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Journal of Popular Film and Television


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Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar


a b
Ken Gillam & Shannon R. Wooden
a
Illinois State University
b
University of Southern Indiana
Published online: 07 Aug 2010.

To cite this article: Ken Gillam & Shannon R. Wooden (2008) Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar, Journal of
Popular Film and Television, 36:1, 2-8, DOI: 10.3200/JPFT.36.1.2-8

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/JPFT.36.1.2-8

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Post-
Princess
Models of
Gender:
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The New Man in Disney/Pixar


Abstract: Unlike most Disney animat- Keywords: animated film, bildungsroman, studios over the past thirteen years.
ed films, which have been criticized Disney, gender studies, homosociality, Indeed, as we argue here, Pixar consis-
for decades for their stereotypical masculinity, Pixar, Eve Sedgwick tently promotes a new model of mascu-
female leads and traditional repre- linity, one that matures into acceptance
sentations of gender, all the major of its more traditionally “feminine”

L
features released by Disney’s Pixar isping over the Steve McQueen aspects.
studios since 1990 have featured mas- allusion in Pixar’s Cars (2006), Cultural critics have long been inter-
culine protagonists. These male plots our two-year-old son, Oscar, ested in Disney’s cinematic products,
are remarkably alike, and together, we inadvertently directed us to the but the gender critics examining the
argue, they indicate a rather progres- definition(s) of masculinity that might texts most enthusiastically gobbled up
sive postfeminist model of gender. be embedded in a children’s animated by the under-six set have so far gener-
Beginning with alpha-male traits in film about NASCAR. The film overtly ally focused on their retrograde repre-
common, from emotional inaccessibil- praises the “good woman” proverbially sentations of women. As Elizabeth Bell
ity to keen competitiveness, the stars of behind every successful man: the cham- argues, the animated Disney features
these stories follow similar bildungs- pion car, voiced by Richard Petty, tells through Beauty and the Beast feature
roman plots. In this article, we chart his wife, “I wouldn’t be nothin’ without a “teenaged heroine at the idealized
the pattern of masculine development you, honey.” But gender in this twenty- height of puberty’s graceful promenade
in three of these films—Cars, Toy first-century bildungsroman is rather [. . ., f]emale wickedness [. . .] ren-
Story, and The Incredibles—noting more complex, and Oscar’s mispro- dered as middle-aged beauty at its peak
that Pixar consistently promotes a nunciation held the first clue. To him, of sexuality and authority [. . ., and]
new model of masculinity. From the a member of the film’s target audience, [f]eminine sacrifice and nurturing [. . .]
revelation of the alpha male’s flaws, the character closing in on the title long drawn in pear-shaped, old women past
including acute loneliness and vul- held by “The King” is not “Lightning menopause” (108). Some have noted
nerability, to figurative emasculation McQueen” but “Lightning the queen”; the models of masculinity in the classic
through even the slightest disempow- his chief rival, the always-a-bridesmaid animated films, primarily the contrast
erment, each character travels through runner-up “Chick” Hicks. between the ubermacho Gaston and
a significant homosocial relationship Does this nominal feminizing of male the sensitive, misunderstood Beast in
and ultimately matures into an accep- also-rans (and the simultaneous gender- Beauty and the Beast,1 but the male pro-
tance of his more traditionally “femi- ing of success) constitute a meaningful tagonist of the animated classics, at least
nine” aspects. pattern? Piqued, we began examining through The Little Mermaid, remains
the construction of masculinity in major largely uninterrogated.2 For most of
Copyright
Copyright ©
© 2008
2008 Heldref
Heldref Publications
Publications feature films released by Disney’s Pixar the early films, this critical omission
2
By Ken Gillam and
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Shannon R. Wooden
Cars (2006) Directed by John Lasseter. Shown from left: Doc Hudson (voice: Paul
Newman), Lightning McQueen (voice: Owen Wilson). Photo courtesy of Photofest.

