Ginger Pop: The Ladies of Pixar

By Amber Kelly-Anderson

Much ado has been made about Pixar’s forthcoming Brave, primarily due to Merida, voiced by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald (who I think of as Gosford Park’s Kelly Macdonald), being touted at the first Pixar female protagonist. I’ll put aside my feelings that she’s still a princess, albeit a feisty one, and focus instead on how excited I am for this movie, especially to see it with my daughter. However, I think it is dismissive not to give props to the Pixar ladies that have come before. Certainly there are a passel of love interests (Princess Atta, Sally, Collette), but there are other female characters who, for varying reasons, are as important as their male leads (often with less screen time). So I present my favorite Ladies of Pixar.

5. Roz (Bob Peterson), Monsters, Inc.–There are some days when it strikes me just how much Roz and I have in common: we both love to rock a cardigan and vintage-style frames, and we both get lame excuses from people who think they are charming/slick instead of the work they knew was due. Sadly, unlike Roz, I am not secretly a government agent. But that doesn’t stop me from loving her dry, no nonsense approach to life. There’s no getting anything by this lady.

4. Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), The Incredibles–As the title of the film indicates, this movie is actually about a family. Bob’s foray into hero work to “get his groove back” lands him in the type of trouble only his flexible and savvy superpowered wife can remedy. Fly a jet? Check. Become a human parachute? Double check. Raise a teenager, rambunctious boy, and toddler basically by herself? You bet. One of the great things about Helen is that we see her as tough and logical, such as her for her warning her children that they could be killed. That, however, does not make her some Wonder Woman sans emotions, as seen when she learns of Bob’s betrayal. Thankfully it only takes one pep talk from another favorite, Edna, to get her back in fighting form: “You are Elastigirl! My God… Pull-yourself-together! “What will you do?” Is this a question? You will show him you remember that he is Mr. Incredible, and you will remind him who you are. Well, you know where he is. Go, confront the problem. Fight! Win!” And she does. No wonder the one thing that almost defeats Mr. Incredible is the thought that he has lost his family.

3. Ellie (Elie Doctor), Up–Spoiler Alert! Ellie dies in the first five minutes of this adventure film. That there are no other female characters (save mystery bird Kevin) speaks volumes of the life-loving girl’s impact on Carl and Up as a whole. I will admit that the first time we saw this movie, my husband and I were both in tears in those first five minutes as we watched a true romance unfold before us, showing in a sweet, poignant montage, what exactly it means to grow old with someone. When we first meet Ellie, she’s precocious adventurer who has no qualms about invading a little boy’s bedroom and making him swear to take her to South America in a blimp. It’s that spark that draws Carl to her, that she brings to their marriage, that she finds again through Carl after learning that their family will just be the two of them. Carl’s escape from a society that wants to lock him up takes place literally in the house he shared with his late wife for a reason: yes, the visual is stunning, but, moreover, the bright little cottage represents the spirit of the woman who was his other half and his journey south is his way of trying to fulfill his childhood promise to her. What follows is his journey to let go of the physical reminder of his wife and do what we all know Ellie would want him to–live his life with her spirit in his heart.

2. Jessie (Joan Cusack), Toy Story 2 and 3–To call Jessie a pistol seems obvious, but what else can you say about this rootin’, tootin’ cowgirl? Technically she could be called a love interest, but her romance with Buzz is really of secondary importance (as indicated by the fact that she literally turns it on and off–Spanish Mode!–at her whim). In many ways Jessie is a fusion of the two buddies at the center of Toy Story: she’s got Buzz’s deft spryness blended with Woody’s down home likeable nature. One could argue that she’s actually more emotionally mature than either one of them, having grappled with loss and abandonment (her montage to “When She Loved Me” was the first time I cried at a Pixar movie, although certainly not the last). Jessie also represents how important voice casting is. Joan Cusack captures all of her raring personality without allowing her to diminish to Woody’s annoying little sister.

1. Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Finding Nemo–Memory problems aside, Dory is a pretty smart fish. She can read and speaks at least one foreign language. Beyond those things, she’s funny, loyal, vivacious, and, above all, brave. Finding Nemo is a complicated movie because it seems, at first glance, to be about the relationship between father and son. However, the dynamic between Dory and Marlin is just as important in that she not only helps with practical matters (the reading and the whale speaking), she serves as an unpretentious guide and friend, aiding Marlin in his own growth and freedom from fear. Never one to judge, Dory is the moral core of the movie, a reminder of what it means to be joyful, accepting, and loving. DeGeneres plays Dory as so unassuming and lively that it compounds the effect, making her utterly unforgettable.

What about you, readers? Which female Pixar characters do yo love? And how do you feel about Brave?