Pixar is no slouches when it comes to providing likeable and strong-minded female characters in their acclaimed features. They may possess antennae, scales, or windshields but they’re still remarkable representations of their gender.
Unfortunately, in the glowing popularity of guys like Woody and Buzz Lightyear, or Mike and Sully, the influence of the Pixar ladies receives a Luxo Junior-sized spotlight in comparison. It’s not too surprising given that most of the movies in Pixar’s canon contain male protagonists. Brave was the first commendable exception but it took awhile to get there considering it was the company’s thirteenth film.
While Merida’s aim showed great accuracy, it’s even more accurate to say that Pixar’s females didn’t need the title role to champion different aspects of girl power. Some promote the right to frown and some demand excellence from those around them. Others fly after falling while all of them pick themselves up in the midst of emotional turmoil. They deserve recognition for their animated achievements because their noteworthy actions hit the feminist bulls-eye.
Whether they excelled in their careers, showed unwavering perseverance, or single-handedly saved their families, Pixar women of all types are trailblazers for the flesh and blood females watching them. Their underrated appeal shouldn’t cause them to be underestimated.
10. Queen Elinor – Brave
The tapestry-making monarch holds fast to tradition and devotes much of her time trying to instill the same royal mannerisms in Merida. She’s a patient peacemaker focused on prepping Merida for a marriage that may reunite the four Scottish clans even if it tears the two of them apart.
After Merida manages to transform her into a bear, Queen Elinor learns to be resilient and compassionate as she and Merida weather the woods together. Each of them lowers their defenses in their efforts to survive the wilderness. Queen Elinor never loses her graceful ways though she gains new understanding about her independent daughter.
Upon their return to the castle, she supports Merida’s decision not to marry. Elinor proves that she’s not just a genteel ruler but a woman willing to change her mind for the sake of progress.
Merida receives much of the audience’s applause thanks to her resistant attitude. Yet her mother’s sacrificial act during the climax is a deed worthy of distinction. Without hesitation, Elinor defends her daughter from the violent bear Mor’du in an all-important battle that benefits her entire kingdom.
Her victory ensures the protection of her citizens and family while also freeing a cursed prince from his spell. It’s a mighty task for a queen and an even more impressive example of a mother bear.
9. Dean Abigail Hardscrabble – Monsters University
The hard-edged educator of Monsters University holds heroes Mike and Sully to high standards during their freshman year. She wants all of her Scare students to be “properly inspired” in their individual college careers. Because of this, she informs the undergraduates that anyone who fails the final exam will be expelled. It may seem like the roughest school orientation in cinematic history but it’s also a challenge designed to produce the best students possible.
A legendary Scarer, Dean Hardscrabble broke the All-Time Scare Record and earned the respect of the monsters who came after her. Mike and Sully break her beloved scream canister which comes with a steep price. Hardscrabble fails them immediately and the then frenemies enter the Scare Games to reestablish themselves.
As pleasant as they are, the monstrous duo needed the wake-up call. Complacent Sully rests on his furry laurels though he has undeniable raw talent. In contrast, a boastful Mike has to practice constantly to keep up with his terrifying classmates. Hardscrabble’s punishment pushes them to triumph over their shortcomings no matter the outcome.
Hardscrabble grapples with expelling them until the final minutes of the film. The expulsion turns out to be inevitable after the shady circumstances of the Scare Games. However, her faith in their potential remains until they have one foot out the door. Her wise words motivate the boys to pursue another path at Monster’s Incorporated. Their orientation into the real world is a direct result of her lasting lessons.
8. Sally Carrera – Cars
The witty Porsche chooses the comforts of a small town over the fast pace of Los Angeles though she refuses to put on her brakes.
Sally may possess a voice as warm and smooth as oil but the Radiator Springs attorney isn’t afraid to challenge Lightning McQueen or any other four-wheel hotshot. The legal lady holds McQueen accountable for his misdemeanors and revs up his conscience whenever he disappoints his friends. In her tiny hamlet, she’s the voice of reason, full of creative vision and a robust moral compass.
She personally fixes up the village’s hotel, the Cozy Cone, an establishment that even meets spoiled McQueen’s approval. To preserve the beauty of her hometown, Sally displays an entrepreneurial spirit that outshines the deeds of some of her male car counterparts. Sally advocates for the restoration of Route 66 to help their businesses prosper. Her male associates dwell on races while Sally focuses on renovating spaces.
