Friday, June 22, 2012

Pixar's Greatest Female Characters

This weekend brings the latest film from Pixar-- Brave.  Set in the Scotland highlands, the film marks a landmark for the legendary animation studio-- it's the first film where the principle character is a female, as well as the first Pixar project co-directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman.)  While Pixar has had a mostly all boys club reputation, there have been a few great female characters in their legendary canon.  Here are my favorites.

6) Ellie in Up
While only in the unforgettable and tear jerking prologue of Pete Doctor's Up, Ellie makes quite the impression as a formidable character, notable because she doesn't have the benefit of any dialogue whatsoever.  In the novelistic, emotionally and beautifully textured first ten minutes, the wizards at Pixar demonstrated their art form with such a striking and bracing maturity and emotional gut punch, it's difficult not to be soaked in tears in sure remembrance.  Ellie, the explorer animates Carl Fredricksen's sense of adventure and stodgy demeanor.  The tenderly lived-in scenes from a marriage (including Disney's first every animated miscarriage) is the staggering and Ellie leaves with such an indelible impression that the film, even as it tracks unevenly, can't be seen as anything other than a triumph.

5) Violet Parr in The Incredibles
Brad Bird's first endeavor with Pixar was this joyous superhero lark, and the most equal opportunist film in the Pixar canon so for with compelling and wondrous characters of both sexes on display.  One such marvel was that of teenage wallflower Violet, sullen and invisible (both literally and figuratively), voiced with a pitch perfect sense of alienation by Sarah Vowell.  Unfunny and feeling marginalized, there's a joyous sense of abandon when Violet realizes her strength and it turns her natural teenage angst into superheroic power.

4) EVE in WALL-E
It's in the great power of Pixar as a brand and as masters of storytelling that the love story of two mute machines could become a grandly ambitious science fiction morality play and one of the best romantic stories of the past decade in filmmaking.  EVE is a machine, custom built with nothing but the objective on her mind.  There's a riveting poignancy to the softness that starts to develop after EVE meets WALL-E, the disheveled cleaner-upper of Earth that all forgotten who learns the wisdom of humanity.  EVE is icy, but breathtaking and Pixar's equivalent of a femme fatale.

3) Edna Mode in The Incredibles
Voiced by director Brad Bird and modeled after the famous and plentifully Oscared costume designer Edith Head, Edna Mode is the spitfire costumer of the superheros that injects The Incredibles with much of it's wit and comic relief.  No-nonsense, strong and independent, Edna resonates because of her humor and novelty, but also because of her quick-witted intelligence.  In a glorious film with many great female characters, she's a wonderful accessory and a sly throwback to the screwball comedies of 1940s.

2) Dory in Finding Nemo
There's so few times where there feels an incandescent melding of performer and character, but one such prominent plea must be made that the best performance and the most uniformly brilliant casting decision was made when Ellen DeGeneres agreed to play the forgetful Dory in Finding Nemo.  Dory is a natural fit to DeGeneres' warm, flaky, smart-alecky styling.  Her comedy comes from a tenderness and a longing for compassion, but also from a sly and sneakily poignant search for connection.  It's easy to fall for Dory with her effervescent charm, just as it's confounding to keep her from bewildering irritation.  That's true of most best friends.

1) Helen Parr \ Elastigirl in The Incredibles
The best female representation in a Pixar film to date, from my perspective, comes from the lovely, strong and complicated character, voiced to perfection by Holly Hunter.  Presenting mother as superhero and superhero as mother, Brad Bird wrote and developed one of the one interesting and mesmerizing characters for women in many a moon.  Dealing with an out-of-sync husband, out-of-control children, evils that stretch far outside the norms of imagination, as well and the boredom of forgoing suburban ennui, Helen Parr is a fascinating character study...Elastigirl is just incredible. 

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