part of the process. Playing Joy, she writes, “has added extra years to my life”.

“I was able to spend hours Living in Joy, which meant I could speak from the heart and love with abandon.”

Some little facts about Joy’s character:

  • All of the Inside Out emotions are based off of simple shapes. Joy is based off of a star, which you can see much more clearly in the ‘abstract thought’ scene.
  • In an earlier version of the film, Joy and Fear were the ones that had a journey outside of headquarters instead of Joy and Sadness.
  • Joy was originally going to be called ‘Optimism’.
  • In early versions of the film, Joy was going to appear in the ‘real world’ too, and act as a kind of imaginary guide on Riley’s shoulder.

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Pixar Heroines: A Spotlight on Dot from A Bug’s Life

A Bug's Life, Andrew Stanton, Behind The Scenes, Pixar Heroines

Posted by Nia • February 7, 2019

In honor of Little Bo Peep’s fabulous new look in Pixar’s upcoming Toy Story 4, we’re starting a new series dedicated to the countless Pixar heroines who’ve graced the silver screen. From Elastigirl to Merida, we want to highlight them all; not only focusing on their strengths, but their weaknesses too; it’s every little bit about these heroines that makes them so empathetic, so powerful, and why they mean so much to us.

We’re starting off the series by focusing on Dot from the often overlooked and severely underrated A Bug’s Life. Dot is rut of the family, the young princess ant, and sister to Princess Atta. She’s small and she hates it. Because of her size, and her position in the royal family, she’s often overlooked and made fun of. It’s also established early on in the film that Dot is trying to fly, but she can’t quite grasp how her wings work yet; it might be her obvious inexperience or her lack of confidence, but either way, that’s one obstacle she struggles to overcome throughout the film.

It also doesn’t help that Dot is constantly punished for her lack of flying and her failed attempts are deemed dangerous; she feels distraught and her free spirit is crushed under the pressures of her family. No wonder she finally feels at home, at peace with herself, when she meets Flick. She finds his inventions fascinating, even when the other ants in the community think they’re ridiculous and a waste of time. Flick ends up giving Dot some stellar advice about her size and how it doesn’t matter how small she is, “you might not feel like you can do much now, but that’s just because, well, you’re not a tree yet. You just have to give yourself some time; you’re still a seed.”

Dot stays loyal to Flick, even when the other ants in the community show their obvious distaste for him after he knocks the food they spent months gathering, for the villainous grasshoppers, into a stream. When Flick decides to leave the colony in search for bigger and tougher bugs to help protect the colony against the grasshoppers, Dot eagerly awaits his return, using his telescope invention to keep watch for him. Dot’s friends make fun of her for using his inventions and siding with Flick, but she has tough skin and ignores their mockeries. She’ll do anything for Flick.

Why Dot is inspiring:

It’s safe to say Dot is the sole ant who helps save the day in A Bug’s Life. She’s a cutie that packs a punch, despite her youth she’s wise and optimistic and helps move the main cast of characters through even the darkest moments in the film. Her determination alone is inspiring; not once does she give up and sulk at the fact that she can’t fly or that she’s small and incompetent. She has her bad days, but she keeps on moving forward. She keeps trying, again and again, and doesn’t stop until she gets the results she’s satisfied with.

Dot also isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings in the process. She doesn’t let her age or her size get in the way when the people she loves are in danger, even when she knows it could be a risk. Despite being part of the royal family, she doesn’t hesitate to put herself out there and to show initiative; she is at her bravest while her sister and Queen Mother are in hiding.

After the grasshoppers return to the ant colony and take over their land, demanding the extra food that they weren’t given on their last visit, Dot goes into hiding with the other young ants. When she hears that Hopper, the ruthless leader of the grasshoppers, is going to murder her mother, she comes up with a plan: find Flick and get him to help. As soon as she leaves the hiding spot, she’s chased down by Thumper; the ravenous grasshopper who nearly tore her to shreds at the beginning of the film. Thumper chases Dot and she escapes only when she falls off a nearby cliff. For an instant, we think it’s over for Dot, but she suddenly reappears on screen – her eyes shut tight and her wings finally fluttering, albeit frantically. She uses her newfound ability to track down Flick where she gets him to return to the colony just in time to help save her family.