seems generally appropriate, the vari- and Woody from Toy Story, Mr. Incred- talk about his feelings. The alpha male’s
ous versions of Prince Charming being ible from The Incredibles, and Lightning stresses, like Buzz Lightyear’s, come
often too two-dimensional to do more McQueen from Cars—experience a com- from his need to save the galaxy; his
than inadvertently shape the definition mon narrative trajectory, culminating in strength comes from faith in his ability
of the protagonists’ femininity. But if a common “New Man” model4: they all to do so. These models have worked in
the feminist thought that has shaped strive for an alpha-male identity; they face Disney for decades. The worst storm at
our cultural texts for three decades now emasculating failures; they find them- sea is no match for The Little Mermaid’s
has been somewhat disappointing in its selves, in large part, through what Eve uncomplicated Prince Eric—indeed,
ability to actually rewrite the princess Sedgwick refers to as “homosocial desire” any charming prince need only ride
trope (the spunkiest of the “princesses,” and a triangulation of this desire with a in on his steed to save his respective
Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and, arguably, feminized object (and/or a set of “femi- princess. But the postfeminist world is
even Mulan, remain thin, beautiful, nine” values); and, finally, they achieve a different place for men, and the post-
kind, obedient or punished for disobe- (and teach) a kinder, gentler understanding princess Pixar is a different place for
dience, and headed for the altar), it has of what it means to be a man. male protagonists.
been surprisingly effective in rewriting Newsweek recently described the
the type of masculine power promoted Emasculation of the Alpha Male alpha male’s new cinematic and televi-
by Disney’s products.3 A working definition of alpha male sion rival, the “beta male”: “The tes-
Disney’s new face, Pixar studios, has may be unnecessary; although more tosterone-pumped, muscle-bound Hol-
released nine films—Toy Story (1995) traditionally associated with the animal lywood hero is rapidly deflating . [. . .]
and Toy Story 2 (1999); A Bug’s Life kingdom than the Magic Kingdom, it Taking his place is a new kind of leading
(1998); Finding Nemo (2003); Monsters, familiarly evokes ideas of dominance, man, the kind who’s just as happy fol-
Inc. (2001); The Incredibles (2004); Cars leadership, and power in human social lowing as leading, or never getting off
(2006); Ratatouille (2007); and now organizations as well. The phrase “alpha the sofa” (Yabroff 64). Indeed, as Susan
WALL•E (2008)—all of which feature male” may stand for all things ste- Jeffords points out, at least since Beauty
interesting male figures in leading posi- reotypically patriarchal: unquestioned and the Beast, Disney has resisted (even
tions. Unlike many of the princesses, who authority, physical power and social ridiculed) the machismo once de rigueur
remain relatively static even through their dominance, competitiveness for posi- for leading men (170). Disney cinema,
own adventures, these male leads are actual tions of status and leadership, lack of one of the most effective teaching tools
protagonists; their characters develop and visible or shared emotion, social isola- America offers its children, is not yet
change over the course of the film, ren- tion. An alpha male, like Vann in Cars, converting its model male protagonist
dering the plot. Ultimately these various does not ask for directions; like Doc all the way into a slacker, but the New
Copyright
developing© 2008 Heldref Publications
characters particularly Buzz Hudson in the same film, he does not Man model is quite clearly emerging.
3
4 JPF&T—Journal of Popular Film and Television

Cars, Toy Story, and The Incredibles ily’s impending move, he commands: his own wedding to interrupt a crime in
present their protagonists as unambigu- “A moving buddy. If you don’t have progress, he is very nearly late to the
ously alpha in the opening moments of one, GET ONE.” Buzz’s alpha iden- service, showing up only to say the “I
the films. Although Lightning McQueen tity comes from a more exalted source dos.” Like his car and toy counterparts,
may be an as-yet incompletely realized than social governance—namely, his he communicates primarily through
alpha when Cars begins, not having yet belief that he is the one “space ranger” verbal assertions of power—angrily dis-
achieved the “King” status of his most with the power and knowledge needed missing Buddy, his meddlesome aspir-
successful rival, his ambition and fierce to save the galaxy; it seems merely ing sidekick; bantering with Elastigirl
competitiveness still clearly valorize natural, then, that the other toys would over who gets the pickpocket—and lim-
the alpha-male model: “Speed. I am look up to him, admire his strength, its to anger and frustration the emotions
speed . . . I eat losers for breakfast,” and follow his orders. But as with apparently available to men.
he chants as a prerace mantra. He Lightning McQueen, these depictions Fraught as it may seem, the alpha
heroically comes from behind to tie of masculine power are soon undercut. position is even more fleeting: in none
the championship race, distinguishing Buzz’s mere presence exposes Woody’s of these Pixar films does the male

