IT TOOK UNTIL 2012 for Pixar to deliver a film that featured a girl in a main role, and another two years for it to have a female lead who wasn’t a princess.
That film is Inside Out, and it’s what those of you who are looking for a different type of protagonist have been waiting for.
It tells the story of Riley (11), who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco.
Riley is guided by her emotions (she’s not that different than you or I there), who take the form of Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
The emotions live in Headquarters, which is the control center inside Riley’s mind, and it is from there that they advise her through everyday life.
As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.
Brave, Pixar’s last animated movie with a female protagonist, was about the feisty Princess Merida of the clan Dunbroch. Notably, it was co-directed by Brenda Chapman, who also co-wrote the film, making her Pixar’s first female director of a feature-length film.
As Vulture pointed out, a plea for a non-princess Pixar character was made by journalist Linda Holmes back in 2009.
In an open letter “from all the girls with band-aids [plasters] on their knees“, she put the case forward for new female characters.
Of the ten movies you’ve released so far, ten of them have central characters who are boys or men, or who are anthropomorphized animals or robots or bugs who are voiced by and imagined as boys or men. These movies feature women and girls to varying degrees — The Incredibles, in particular — but the story is never “a girl and the things that happen to her,” the way it’s “a boy and what happens to him.”
And she added:
I have nothing against princesses. I have nothing against movies with princesses. But don’t the Disney princesses pretty much have us covered? If we had to wait for your thirteenth movie for you to make one with a girl at the center, couldn’t you have chosen something — something — for her to be that could compete with plucky robots and adventurous space toys?
Director Pete Doctor said that Riley’s story was inspired by watching his daughter grow up, so we’ll see how the emotions in Joy’s life begin to turn more negative as she approaches her teens.
Whether Riley is a character you end up loving or disliking doesn’t matter – it’s just great to see more variety in animated female or male characters.
After all, there’s nothing stopping the writers at Pixar other than their own imaginations.