Friday, June 25, 2010

Presentation of gender in Toy Story 3

I have previously written about Pixar's lack of developed female characters (here, here, and here).  Before I dive into any sort of analysis of Toy Story 3, I am going to state what I usually do when I analyze anything people are going to get defensive about: I loved this movie; nonetheless it is still subject to criticism.  My discussion of the film is not a reflection of my dislike of it, but is rather an attempt to discuss why this movie is not perfect.

As with the other Pixar films, the presentation of gender was rather disappointing.  We're quickly presented with "this is what girls play with / this is what boys play with."  Ken is consistently shamed on being a "girl's toy."  It's played for laughs that he loves clothing, or wears Barbie's scarf.  In one scene he's tortured by having to watch his clothes be ripped apart, until he finally caves.

Once again, there's a significant lack of female characters.  According to this trivia page there are 302 characters in the movie.  A glance through the cast list shows that a little over 30 are voiced (i.e. considered major characters).  22 (not including Spanish Buzz) are male.  12 are female.  And we all know that Woody and Buzz are the main characters.  Yeah, there's Jessie, but she's not in charge, and she often defers to Buzz or Woody to tell her what to do since it's understood that as Andy's favorites, they're the leaders.

Perhaps the most obnoxious bit of sexism came from how other characters treated Mrs. Potato Head.  Voiced by the famously naggy Estelle Harris, Mrs. Potato Head yaps.  A lot.  In fact, she is the lead in the promo at the beginning of the movie advising the audience to STFU during the film.  Basically, she's talking during the movie, her phone rings, she's yapping.  Finally, Mr. Potato Head removes her mouth.  The movie is enjoyable now.

This happens a few times in the movie as well.  She's mouthing off to her captors (which I do not believe is unreasonable, since the other characters were similarly protesting their situation), and her mouth is removed.  This is a manifestation of the male desire (and apparent right) to shut up nagging women.  Her mouth is always removed by a male, either her husband, or one of the male adversaries.  And it's supposed to be funny each time!  I mean, I know she's a Potato Head, and all the parts are removable and all, but not once does Mr. Potato Head lose his mouth privileges.  But a female character who dares interrupt men doing Important Things is silenced.  Oh the hilarity!!!

But before I am accused of being an oversensitive "you're looking too much into it" feminist, I'll share a few of my likes of the film.  One of the most touching scenes in the whole movie was of the little girl, Bonnie, playing with an assortment of toys.  She is wildly imaginative: a tea party transforms into a fight against a witch, and the only option is to escape in a spaceship.   SPOILER ALERT: the scene with Andy and Bonnie playing together was also really cute.  I was tearing up watching the two of them play.  Bonnie was really shy at first, but once Andy presented what was left of his childhood toys to her, she opened up.  I loved how the focus was on her and the toys.  And it didn't matter that all of those toys previously belonged to a boy, or that she was a girl playing with what is understood to be "boy toys."

And despite Ken being shamed for it, and despite it being played for laughs, I did still enjoy a male character with an unapologetic love of fashion.  

And Jessie is still pretty badass.  Bonus points for her being voiced by Joan Cusack..  

I also liked the scenes with the toddlers.  From the point of view of the toys, it was quite frightening, yet simultaneously funny because the kids are like monsters to them.  I mean, they're just kids, and that's how really little kids play.  But I can see how it could be doom for toys.  The audience sees a toy's perspective, following the anxieties of toys.  And now I feel really guilty about donating those boxes of toys last month...


Marissa said...

Bonnie was wonderful. I teared up when she and Andy were playing together too. It was one of the several times that the movie left me in tears.

Pixar is frustrating. They have had some good female characters - Eve was competent and kick-ass, Ellie was confident and adventurous, Jesse was likewise kick-ass despite her abandonment issues. They have unique inner lives. And yet! They are never the heroes of their own stories.

stufflikemikans said...

Yay! I can finally read your review! Not that there were many spoilers, but I feel like I can comment now. One of my pet peeves is when people say, "I haven't seen this movie (read this book/watched this show/etc.), but I'm going to give my opinion on it!" I didn't want to do the same.

Anyway, I LOVED this movie! However, your criticisms are spot on. It was mostly the Ken "girl's toy" jokes that made me cringe a bit. I think it's because they were basically disguised gay jokes. However, I'll admit I laughed pretty hard when Bookworm was rolling his eyes when he thought he spotted Ken in high heels.

I have some hope for Pixar still. In 2012 they're going to release the movie "Brave." The main character is a girl, and the movie is directed by a woman. I don't know anything more about it beyond that, but I'm still pretty excited!