After a 15-year absence of female leads, Pixar is releasing its second film featuring a female protagonist. Even more significant: They are breaking the trend of royalty and opting for an average heroine.
Inside Out is the story of a young girl named Riley and the inner workings of her mind as her emotions attempt to sort out her everyday life. The film is a major stepping-stone in the world of animation, not only giving a female character the leading role, but also stating that she can be a hero without the flair of royalty or a love story.
Pixar is making a major stride towards eliminating the predominate sexist ideologies ingrained into the world of animation, where female characters have lacked a powerful presence.
Historically, there was “only one female character to every three male characters” and “women [made] up only 4.5% of characters in positions of political power” in family films, such as Pixar animations. By introducing female heroines into their films, Pixar is beginning to close this gap.
Unfortunately, as observed in Julie Zeilinger’s Identities.Mic article, Inside Out still appears to have fallen victim to a common fault found in Disney films, which may serve to undermine the film’s intended message of female empowerment.
In recent years Disney and Pixar’s approach to animating female figures has been called into question.
While their story lines have evolved from portraying tales of simplistic damsels in distress to featuring strong heroic figures, the female characters' physical features have only digressed. A quick look over Disney’s last two major princess films instantly reveals the issue.
The heroines of Tangled and Frozen are nearly identical. Elsa, Anna, and Rapunzel all feature the exact same big eyes, small noses and round baby faces. Even Elsa and Anna’s mother is essentially a carbon copy of the aforementioned characters.
It is often pointed out that animated characters do not realistically portray people, but truthfully “character designs are exaggerated by nature; the problem doesn’t occur when a character is given a small waist or large head, it occurs when design after design after design portrays these traits as the height of beauty."
All three of these characters are meant to be beautiful, but by making them all identical despite their distinct personalities and stories, Disney “has decided, either consciously or subconsciously, that there’s only one way to look beautiful."
Because of the influence Disney has over children, their characters may play a role in the formation of society's predominate beauty standards. These subtle messages of implied beauty can have drastic effects and repercussions on our fundamental understandings of body image.
Contrastingly, most male characters in these films have drastically variant features, regardless of their moral standing.
Zeilinger references a Tumblr user’s observations on the topic that show while female leads lack diversity of appearance in Disney and Pixar films, the male leads and villains both possess a wide range of features and body shapes. This imagery leaves the impression that males are held to a different standard than females, an archaic view that the story lines of these very films are trying to combat.
The world of animation has made immense progress towards conveying stronger messages of equality. Despite these steps there are still drastic changes that need to be made in the worlds of our beloved characters before true success can be achieved.
Media has a far-reaching influence over our society’s perceptions and definitions, and companies with reach like Disney and Pixar’s have almost incomprehensible cultural influence.
The intended positive messages of these films are muddled by the morphed perceptions of beauty placed within the animations and will continue to be until these worlds are diversified.