|Pixar films from the top left: Toy Story, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up|
|Ghibli films: Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, |
Princess Mononoke, and Howl's Moving Castle
Pixar has been criticized a number of times for not featuring female main characters in their films (The Incredibles and Toy Story 2 come the closest, but even in these films the women & girls play backup to the male characters). Ghibli productions, on the other hand, place girls front and centre -- even Princess Monoke and Howl's Moving Castle, which have male co-leads, feature strong, capable women. Moreover, the girls in Studio Ghibli films break out of the traditional Disney princess model for female characters. Miyazaki populates his films with tomboy-ish young girls, feisty old women, feral warriors, and yes, even a fully-realized princess who saves her people from certain destruction.
Both Pixar and Studio Ghibli have taken the animated family film to new artistic heights; neither studio tells stories that are primarily romances, and both combine terrific adventure and gentle good humor with masterful art design and an emotional maturity often lacking from movies aimed at children (or adults for that matter). But as much as I love Pixar and the films they produce, it would be nice to see them take a page out of Studio Ghibli's book and put a female character front and center. The success of Miyazaki's films in both Japan and North America show that there's a market for these stories. The addition of a heroine to the Pixar roster would be a mark that the studio can be innovative both artistically and socially, inside and outside the studio.
Edit: Not ten hours ago, The Mary Sue posted concept art from Pixar's upcoming original production, Brave. The best part? It's the first of Pixar's films to star a female protagonist. Here's to Pixar entering their third decade by turning over a new leaf on gender.
I would also be remiss if I left out a recommendation for the indie animated flick The Secret of Kells. Ireland-based Cartoon Saloon's beautiful film was nominated for Best Animated Picture at the 2010 Academy awards, and featured two equally well drawn leads -- monk-in-training Brendan and the enchanting wolf-girl, Aisling. Their upcoming Song of the Sea promises to be an equally lovely addition to the animated family film wall of fame:
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