Dot continues to grow during the final beat of the film, constantly learning and moving out of her comfort zone to get her colony to safety. She works with Flick, gathering the other young ants on to a fake bird that they built in order to scare off the Grasshoppers. As Flick drives it, Dot gives instructions and even makes fake bird cries. She steps into more of an adult roll, accepting her duties and putting herself last to save everyone else. Even when she is captured by Hopper again after their failed attempts at scaring him away, she never backs down or even hints at surrendering; as everyone looks on in horror, she looks back with fire in her eyes and is ready for a fight. As Thumper confronts her at the end, ready to start where they last left off after their chase, she shouts at him and slaps him, treating him like a bad dog.

At the end of the film, Dot is a changed ant. When Atta, her sister, is crowned the new Queen of the colony, Dot receives her tiara and has officially moved up the ranks in her royal family. (Honestly, after Dot’s bravery, she’s the one who deserves to wear the crown at the end, but I’m willing to let that go…) Regardless, the tiara is a much earned badge after her triumphant display of courage.

Some behind-the-scenes fact about Dot:

  • Andrew Stanton, who worked on the story of A Bug’s Life, discussed creating Dot because his daughter had just been born at the time of production. He was inspired by his daughter and wanted to have a little girl character depicted in the film.
  • Dot was voiced by Hayden Panettiere, but Ashley Tisdale originally tried out for the part.
  • You can find Dot, along with the other characters from A Bug’s Life, in Toy Story 2; they’re all on Al’s abstract painting that’s on the wall of his living room.

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The Matriarchs of Coco and Why They Matter

Coco, in depth, Pixar Heroines

Posted by Simoa • January 16, 2018

There are slight spoilers below.

One of the things I love best about Coco is the strong female presence in the film. Although it’s a buddy movie with two male characters, women are vital in this particular story. They don’t only exist as peripheral characters either. Miguel’s journey to the Land of the Dead, where he learns the truth of his family history, involves three women of his family in very distinct ways.

Mama Imelda 

Mamá Imelda concept art by Daniela Strijleva.

She is the first character we meet, besides Miguel. He narrates the story. Mama Imelda was Miguel’s great-great grandmother. She banned music in the Rivera household, which has been in effect for generations. Miguel is the first in the Rivera line since his great-great grandfather to love and play music (in secret of course). As the young boy explains, his great-great grandfather walked out on his wife and daughter to pursue a music career. Rightfully livid, Mama Imelda banned music forever. Because of her husband’s betrayal, the Rivera descendants believe music is a curse.

We also learn from Miguel that Mama Imelda didn’t feel sorry for herself. She got to work instead. With a young daughter to support on her own, she learned to make shoes. It’s a skill she passed down to her daughter Coco, and when Coco married, her husband joined the family business too. In present day Mexico, the Riveras have continued the shoemaking tradition and operate Mama Imelda’s shop. Miguel is just expected to become a shoemaker, though he harbors musical aspirations.

It’s natural that Miguel doesn’t care about making shoes, but he takes the family business and his great-great grandmother for granted. Note that Imelda didn’t just find work; she actually started her own business. She also never remarried. In just a few minutes, her strength, resiliency, and independence are firmly established. I have to believe the filmmakers were deliberate with these insights into her character.

When Miguel comes face to face with Mama Imelda in the Land of the Dead, she’s severe and not to be trifled with. The audience is aware of this too immediately because she is berating a terrified office worker and wallops the woman’s computer with her shoe. It’s also fitting that Mama Imelda’s alibrije, Pepita, is a ferocious and stunning creature. Pepita is another version of Imelda; grand in size with massive wings and penetrating eyes. But Pepita has a tender and loving side like her human counterpart.

Pepita concept art by Huy Nguyen.

Later on, Miguel learns that Mama Imelda was a great music lover. She reveals a beautiful singing voice. She tells Miguel that she and her husband would sing while he played his guitar, and the memories light up her face with a fond smile. But the smile disappears. She and her husband had different priorities. Everything changed for her when Coco was born. “I wanted to put down roots. He wanted to play for the world.”

The severity of Mama Imelda melts away – all her pain and heartache and vulnerability are laid bare. None of that diminishes her incredible strength however. Something else I find striking about this exchange is that Mama Imelda is telling her story in her own words. Before, we had to rely on Miguel’s voice; now, Mama Imelda speaks with her own.