Sally’s main objective is to put Radiator Springs back on the map. After McQueen establishes his headquarters there, the community gets a profitable upgrade. It’s easy to give McQueen the credit for Cars’ happy ending but Sally’s conviction fuels much of the racer’s character growth. Lightning McQueen figures out that a slower lifestyle has its own attractive qualities, promoted with intelligence by his dearest racing opponent.
7. Colette Tatou – Ratatouille
The motorcycle-riding cook doesn’t mince words when it comes to her craft. Colette insists that her coworkers perform at the highest level so they can set the bar for every other eatery in France. Her long hours and unwavering commitment are ingredients to her success yet her contributions go unnoticed on several occasions.
She knows she’s the only female chef at Gusteau’s but her determination to see the legendary restaurateur’s mission through makes Colette irreplaceable. Newbie chef Linguini acquires wisdom and industriousness from Colette’s instruction. Colette insists that an employee can’t be “a mommy in the kitchen” though her character demonstrates that they can be a master there.
Despite her tough exterior, Colette’s startled when she views the very talented rat who also shepherded Linguini. Her belief in Gusteau’s mantra of “anyone can cook” wavers in the heat of the discovery. After a bike ride full of soul-searching, Colette returns to Gusteau’s and works alongside Remy to prepare dinner for noted critic Anton Ego. Her male staff members retreat at the sight of Remy while Colette stays resolute in her beliefs and in her loyalty to the kitchen.
Her sizzling personality attracts Linguini but her culinary prowess aids in the maintenance of a well-run and first-rate kitchen. Where there’s smoke, there’s Colette, unafraid to throw herself into the fray.
6. Dory – Finding Nemo
Regal blue tang Dory dives all in the second she meets panicked father Marlin and hears about his missing son. Marlin displays little tolerance for the bubbly wanderer. Instead of brushing him off, Dory volunteers her time and energy to help in locating the title clownfish. Marlin soon realizes he must rely on a guide with short-term memory loss as they wade their way towards 42 Wallaby Way.
Dotty Dory might appear absent-minded but it’s hard to find a character who matches her perseverance and optimism in their search for Nemo. Not every female film character jumps on the tops of jellyfishes or just keeps swimming to address a humongous whale. Both instances steer cautious Marlin closer to Nemo in exhilarating moments.
Marlin learns to place his trust in her decisions though they seem as zany as Dory herself. Her secret talents and fearlessness are key in leading Marlin straight to his son. Dory isn’t simply the navigator of the expedition but a role model for Marlin who opens up with each tempest that comes along to bring them down. Practical Marlin feeds off the spontaneous nature of Dory and their eccentric bond spawns admirable teamwork.
It’s a refreshing friendship between the opposite sexes in the Pixar franchise. Marlin lives to tell his story and it wouldn’t have occurred in the same exciting manner without his intrepid female navigator.
5. Ellie Fredericksen – Up
Ellie Fredericksen, the cheerful catalyst for Carl’s late-life quest, stands apart as a pioneer for her generation. She comes of age in the conservative thirties and forties when women were expected to be crafty homemakers rather than South America explorers.
Her courageous spirit separates her from those trappings. Pixar brings us a daring female in the flapper age. By age eight, she’s plotting her journey to the exotic Paradise Falls in her own clubhouse. Ellie gravitates to fellow Muntz fan Carl and they forge a friendship based on mutual interests.
In their imaginative childhood days, Ellie breaks Carl out of his comfort zone but always boosts his confidence in the process. Ellie’s often the one cajoling Carl into her wild antics, making the orders, and promoting the spirit of adventure prior to her passing.
She builds a colorful house with Carl but dies before she can reach South America. However, her dream is what largely prompts their home to soar to Paradise Falls with Carl at the helm. Her physical form disappears after the film’s first fifteen minutes following one of Pixar’s best montages. Ellie’s presence, on the other hand, continues to make itself known beyond her death.
Carl sifts through a photo album full of memories of her and the audience realizes she’s not limited to the confines of those pages. Much like the scenes in those photographs, Ellie’s one-of-a-kind boldness and beauty is beautifully captured at just the right time.
4. Violet Parr – The Incredibles
One of the most rewarding Pixar character arcs deals with puberty and invisibility. While Mrs. Incredible manages her familial duties admirably, she’s not a teenager. There’s much to be said for a shy fourteen-year old who balances the everyday and the extraordinary things that happen to her.
Dual responsibilities fall on Violet Parr’s shoulders from the film’s onset. Violet is tasked with hiding her amazing superpowers and being the responsible eldest child. The pressure causes her to withdraw sometimes, so much that she disappears into thin air. This doesn’t hinder her from throwing a force field up now and then but it does block her ability to verbalize certain emotions.
