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Posted at 8:33 AM ET, 06/29/2007

Are the Pixar Movies an Animated Boys Town?

By Jen Chaney

'Sup, big guy? Remy of "Ratatouille" makes the rounds. (Walt Disney Pictures)

Pixar has done it again. With "Ratatouille," the studio has created another dazzling, clever, uplifting adventure, this time about a French rodent with a flair for food preparation. But Pixar also has done something else again: It's delivered yet another kiddie-centric piece of entertainment with a male in the starring role.

Aside from the Harry Potter books, the Pixar films may be the most influential children's narratives of our time. With their bright, digitally rendered colors, winning heroes and stories of triumphing over considerable odds, they are the quintessential fairy tales for the text-message generation. Strangely, though, not one of them features a female as its main character.

"Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2": Woody and Buzz Lightyear. "A Bug's Life": Flik. "Monsters, Inc.": Sulley and Mike. "Finding Nemo": Nemo and his dad. "The Incredibles": Okay, technically, you could say the whole Parr family. But really, it's Mr. Incredible. "Cars": Lightning McQueen. And now, "Ratatouille": Remy the rat, voiced by Patton Oswalt.

I know what you're thinking: Why ruin these nice little Disney movies by raising the issue of gender bias? What's next, suggesting that the vehicles in "Cars" should all be eco-friendly hybrids? Or that "Finding Nemo" paints an unfair picture of the shark community?

Look, I love the Pixar movies. I am consistently amazed by their originality and the way the writers weave sophisticated, adult ideas into these tales without ever compromising their kid appeal. But I can't help but compare them to some of the traditionally animated Disney classics, many of which put women at center stage. Of course, some of these women were waiting for their princes to come while gullibly consuming tainted fruit ("Snow White"), teetering around in glass slippers while chatting with mice ("Cinderella") or bopping around the ocean barely dressed ("The Little Mermaid"). But at least their presence sent a message that girls can carry a cartoon, too.

I give Pixar much credit for breathing life into some gutsy, admirable females. Helen Parr of "The Incredibles" not only keeps her household in order, she can stretch her limbs to limits even the uber-flexible Madonna couldn't reach. Sally Carrera in "Cars" is the spunky owner of her own business. And in "Ratatouille," Colette (voiced by Janeane Garofalo) makes an impassioned speech about how, as the only woman working in the kitchen at the chi-chi Gusteau's, she is tired of getting pushed around by all the men. She is femme, hear her roar.

But still, in the end, all of these women wind up playing love interest -- and second fiddle -- to the heroes. The fact that most of the Pixar filmmakers behind these flicks are male could be part of the problem. Interestingly, none of this seems to bother girls, who seem to flock to and adore these movies just as much as boys do. Perhaps to them, watching an animated toy or fish or rat transcends gender. Maybe they see these characters as just beings, neither male nor female. Perhaps there's a lesson there.

I do know this much: I have a five-month-old son and I can't wait to take him to see these films. I look forward to watching his eyes widen as he first witnesses the lights of "Ratatouille's" Paris, twinkling in all their digitally animated beauty, on a big screen. But I also hope that some day there will be a Pixar movie that focuses on a little girl, so my little boy can see that they deserve equal time, too.

Guest Celebritologist Jen Chaney loves the charming Remy, but her favorite onscreen rodent remains the spunky Gus from "Cinderella."

By Jen Chaney  | June 29, 2007; 8:33 AM ET
Categories:  Highbrow  
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