Mamá Imelda concept art by Daniela Strijleva.

Abuelita 

Now we return to the Land of the Living. Abuelita is Miguel’s grandmother and the head of the Rivera family. Abuelita’s house, Abuelita’s rules. As Alanna Ubach, who gave her voice to Mama Imelda says in this interview, in Latin households, the matriarchs are “the women that really bring the magical fairy dust to the entire family.” The most important rule in Abuelita’s house is absolutely no music ever. She honors Mama Imelda’s ban but takes it to another level. People singing outside the house are chased away. A bottle is snatched out of Miguel’s hands when he creates a simple rhythm by blowing into it. “NO MUSIC!”

Though she’s tough, domineering, and wants to protect her family from the music curse, Abuelita is defined by her great love. You only have to see how gentle she is with Mama Coco and the way she piles food onto Miguel’s plate.

There’s a moment in Coco that I find significant, and that is when Abuelita, frustrated by Miguel’s lack of interest in family traditions, looks to Mama Imelda’s photograph atop the ofrenda and asks, “What are we going to do with that boy?” It’s rhetorical, but she receives a solution anyway. I love this moment because Abuelita turns to the one person in the family tougher than she is, even though she isn’t there physically. But it highlights how important Mama Imelda still is to the family, and how the matriarchs are united in looking out for the Riveras.

Mama Coco

Miguel has a deep love and respect for his great grandmother. He treats her like a friend. Mama Coco has trouble remembering names and will sometimes call Miguel by the wrong one, but he says that it’s good to talk to her anyway. He tells her any and everything. Mama Coco is very old and frail, confined to a wheelchair, but Miguel welcomes her into his world with open arms. The world of a rambunctious 12 year old boy might seem foreign to an old woman, but the two of them just belong together. This shows what a good hearted kid he is, but it also lets the audience know that Mama Coco is still a cherished member of the family. In this film, a lot of reverence is afforded to the elderly. Also, grandmothers just make every story better.

Of course, Miguel’s close relationship with Mama Coco has even greater purpose. The film is named for her. She was the daughter left behind, and she never forgot her father. More importantly, she never stopped loving him. Mama Imelda wanted to forget him, wanted nothing to do with him in life or in death. But she was never the villain in this piece. Imelda and Abuelita after her were doing their best to protect Coco. In this film, it’s the love of women that covers a man’s mistake.

When Miguel sings “Remember Me” to his Mama Coco, her memory is recovered. It’s a tender moment between the two of them while the awestruck family looks on. Coco tells her story just as Mama Imelda did. The Riveras, stunned and joyful, listen in silence. How precious it is to hear family stories from our elders.

Mama Coco reminds me of the grandmother I never knew, who wore her hair in two long braids in the few photographs I’ve seen of her. Miguel is so lucky to have his Abuelita and Mama Coco, and to have met his Mama Imelda and learn her story firsthand. He set off on a quest to pursue a dream and follow in his great-great grandfather’s footsteps. But what he found was much greater. The history of the Rivera family is a song of women – proud, strong, and inspirational.

For a Latina perspective on the women and feminism of Coco, please read this article.

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In Depth: Why These Female Pixar Characters Mean So Much To Me

30 Years of Pixar, A Bug's Life, Brad Bird, Brave, Brenda Chapman, Cars 3, Finding Dory, Finding Nemo, Pete Docter, Pixar Heroines, The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2

Posted by Nia • October 20, 2017

It’s been over two weeks since the New York Times article on Harvey Weinstein was published and the dam finally burst in Hollywood. It seems almost unbearable to comprehend all the allegations that are still stacking up against Weinstein, not to mention the plethora of other men in the industry and beyond. The “me too” movement on social media has also shown a disturbing amount of women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by co-workers, friends, and family members.

This past week I’ve found it hard to focus and carry on with my life, job, and day-to-day activities.  It’s empowering seeing women come together, but also distressing to learn how it’s happened to us all, one way or another.

I needed inspiration and I needed something to lift my spirits up so I turned to what I know best to help me in troubled times: Pixar films.

