We’ve already seen how the first batch of Pixar films fared against the Bechdel Test. Now it’s on to round two.
Ratatouille – 2007
Colette is the only female character with serious screen time and lines. Aside from her, there’s a food critic and a shotgun-toting old lady. But they never have direct contact with each other. There aren’t even any conversations between obviously female rats.
WALL-E – 2008
I’ve seen it argued that only human women should be counted when considering whether or not a movie passes the first rule of the Bechdel test. I don’t agree, as that would negatively skew the statistics on animated films and movies for children by discounting every anthropomorphic female character. Robots can be a little more difficult. WALL-E and Eve are obviously portrayed as male and female, but many of the other robots don’t have any obvious gender. On top of that, WALL-E is not a particularly talky movie. The main character spends an inordinate amount of time alone or accompanied by a non-functioning Eve and a non-speaking cockroach.
Up – 2009
Of the two female characters who get major screen time in the film, one is dead by the end of the prologue and the other is a bird. Russell’s mom has no lines and the woman who regretfully gives Carl the court order to move to the retirement home speaks only to Carl. Presumably some of Muntz’s dogs must be female, unless they all have extremely long lifespans, but none are identified as such.
Toy Story 3 – 2010
The third Toy Story film gives more prominent roles to Mrs. Potato Head and Barbie and introduces some new female characters as well. They don’t have a huge amount of interaction with one another, but there are still enough conversations between female characters to give it a pass, even if you don’t consider Bonnie’s mom important enough to be a full character.
Cars 2 – 2011
Confession time: I’ve never actually watched Cars 2. I found the first one okay, but not so appealing that I was clamoring for a sequel. I especially wasn’t hoping for one that shifted the focus from Lightning to Mater. I’ve done some research and a lot of websites call this a fail on the Bechdel Test. But they’re also using the two named female characters rule and even then I’ve seen some arguments claiming that it does pass. So this one will have to go without a verdict for the time being. If I ever get around to watching the film for myself, I’ll post an update.
Brave – 2012
The one crossover between the Pixar films and the princess films is a no-brainer. The whole movie centers on Merida’s relationship with her mother. While two prominent female characters doesn’t always guarantee a pass, it certainly helps. And in this case, it’s an easy call.
Monsters University – 2013
Were it not for the decision to switch Dean Hardscrabble’s gender, *Monsters University would be almost entirely devoid of major female characters. Squishy’s mom also gets a good amount of screen time, but she never alms to Dean Hardscrabble. The only thing that even comes close to two female characters conversing is a very brief exchange between two sorority girls during the Scare Games. It’s one line each and one of those lines is “ow.” Not enough for a pass.
Of the fourteen Pixar films released to date, eight fail the Bechdel Test, five pass, and one is still awaiting a verdict. Even assuming a best case scenario where Cars 2 passes, that’s still more fails than passes and a far worse success to failure ratio than the Disney princess films.
As I’ve said before, the Bechdel Test is not a feminism test and a high failure rate does not mark a studio as horribly sexist. But it is still worrying, especially when you consider that the Bechdel Test really is a low bar to cross. Women meet up to discuss things other than the males in their lives every single day. So why do movies seem to have such a hard time reflecting that. It’s rare to find a movie that doesn’t pass the reverse Bechdel Test, where two men must have a conversation about something other than a female character. So why does the gender flip make such a difference?
What’s particularly odd about Pixar’s bad Bechdel Test score is that the studio is actually quite good at developing good female characters. The ladies of Pixar have been interesting, fully-rounded characters with important roles to play in the films. The problem is that too many of them are cast as major supporting characters rather than the leads. Unlike the Disney princess films, which guarantee at least one major female role by their nature, the Pixar films have remained largely male-centric.
I once read an article on Pixar’s lack of leading ladies that sparked off a lengthy debate. One argument put forth was that Pixar films should be about whatever stories the filmmakers want to tell and not forced to serve some other agenda like passing the Bechdel Test. On the one hand, I agree that writing a film primarily to pass the Bechdel Test would be a terrible idea. One of the reasons that I believe the Pixar films have been of such high quality is the personal stories that the directors bring to their work. And if one director wants to tell a story about his relationship with his son, I don’t think he should be forced to make it a completely different story just to please critics who would decry the lack of female leads. One the other hand, filmmaking is a long, complex, and messy process. Very few stories come to their creators in final form. Changes do get made and the very fact that Dean Hardscrabble started off as a male character proves that the need for a better gender balance can be a factor in making such changes.
So what do I want to see from Pixar? I want to see more movies with major female characters. I want Pixar to tell some stories that are primarily about women and primarily by women and wouldn’t even make sense if they weren’t about women. But I also want to see some female characters who are female the way Russell from Up is Asian. I want characters who happen to be female, but don’t have their characters or roles in the story completely defined by that. I’m not expecting every Pixar film to fulfill these requirements, but I think it’s an easy ask for some of them to do so, especially for a studio with as much creativity and talent as Pixar.