As soon as the ban on using her gifts gets lifted, Violet blossoms into a brazen powerhouse. The girl who once stammered in her speech and hid behind her hair faces enemies twice her size. Her disappearances thwart menacing henchmen and her youthful exuberance propels her to perfect her powers.
Violet winds up protecting her entire clan in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. When the audience witnesses the crucial creation of that force field, they witness a mature girl who broke the barriers around her by herself.
The reserved daughter of the Incredibles grows more visible with each action-packed moment thrown at her superhero family. She’s not a minor heroine but a minor and a heroine.
3. Sadness – Inside Out
Sadness exemplifies the under-utilized individuals in countless workplaces. Peppier supervisor Joy relegates the gloomy gal to the corner so their collective charge Riley experiences a constant happy-go-lucky existence. Nevertheless, Sadness’ pragmatism leads her to try and expose Riley’s darker moods.
Even a girl as sweet as Riley has layers, something Joy neglects to see but something Sadness chooses to endorse. Downtrodden Sadness spends much of the plot arguing for Riley’s right to feel and express the more difficult emotions that come with her moving away. The bespectacled and blue representative of melancholy realizes it’s the perfect release for Riley.
While Sadness’ support for Joy and imaginary friend Bing Bong were endearing, the encouragement she offers Riley strikes a far greater chord. There’s nothing grim about a female uplifting another female when they’re at their most vulnerable state. The tears can be ugly but uncovering the pain’s an initial step towards healing. When Sadness beams after Riley’s tearful confession to her parents, she’s recognizing the importance of her job and viewing a newly made girl.
Sadness never deters from her firm belief that all of Riley’s feelings deserve to be heard. It allows Riley to become a more complete and complicated individual. Emotions change over time but the tenacity of Sadness lingers past Inside Out’s final credits.
2. Dot – A Bug’s Life
The youngest daughter of Queen Atta climbs plenty of personal hills even before the grasshoppers arrive. Young Dot’s the smallest but most persistent member of her scout troop, the Blueberries. Her mother criticizes her for attempting to fly without fully grown wings. While it’s not the equivalent of a Napoleonic complex, the downsides of Dot’s age and stature are relatable problems for many of Pixar’s viewers.
Dot befriends fellow outcast Flik and remains his most steadfast ally when Hopper’s crew terrorizes their colony. She doesn’t doubt Flik’s innovative ideas to save them from persecution despite his less than honest presentation. Flik flees with the circus bugs after the other ants question his truthfulness. Though little, she delivers a dynamic speech that inspires Flik to return to their home.
She ultimately assists in the chain of events that help the ants conquer the villainous grasshoppers. Dot overhears the scoundrel’s plot to squish her mother and rounds up the Blueberries to take on Hopper’s gang. An encounter with Hopper’s pet Thumper causes her to trample her fears and smack the bully into submission.
Dot becomes more than the name she bares since she’s a large player in the win over her community’s pests. She takes flight when it’s needed most. Her can-do attitude earns her much-deserved wings and dignity.
1. Jessie – Toy Story 2
Jessie’s a more conspicuous member of the Toy Story team in several aspects. Once Little Bo Peep goes astray, she becomes the dominant female in the films and she’s very active in the most thrilling plot points. Yet Jessie doesn’t wrangle up nearly as much praise as Andy’s favourite duo.
The red-haired cowgirl faces both physical and emotional struggles her male friends never endure. A poignant montage details her estrangement from former owner Emily. Woody stares open-mouthed at her revelation because he’s been Andy’s prize possession for years.
Likewise, Buzz is fortunate in the fact that he was a recent purchase who quickly escaped his box on Andy’s birthday. Jessie wrestles with claustrophobia since she spent a large amount of time in storage. The way Jessie overcomes her fear of confined spaces, trust issues, and a difficult past should earn her quite a few badges.
In successive Toy Story movies, screenwriters provide Jessie with a better feminist platform. She’s the protagonist in Toy Story of Terror and frees Woody in the culmination of that sequel. However, it’s worth noting that Jessie’s first appearance in Toy Story 2 opened the box for other spirited females to join Pixar’s tribe. Jessie was riding horses long before Merida and confronting her crippling inner pain well ahead of Inside Out’s Riley.
The fiery forerunner with a pull-string should pull the audience’s attention away from her male comrades. In the decades to come, her character’s likely to help lasso a long-lasting feminist legacy for Pixar.