Over the years not only has Pixar produced some of the greatest animated films of all time, but they’ve also created some of the strongest and most relatable female characters in the business. I was going to try and talk about all of them, but then realized how long the post would be (actually this would make a wonderful book some day). Instead, I decided to pick my three most important female characters and share why they mean so much to me both as a woman, and as a professional working in the animation industry.

Merida

Brave came out at a perfect time in my life, I was a sophomore in college and I was struggling with trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I was feeling the pressure of comparing myself to other people my age; be it with work, relationships, and even school.  I was even feeling pressure from certain family members about my love life and if I was going to be getting married anytime soon (this is a true story for any Greek woman).

Then Merida arrived, with her ridiculous hair goals, amazing horse-riding skills, and sassiness I wish I had when I was a teenager.

Merida broke the mold when it came to princesses – she had her own goals and her own motivations that she wanted to achieve in life, even if it went completely against what her family has wanted for generations. She didn’t care what her family thought and she was ready to fight against her mom if it meant being able to do what SHE wanted to do in life. Maybe she didn’t really have any dreams or goals at the moment, and that was OK – as long as she wasn’t stuck being a princess and fitting the mold, then she was content. That was Merida’s life, and she wanted to pursue those dreams of being free and exploring the countryside with her horse.

I also really appreciated how independent she was and how she didn’t need romance in her life to be successful. She was content with being alone, even if that meant being isolated from her own family or off in the forest basking in her solitude, that didn’t matter to her; she didn’t need a man in her life to tell her what to do or to be content.

I was the biggest tomboy growing up, I got dirty rolling around and play fighting and spent most afternoons playing sports with the other kids. But I still liked to dress up and get pretty; that didn’t mean I had to do it all the time. I really appreciated how Merida didn’t always need to be pretty or dainty or wear fancy dresses and spend her time curtsying to all the men; she wanted to roll around in the mud, dance in the rain, ride on horseback, climb mountains, and shoot arrows. I loved that adventurous side of her and I loved that she didn’t let anyone tame her.

I wish I had Merida to look up to when I was that young tomboy.

 Cruz Ramirez

It’s a shame Pixar wasn’t able to create a character like Cruz until now. She is one of the better things to come from this summer’s Cars 3 release and she might actually be one of my all-time favorite characters now.

Like Merida, I wish I had someone like Cruz to look up to when I was growing up and dreaming about coming to work in the animation industry in Los Angeles.

What I love the most about Cruz is that she showed me it doesn’t matter where you were born or who your family is, if you set your mind to what you want to achieve in life then you can fulfill your dreams.

People might keep telling you no, no, no; and you might continue to get rejection letter after rejection letter, but you have to keep going, to keep pushing forwards; hearing no or getting a rejection letter does not mean you’ve failed, but giving up does. It’s okay to have doubts, to feel bad about yourself, but you can still carry on and push forwards.

I also really loved the signal she sent to boys and girls alike, how it’s OK to be a girl and be really interested in boy things (like racing cars) or vice versa. In a typical male dominated world, it’s important to show young children that you can do whatever you want; it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl.

Cruz is the type of female character we need in film and TV now – a woman who stands up for herself, who goes against the norm, and who never gives up her dreams when obstacles are in the way.

Helen Parr AKA Elastigirl 

Helen is important to me, not only because I’ve always dreamed of being a superhero and kicking all sorts of butt, but because she’s a wonderful mother and person to look up to.

At the start of The Incredibles she’s living a pretty normal life, only having to deal with the typical mom duties that come with any parent. But soon it’s clear that Helen can balance both the mom and superhero life when she’s forced to follow and rescue her husband, Bob Parr AKA Mr. Incredible, when he’s off trying to deal with his midlife crisis.

It turns out that Helen actually saves her husband, brings her family closer together, and in turn, is a huge part in actually saving the world from the supervillain Syndrome. Where would we be without her? I’m really excited for The Incredibles 2 and having some more focus on Helen; which is a good sign that Pixar is definitely moving in the right direction regarding female characters.

One of my favorite things about Helen is that she doesn’t take crap from anyone, not her husband, children, or even Edna. She wasn’t about to sit around and wait for her husband to come home, making up different stories in her head as to why he’s been acting so strange lately. She was also not afraid to go against the societal norms at the time and take things into her own hands – she had every right to know what her husband was doing and to go and find him.

