What if Female Toys Got Equal Play? A Review of Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 opens on a female-empowerment high, with Mrs. Potato-Head displaying mad train-robbing skills and Jessie skillfully steering Bullseye in the ensuing chase. From there though, the bottom drops out of the film’s female quotient.

Out of seven new toy characters, only one is female – the purple octopus whose scant dialogue is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. This is far worse than the one female to every three males ratio documented in children’s media by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

The film revolves around now 17-year-old Andy leaving for college. His mom (who has yet to be given a name) insists (in rather nagging fashion) he store or get rid of all his “junk.” The bag of toys containing Woody et al mistakenly ends up in the trash, resulting in the toys landing in a prison-like daycare (way to turn the knife on working parent guilt, that one).

In typical Pixar fashion, male characters dominate the film. Though the film ends with young Bonnie as the happy new owner of the toys, making way for more sequels, Woody would have to become Wanda and Buzz become Betty in future films in order for the series to break Pixar’s male-only protagonist tradition (as in Wall-E, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Monster, Inc, The Incredibles, How to Train Your Dragon…).

Bo Peep is inexplicably missing in this third installment, leaving even fewer females. Barbie has a larger role this time around though, as an overly emotional, often crying girlie-girl. She is also a traitor of sorts, breaking away from the gang to go live with Ken in his dream house.

As for Ken, he is depicted as a closeted gay fashionista with a fondness for writing in sparkly purple ink with curly-Q flourishes. Played for adult in-jokes, Ken huffily insists “I am not a girl toy, I am not!” when an uber-masculine robot–type toy suggests as much during a heated poker match. In the typical way homophobia is paired with misogyny, the jokes about Ken suggest that the worst things a male can be are a female or a homosexual.

Admittedly, Barbie ultimately rejects Ken and is instrumental in Woody and Co’s escape, but her hyper-feminine presentation coupled with Ken’s not-yet-out-of-the-toy-cupboard homophobia make this yet another family movie that perpetuates damaging gender and sexuality norms.

While the girls in the audience are given the funny and adventurous Jessie, they are also taught women are coy and  talk too much (as with the flirty Mrs. Potato-Head, who, according to the new character Lotso needs her mouth taken off), that when they say something smart it’s so rare as to be funny (as when Barbie says “authority should derive from the consent of the governed”), and that even when they are smart and adventurous, what they REALLY care about is nabbing themselves a macho toy to love (as when Jessie falls for the Latino version of Buzz – a storyline, that, yes, plays on the “Latin machismo lover” stereotype).

As for non-heterosexual audience members, they learn that being gay is so funny, that the best thing to do is hide one’s sexuality by playing heterosexual, and that it’s quite normal (and humorous) when others mock homosexuality and/or non-normative masculinity.

Yes, the film is funny and clever. Yes, it was enjoyable and fresh. Yes, it contained the typical blend of witty dialogue coupled with a virtual feast for the eyes. But, no, Pixar has not left its male-hetero-centric scripts behind. Nor has it moved beyond the ‘everyone is white and middle class’ suburban view of the world. As such, it’s associations with Disney, the mega-animated-instiller of gender and other norms (as so well documented in Mickey Mouse Monopoly) indicates that animated films from Pixar will not be giving us a “whole new world” anytime soon…


11 thoughts on “What if Female Toys Got Equal Play? A Review of Toy Story 3”

  1. Your analysis is right on target. I only had to see the previews to know I have no desire to see this movie. When Mr. Potato Head takes of Mrs.’s mouth, that was it. Do we expect anything less from a Disney affiliate?

  2. What film were you watching? I was watching the one where a bunch of toys came together and had a great adventure. Find something else to do with your time please instead of bitching about things that don’t matter.

  3. I agree with Sahar – this review is spot on.
    It points out serious flaws with this movie without denying what the movie does well. The similarity between the comments made by Pam Redela and Leovinus Adams is interesting to me. While Redela’s position is more understandable – the silencing of Mrs. Potato Head is downright creepy – dismissing the movie entirely seems as extreme to me as Adams’s intentionally abrasive and ill-considered comments. Obviously these “things” matter very much, but let’s keep things in perspective as we fight the good fight. This isn’t a horrible movie, but a good movie with serious flaws. Let’s talk about the flaws with each other and with our children – and with the filmmakers – while appreciating what a lot of people worked hard to make “enjoyable and fresh.”

  4. Thank you! So wonderful to know there are other people in the world that think about these things! Around our house we call them Boy Story 1, 2 & 3 :). Thanks for the links as well – very interesting.

  5. i just tried to be unexpectadly her favrite female toy, her full control man, as i was never before. but i can’t be, it’s strange to make me whom? this way. sorry i am pig-macho-shit-man that i even didn’t know that i am. i was always thinking about me: just a man, not super-trooper man, not fighter for good or evil, just a man. but in some ways she isn’t the girl i knew, she became the very modern woman. she has infinitely thouhgts: what will be for 2yrs, for 5yrs, when will be marriage crisis and what to do even if it is far and far to this moment.
    she promised not to do such things, plans and controls, but she m u s t.
    i am scary to live with her even if earlier i wanted/dreamed about. about talking reading voyaging.
    she is love poettess, but she lost between letters what love is.
    she prepared “the great feminist codex how to live” for me, full of complications about life with strange meaning of words like parytet etc
    in her search of full control over me i lost everything, even the great part of me. even family. the worse that i lost what i feel. now i feel almost nothing, maybe fury or despair on other side. i got only meaningless promises, the most beautiful, but only words. and words. and stil and still terrible words.
    the hell has no end.
    i think i lost my mind.
    and i am only one, you are legion. i am only one powerless mindless man, but where your power lies?

  6. Mnemon,

    Please tell me you are not really a guy sharing a genuine opinion, but an ill-humored troll trying trying to kill some time…

    Cause I’m personally insulted by your way of making men look really stupid… and that may only be because I’m a heterosexual woman. (lol) Lucky for you. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be laughing my butt off.

    But I digress….

    What relevance does your comment bare to anything intellectually stimulating, and under what grounds do you feel you can speak of “power” when you hardly have any basic “brain thinking” power?

    I won’t get into the subtle (and often esoteric) charm many women have of controlling their men (whilst making you *think* you’re in control), or the fact that it’s proven that women are leaving men in the dust in college studies (due to our brains having more “gray matter” a substance the brain uses to actually think.) No. That’s something you’ll have to thoroughly research on your own. (If you can.)

    Right now, I’m still boggling over how impertinently you post an irrelevant comment in order to make men look generally too stupid, incompetent and even incapable of engaging in conversation without needing to be irrationally involved with his ego.

    Bravo to you. Care to be our model?

    Thank you ProfessorWhatIf. Your post was most thought-provoking and I enjoyed reading it.

    Do pardon my post to another individual. I feel my sentiments were already expressed. So seeing an nonsensical comment struck my curiosity.

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