Wednesday, June 20, 2012

THE LISTS: Best Female Characters of Pixar

It's another blessed Pixar week, even if the buzz regarding their latest film, "Brave", isn't all sunshine and daisies. It doesn't discount the widely lauded milestone of Pixar's first female protagonist, and quite optimistically not the last. Last year I posted a semi-serious list of the Best Pixar Characters, so why focus in further because of a specific gender? Because that list was majorly taken up by the men of the show, as Collette would lament were she working in this business. So I decided to look deeper into the catalog of Pixar's characters to pick out ten female characters outside of "Brave" that truly state the potential Pixar has had for significant feminine emotion.

It is worth mentioning those who could not make the list, such as Merida and Queen Elinor of this weekend's "Brave", simply because I have yet to see it. From the "Toy Story" trilogy, the presence and loss of Bo Peep is absolutely nothing to neglect, and delivers resonance in a single line of dialogue in the third film. Boo was especially close to making the mark for "Monsters Inc.", but the fact of the matter is that she's a kid, however sweet. And nobody really enters the frame from "A Bugs Life" or either of the "Cars" films. They all just feel so simple in construction. But with no further ado, here's our list of the top ten ladies of Pixar!

10. Edna Mode ("The Incredibles")

Ever so often Pixar concocts a character that skillfully serves a quite simply comedic purpose, and even though she gets little more than two extended scenes, Edna Mode is one of those instantly recognizable characters of Pixar. The more fortunately futured fashion designer for the supers displays an empathetic emptiness regarding the golden days. "I used to design for Gods!" Built all the way through with magnificent ego, to the glorious length of Brad Bird voicing the character herself. She has such an experience in that field, and gets such a buzz out of her small role in the grand fight. After all, they're not saving the world if they don't look fabulous doing it, so long as there are no capes.

9. Andy's Mom ("Toy Story 3")

This is very likely the smallest character you'll find on this list, and one whose presence is very much in the background, but one that is absolutely crucial to the endgame of "Toy Story 3". Andy's Mom is always on the periphery of this series, and that's perhaps to cut off the questioning of where Andy's Father is. At the end of the last film, however, she is given a single scene that crushes me every single time I watch it, because it is something that every parent has gone through. The letting go of a child, and realization that for all the work you put into them, they're going to go their own way and live their own life now. There is a "forever" sense of it, and Andy's Mom serves that ultimate function in the finishing of the series.

8. Darla ("Finding Nemo")

"She's a fish killer!" So screams the starfish Peach regarding the assumed villain of "Finding Nemo", a pre-schooler with some nasty dental gear attached to her head that splits her mouth open into an almost permanent smile. The unintended parallels to Heath Ledger's Joker alone give the film a great depth of backstory and commentary. There's unconsciously a parallel to be had with Nemo, a fish of similar age, but with none of the accommodations. Darla is a cautionary tale, of children whom everything is handed to with none of the responsibility. In the end, I can't help but express sadness for Darla, because for all violent tendencies and mollycoddling, she only ever wanted a fish.

7. Violet ("The Incredibles")

"The Incredibles" already has the great fortune of having more characters on this list than any other Pixar film. It's not terribly fem-centric, but there is an honest insightfulness to how it paints its female characters. In the case of Violet, it's one of palpable insecurities, which is always fun to deal with in a comedic environment, but Brad Bird really focused on the interior of this character. She's not the most confident or outspoken of characters, but she certainly doesn't want to be kept in the dark. There's a real need to be noticed that is crucial to the character, and she takes charge pretty well of her circumstances.

6. Ellie ("Up")

When discussion circulate Pixar's 2009 property, they go quickly to the film's first ten minutes, which deals with shattering emotions, complex in their simplicity. The love story of Carl and Ellie, through their entire lives together, is given such a nugget of this film. So sweet, with enough reality thrown in to build the relationship so endearingly. After that sequence, Ellie's essence of purity doesn't disappear entirely, but wavers on with us as a reminder of what Carl is fighting for and so afraid of losing. Her final gift, a sequence which is played with the same dose of joyful heartache as her end, reveals her as a partner who cares first and foremost, to the very end, for her best friend.

5. EVE ("WALL-E")

But, robots don't have gender... right? You can mix the attempts at logic any way you want, even making the relationship out to be single-sexual if you like. For the purposes of this list, and the film, EVE is a girl, and not the kind who stays at home. She's more like the fashion and stlye oriented environmentalist to WALL-E's construction worker clutz. She has a true development throughout the film, as WALL-E awakens a sense of passion in her through her directive to save the plant. We see her passion for her job transfer very honestly to an attraction, and then truly a love, for WALL-E. You couldn't ask for more emotional progress.

4. Elastigirl ("The Incredibles")

Can I make it any more obvious? We truly need for female superheroes, because Pixar makes such a case for there to be more. Nothing is more empowering than a woman with all these trepidations and fears rising up in spite of them. That is a key aspect to Elastigirl, is that at the start of the film, she doesn't want to be phased out. Sure, she almost willingly goes into retirement, but even then she's fearful of being undervalued. Her meeting with Edna Mode does spark some kind of fire in her to fight back instead of being some slobbering mess. Yes, she stretches, and that's an obvious part of her character, but the superpowers don't define the characters. The character defines the superpower.

3. Collette ("Ratatouille")

"I just want you to know exactly who you are dealing with. How many women do you see in this kitchen? Only me. Why do you think that is?" So begins the key moment of Collette's evolution as a character, with maddening expression strewn across her face. You have to hand it to Pixar's animation team for doing the greatest heavy lifting on the character, because her face and expressions are so exquisitely crafted in such an unexpected, but not unappealing way. It wouldn't have worked if she didn't have such strength and guts as a person, to not diminish things based on origins or appearances. The fact that she isn't obviously attractive at first, but later turns out to be so, is just a final masterstroke.

2. Jessie ("Toy Story 2")

I do not believe it's possible to reduce an audience to more tears than in the moment Jessie sings "When Somebody Loved Me". It's about as heartbreaking as Pixar has gotten in a single moment, and we see just how damaged a character Jessie is, and not in a diminishing way. When we first see her, she is just so energetic and sprightly, but when she breaks down we see some real fear and cracks in the woodwork, no pun intended. This is somebody whose value has ceased in the eyes of her best friend, and she's been stuck in that moment for so long, recalling it with extreme potency. For the midpoint of this series, she is the most crucial ingredient to throw into the mix.

1. Dory ("Finding Nemo")

The greatest Pixar character, perhaps an obvious choice as most will cop to "Finding Nemo" as the greatest film from the studio. Dori seems to be working on such a simple quirk of short-term memory loss, but there's so much more pizazz to her character, much thanks to the voice work by Ellen DeGenres. Truth of the matter is that, when we meet her, we don't know, along with her, how long she's been alone. It's almost a defense mechanism, secondary a problem to her natural exuberance and liveliness. The fact that Marlin sticks with her for such a long time somewhat erodes the problem of that short-term memory loss. That bond that these two characters form makes their eventual breakup such a shattering moment, even if we know everything will be all right, those emotions are real. It's not memory that matters, but emotion.

Comment below, who is your favorite lady of Pixar?

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