Helen is the type of woman and mom I aspire to be one day, with her, anything is possible. She gives me the confidence that I can balance both my work and home life completely if I chose to go down that path.  I work in the animation industry and have hopes of gaining as much experience as I can and moving on to different studios and jobs in the future. Thanks to Helen, I know that I don’t need to wait around for anyone to make the right decisions for me, and it’s possible to have a family and a career at the same time and be happy.

Each female Pixar character has taught me something different about myself throughout the years. What I love most about Pixar films, and the female characters they create, is that they provide a plethora of diverse characters from all ranges of life. Yes, fish and robots and superheroes are all incredibly different, but when you look at the stories that surround each character, and the struggles each woman (or ant) has to overcome, it’s all universal.

Who are some of your favorite Pixar female characters? And why are they so important to you?

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In Depth: Finding Dory, sequels, and Pixar heroines

Cars 2, Cars 3, Finding Dory, in depth, Monsters University, Pixar, Pixar Heroines, sequels, The Incredibles 2, Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • June 29, 2016

This post is the first in a new feature on Upcoming Pixar where we offer a closer look at Pixar films.

299acaa0-1557-0134-fd5a-0e31b36aeb7f

Dory – everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang. She’s so beloved that she nearly swims away with Finding Nemo. Nearly, but not quite. One reason why that film is such an unparalleled Pixar entry is because Dory as the scene stealing, ebullient comic relief doesn’t ever overshadow Marlin. We still care about him even though he’s not immediately lovable. (Or arguably, lovable at all).

Now Dory has a movie of her very own. She’s not stealing any scenes because they all belong to her.

In retrospect, focusing the sequel on Dory makes a lot of sense. Andrew Stanton crafted an emotionally resonant story with talking fish that was based on his own observations of fatherhood. That story was finished for the most part. But a new one centered on the silly, eccentric, and carefree secondary character held an ocean of possibility.

Of course, Dory isn’t the first goofy Pixar sidekick to become a protagonist in her own film. Mater was the first in Cars 2. But Finding Dory, unlike Cars 2, was enthusiastically accepted by most. While I do enjoy the latter film, I can understand why others have never been thrilled about a Mater centric movie. Cars 2 was disappointing to many because there was nothing meaningful underneath the hoods. Pixar films can just be fun diversions, but that’s a post for another day. But to everyone’s collective relief, the emotional stakes are higher in Finding Dory. Dory’s presence in Finding Nemo makes that film all the more poignant because her silliness contains pathos. She’s not just the hilarious sidekick.

“Please don’t go away. Please? No one’s ever stuck with me for so long before.”

“And…and I look at you, and I’m home! Please…I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.”

Is it any wonder that Andrew Stanton felt “very worried about Dory and couldn’t stop thinking about how she needed closure”?

Stanton didn’t work on the sequel right away. It wasn’t until 2011, eight years after Finding Nemo, that he began to consider it. And it clearly took more time to tackle the story before it was officially announced and released into the ocean five years later. This is the usual way sequels are handled at Pixar, with the exception of Toy Story 2. That film had to be salvaged on a tight deadline which makes it all the more impressive.

For all the worry about “Pixar’s decline” and reliance on sequels, critics and fans should rest assured. Finding Dory may not be as seamless as its predecessor, but its story is still meaningful. Art continues to challenge, technology continues to inspire.

Finding Dory should assuage worry in the same way Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 did. But the Cars sequels and Toy Story 4 represent too big of a worry. Apparently, Pixar isn’t allowed any missteps. We’ve already seen this with Brave, Monsters University, and more recently, The Good Dinosaur. Those are films that I love dearly. While Finding Dory should remind everyone that Pixar is still in robust shape, creating a sequel that retains the emotional power of its predecessor, that still isn’t enough for most.

But why is Finding Dory so significant, even if it is a dreaded sequel? For starters, it’s only the third Pixar film to feature a female protagonist. A supporting female character with a murky background became much more substantial. Dory was hilarious and heartbreaking in the first film. She still is, but now she’s achieved closure. Her story was given so much love and attention that the sequel, in retrospect, is all the more necessary. And sequels are rarely ever necessary according to the general public.

Then of course, is what her short term memory loss represents. It’s not merely there for laughs.

“I was using her disability to represent everybody. It works for anybody, because nobody is perfect. Everybody has a flaw that they maybe mislabel as such.”

