Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pixar Was Feminist Before Brave (Just Ask Mrs. Incredible)

Look, I’ll be straight with you to get this party rolling. (Not that I’m usually lying to you. You know what I mean.) I still haven’t seen Brave. Now, a lot of this is my own fault, since it did come out before I went to Vietnam, and it was playing in theaters when I got here. But it hasn’t come up, okay? I’m definitely going to see it on DVD.

I have, though, been reading as many spoiler-free articles about the movie as I can, and I think it’s time we discussed a little something.

Merida is not Pixar’s first feminist character. Sure, she’s their first female protagonist, and that’s wonderful and great and super cool. But. She is not the first feminist character that Pixar has ever featured, and this movie did not change the game in any big way as regards their writing tendencies.

Good? Okay.

No, actually, despite their lack up to now in creating female protagonists, Pixar has actually been really good about giving us well-rounded female characters who are, dare I say it, feminist. I’m going to use Mrs. Incredible as an example.

Now, I don’t actually like calling her Mrs. Incredible, because it identifies her as a knockoff of Mr. Incredible, but the name fits and it’s the one she’s best known by. At the start of the movie, she’s Elasti-Girl, a freewheeling superhero who doesn’t have time for marriage and babies. So, when we skip a few years later, and discover that she’s married, living in suburbia and raising three kids while her husband goes to work at an insurance firm, I was totally expecting her to have some pretty serious angst.

Except she didn’t. While her husband agonized over the meaninglessness of his existence, Mrs. Incredible calmly took care of her kids, planned for vacations, and made lunches for school. In anyone else’s hands, this reversal would seem like a sign that she was finally “in her place”, that being a superhero was her fantasy. In coming back down to reality, she discovered that home and children were where her real talents lay.

That’s bullshit, and also not the direction that the movie takes it. Instead, it just shows that Mrs. Incredible is a very strong person. She was strong enough to be a hero, and strong enough to keep going when she couldn’t be a hero anymore.

So when her husband is stupid enough to allow himself to be captured (sorry, but it’s true), she goes after him. Not only does she save him, but she also does it stealthily, effectively, and pretty quickly given the circumstances. She’s not afraid to use the Mom Voice, and when Mr. Incredible tries to leave her behind for the final battle, she reads him the riot act.

Mrs. Incredible isn’t just good at being a hero, or good at being a mom, she’s a fully real character capable of adapting when her life doesn’t turn out the way she planned, or when she really needs to step up her game and go full badass. She’s a badass, in all of the possible ways.

At the very end of the movie, when Syndrome tries to kidnap Jack-Jack, she actually has her husband throw her into the sky to get him back. That’s being a badass.

Merida wasn’t Pixar’s first feminist character, and, really, neither was Mrs. Incredible. Pixar is veritably littered with feminist heroes. From the single mom in Toy Story, to EVE in Wall-E, to Ellie in Up, there are tons of places we can look to see awesome female characters to show our daughters. Mrs. Incredible is just the start.

And none of this is meant to deride Brave or Merida. I’m sure she’s a lovely character, and it really is awesome that Pixar is now making movies with female leads. But to say that she’s the first feminist character from this studio? Well that’s just false advertising.