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Bechdel Blockbusters: Female Representation and ‘Inside Out’

Bechdel Blockbusters: Female Representation and 'Inside Out'

This past weekend, Pixar ended its two year hiatus with  “Inside Out.” Although it was in the shadow of “Jurassic World,” the film opened with $91 million, becoming the biggest opening ever for an original Pixar title — or any film ever not based on existing material or brand of some sort.

“Inside Out” tells the story of eleven year old Riley, a hockey-loving goofball who is thrown into an emotional whirlwind when her family packs up the moving truck and relocates from the idyllic midwest to San Francisco. Although the new location provides a perfect setup for a hilarious Bear reference, Riley is not very pleased. Inside her head, her personified emotions are struggling to cope with the dysphoria of this major life move. We have Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). 

The film was the brainchild of Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc.) who was inspired to make the film when he noticed a shift in his own daughter’s personality as she grew older. “Inside Out” is visually stunning and wildly imaginative, but how does it represent women?

Nicole: So let’s take a look at the first tenet of the Bechdel Test.1. The movie has to have at least two women in it. “Inside Out” is dominated by female protagonists, which is a rarity in mainstream film. 

Oliver: Completely. Before “Brave” (2012), there wasn’t a Pixar film with a female lead. They’re often just sidekicks to male characters. Here we have Joy, Sadness and Riley who the entire movie centres around. They’re all integral.

NicoleThey definitely steal the show from the secondary male characters.

Oliver: So without a doubt, there’s more than one female character, 2. who talk to each other, and not 3. about something besides a man

Nicole: Completely. Joy and Sadness spend the duration of the film consistently working together to fix Riley. ”Inside Out” has a very positive tone of girl power, and I love it. Female characters are so frequently pitted against each other in all forms of media, usually vying for male attention. It’s so crucial that young girls see movies like Inside Out, where the objective of the female characters isn’t receiving validation from men, but rather they fight together for their own happiness, their own complex identity. 

Oliver: We can definitely agree “Inside Out” meets all criteria of the Bechdel test, so how do we see the role of men in the film and their relationship to the female protagonists? One thing we mentioned walking out of the cinema, which we both found funny, was the “Dream Boyfriend” character. 

Nicole: That was interesting. One of the only conversations the female protagonists have about a man is inside Imagination Land, where Joy and Sadness encounter the creations of Riley’s mind. One of Imagination Land’s inhabitants is the aforementioned Dream Boyfriend. It makes sense, as Riley is at that age where the notion of dating is new and thrilling, and will soon be more prominent in her imagination than her childhood fantasies of cloud cities and wagon rockets that are fuelled by friendship and can fly to the moon. This reminded me of Alice Munro’s short story “Boys and Girls.” As the main character grows older, her daydreams become more and more about falling in love and less about saving the world. Maybe it’s learned, but it’s a  sad part of growing up for many girls.

Oliver: He’s her fantasy; her romantic ideal. His one line is “I’d die for Riley.” And then during the film’s climax that undying love is used comically. The image of our two female protagonists climbing the ladder of dream boys to launch themselves to their headquarter destination while the tower of men topple below them. It’s almost symbolic of the way the film presents its female heroes in opposition to the history of male leads in film. 

Nicole: It definitely felt like they were subverting the idea of a male character as a saviour.

Oliver: What did you think about the relationship between Riley’s parents?

Nicole: When we briefly go inside Riley’s mom’s head, the personifications of her mother’s emotions only really talk about men. They discuss their frequent disappointment with their husband. The angry wife berating her clueless husband is kind of a tired trope but the audience loved it.

Oliver: Absolutely. I think we both agree “Inside Out” is an achievement. 

Nicole: It was incredible, unlike any other children’s movie I’ve seen. It’s an extraordinarily creative, complicated look into a young girl’s psyche that perfectly captures the pain of growing up. 

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