-Andrew Stanton

Her disability doesn’t hinder her from being kind, generous, and friendly. It doesn’t hinder her from demonstrating empathy or discovering other forms of strength. And probably less important, or maybe even more so, is that Marlin and Nemo, along with new friends Hank, Destiny, and Bailey, do not pity Dory. They recognize all the wonderful things she is capable of, not despite her disability, but precisely because of it. They see her, first and foremost, as a friend they love and care about. She recognizes the same and encourages them despite their own limitations. This is a sequel where the characters either overcome their disabilities or still thrive even if they aren’t cured of them. That kind of message is vital for all ages, but especially for the youngest who do make up a large portion of Pixar’s audience.

tumblr_mjzmteGdWm1s714eko1_500When Stanton first revealed how Dory’s disability would be treated (in this excellent interview with Collider), I was reminded of “Toy Story of TERROR!” That short film, like Finding Dory, made a vivacious supporting female character the lead. Jessie’s role in Toy Story 2 functions the same way as Dory’s in Finding Nemo. She adds more emotional weight. In “TERROR!”, Jessie overcomes her claustrophobia in order to save the day. Many fans even praised the sensitive way her panic attacks and anxiety were depicted.

“Jessie never gives up, Jessie finds a way.”

Compare that to Dory’s unflagging optimism in Finding Nemo, along with her insistence that there’s always another way in the sequel. These are two female characters who confront or embrace their weaknesses and disabilities. They refuse to give up even when they’ve seemingly exhausted all their options.

Jessie and Dory assist the male hero but they are well rounded supporting characters in their own right. Jessie was introduced in a sequel while Dory was re-introduced in one of her own. Holly Shiftwell in Cars 2 was Mater’s romantic interest, but she was also a highly skilled secret agent. Whether The Incredibles 2 features any prominent new female characters remains to be seen. Could Helen and/or Violet be protagonists this time around? They’re still compelling even as secondary characters. Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3 is a crucial character, but she’s supporting Lightning McQueen. No doubt she’ll be fun to watch and we should hope for a positive, non stereotypical representation of her Hispanic background.

tumblr_mzxuikdFDd1s5wuldo1_500Now onto Toy Story 4. Woody will be reunited with Bo Peep in a love story. Bo Peep is really the only female character in a Pixar film who is merely peripheral. She had less screentime in Toy Story 2 because, as a porcelain lamp, it wasn’t logical that she’d be able to travel with the other toys around the tri-county area. Her absence in the third film was also a logical choice for the story. It was meant to show that losing friends is inevitable, but also made sense because Molly wouldn’t have assigned Bo Peep any sentimental value and held onto her like Andy did with his toys.

Bo Peep isn’t a dynamic character, but that’s not an issue. She may be on the sidelines, but so are Slinky, Rex, Hamm, and Mr. Potato Head. They’re all colorful, interesting characters, but the motivations and character arcs are reserved for Woody and Buzz.

We don’t know what to expect from Toy Story 4 just yet, but given Pixar’s track record, I think it’s safe to assume that Bo Peep will be an even stronger character in this upcoming installment.

For those who scoff at sequels and Pixar’s recent proliferation of them, their future does appear bleak. It’s much easier to look at Cars 2, Monsters University, Cars 3, and Toy Story 4 as proof positive of Pixar’s decline than to look past those films and remain eager about what else is yet to come. What’s ironic is that no one harbors this kind of pessimism for The Incredibles 2. Doesn’t that film have just as much potential as the others to be unspectacular? The general consensus of course is that The Incredibles 2 is the only sequel capable of being good. But Finding Dory and the Toy Story sequels have proven that to be untrue. Even if Cars 2Monsters University, and The Good Dinosaur are regarded as weak efforts, that still doesn’t mean that Pixar’s creative quality has declined.

I prefer to take an optimistic view of Pixar’s sequels because of the roles Pixar heroines, old and new, get to play. Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, I know there are more original films in the works. Coco is just the only one that’s been announced.

Good stories exist in Pixar’s original films and their sequels. Personally, I have yet to watch a bad Pixar film. Others don’t agree and that’s fine too. I’m not worried about Pixar making a bad film, because as I’ve seen, they’re still making good ones.

Pessimism is tempting, but as Dory says, there’s always another way.

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