Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie "UP." (What a dumb title in the Google age, though, eh?) It was sweet and funny and it generally kept my attention. But about forty minutes into it, I realized something: It had NO major roles for female actors. True, in the beginning, the most interesting character is the little girl Ellie. But she gets killed off. After that, it's a Boy's Club through and through. Even the dogs are all boys. There's not a bitch among them. The bird, named Kevin, turns out to be female, but it's a non-speaking role in an animated film. Sorry, ladies: no opportunities there.
A note about Young Ellie: according to IMDB, she's played by someone named "Elie Docter." I guess they saved money by not having any open casting call for females at all on this film?
I identify as old, not just female, however, so I was happy and grateful that director Peter Docter and Pixar's writers gave a role to an older actor. Ed Asner is wonderful. But let's be real: statistically, the surviving spouse would have been the woman. Why ignore statistics when you could write the part for, say, Estelle Parsons? Maybe Asner needed the work, while Parsons had a gig on stage in August: Osage County, where she was brilliant, by the way. She certainly could have done a good job at crotchety and nay-saying. Or Diane Rheem. For once, her voice would have been exactly right.
But let's not stop with the creating and casting of Carl. There were other important roles. Was it necessary that the spunky and obnoxious kid be male? If the studio was worried about hints of inappropriate sexual interest, surely an old man could be as much under suspicion with a boy as with a girl. The scout could have been a girl scout. They get badges as well.
I won't quarrel with the Explorer being a man, although there were some real female precedents for female daring around the supposed time of Carl and Ellie's youth: Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham. But if the explorer was a man, why did the surviving spouse, the child explorer, the helpful dog and the dog leader, to a man, have to be men? (And white, except for the kid, who, like Boo in
Pixar does not, apparently, care about on-screen equal opportunity. And while Peter Docter and his writers and producers must have had mothers -- and maybe some had sisters and a few may have female spouses or offspring -- they seem to inhabit a world where women are utterly neglectable. And nobody at Disney, and not Steve Jobs, finds it odd. Odd.
I know there's a theory in Hollywood that boys and men have no interest in stories with female protagonists. Why that didn't bother our ancestors when they created fairy tales, I don't know. I guess box office was not a problem around the campfire. And I suppose that when Disney began to make blockbuster animated movies based on fairy tales, the truth of the anti-girls theory was not yet understood. Think about
I have a challenge for the studio and Mr. Docter. Write your next movie exactly the way you did Up and
PS I first thought this and wrote about it to friends in the summer of 2009 right after seeing UP. But I procrastinated in posting it on this blog. I now see that other people wrote immediately. Here are some links. Please let me know if I should add more:
Linda Holmes, June 2009: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2009/06/dear_pixar_from_all_the_girls.html
Packaging Girlhood, http://packaginggirlhood.typepad.com/packaging_girlhood/2009/06/hey-pixar-we-want-a-girl-lead-character.html