P
himself by his physical power protagonist’s dominance last
and ability, characteristics that long. After Lightning ties,
ixar consistently
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catapult him toward the exclu- rather than wins, the race and
sively male culture of sports ignores the King’s friendly
superstars. The fantasies of his promotes a new advice to find and trust a good
life he indulges after winning team with which to work, he
the coveted Piston Cup even model of masculinity, browbeats his faithful semi,
include flocks of female cars Mack, and ends up lost in “hill-
forming a worshipful harem one that matures into billy hell,” a small town off
around him. But the film soon the beaten path of the inter-
diminishes the appeal of this acceptance of its more state. His uncontrolled physi-
alpha model. Within a few cal might destroys the road,
moments of the race’s conclu- traditionally “feminine” and the resultant legal respon-
sion, we see some of Light- sibility—community service—
ning’s less positive macho aspects. keeps him far from his Piston
traits; his inability to name Cup goals. When Buzz appears
any friends, for example, reveals both strength as fragile, artificial, even arbi- as a gift for Andy’s birthday, he easily
his isolation and attempts at emotional trary, and his “friends,” apparently hav- unseats Woody both as Andy’s favorite
stoicism. Lightning McQueen is hardly ing been drawn to his authority rather and as the toy community’s leader.
an unemotional character, as can be than his character, are fair-weather When Buzz becomes broken, failing to
seen when he prematurely jumps onto at best. Buzz’s authority rings hol- save himself from the clutches of the
the stage to accept what he assumes to low from the very beginning, and his evil neighbor, Sid, he too must learn
be his victory. For this happy emotional refusal to believe in his own “toyness” a hard lesson about his limited power,
outburst, however, he is immediately is at best silly and at worst dangerous. his diminished status, and his own rela-
disciplined by a snide comment from Like Lightning, Buzz’s and Woody’s tive insignificance in the universe. Mr.
Chick. From this point until much later most commonly expressed emotions Incredible is perhaps most obviously
in the film, the only emotions he dis- are anger and frustration, not sadness disempowered: despite his superheroic
plays are those of frustration and anger. (Woody’s, at having been “replaced”) feats, Mr. Incredible has been unable to
Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear and Sher- or fear (Buzz’s, at having “crash-landed keep the city safe from his own clumsy
iff Woody similarly base their worth on a strange planet”) or even wist- brute force. After a series of lawsuits
on a masculine model of competition ful fondness (Woody’s, at the loss of against “the Supers,” who accidentally
and power, desiring not only to be the Slink’s, Bo Peep’s, and Rex’s loyalty). leave various types of small-time may-
“favorite toy” of their owner, Andy, but Once again, the alpha-male position hem in their wake, they are all driven
to possess the admiration of and author- is depicted as fraudulent, precarious, underground, into a sort of witness pro-
ity over the other toys in the playroom. lonely, and devoid of emotional depth. tection program. To add insult to injury,
Woody is a natural leader, and his posi- An old-school superhero, Mr. Incred- Mr. Incredible’s diminutive boss fires
tion represents both paternalistic care ible opens The Incredibles by display- him from his job handling insurance
and patriarchal dominance. In an open- ing the tremendous physical strength claims, and his wife, the former Elasti-
ing scene, he calls and conducts a “staff that enables him to stop speeding trains, girl, assumes the “pants” of the family.
meeting” that highlights his unambigu- crash through buildings, and keep the Most of these events occur within the
ously dominant position in the toy com- city safe from criminals. But he too first few minutes of the characters’respec-
munity. Encouraging the toys to pair up suffers from the emotional isolation of tive films. Only Buzz’s downfall hap-
so that no one will be lost in the fam- the alpha male. Stopping on the way to pens in the second half. The alpha-male
Post-Princess Models of Gender 5

model is thus not only present and chal- ably the most comic. From the begin- After spending the next years nursing
lenged in the films but also is, in fact, ning, power is constructed in terms his rejection and refining his arsenal,
the very structure on which the plots conspicuously gender coded, at least Buddy eventually retaliates against Mr.
unfold. Each of these films is about for adult viewers: as they watch the Incredible for rebuffing his advances.
being a man, and they begin with an out- incoming birthday presents, the toys Such a model of homosocial tutelage
dated, two-dimensional alpha prototype agonize at their sheer size, the longest as Buddy proposes at the beginning
to expose its failings and to ridicule its and most phallic-shaped one striking of the film certainly evokes an ancient
logical extensions: the devastation and true fear (and admiration?) into the (and homosexual) model of mascu-
humiliation of being defeated in com- hearts of the spectators. When Buzz line identity; Mr. Incredible’s rejection
petition, the wrath generated by power threatens Woody, one toy explains to quickly and decisively replaces it with a
unchecked, the paralyzing alienation another that he has “laser envy.” Buzz’s heteronormative one, further supported
and fear inherent in being lonely at the moment of truth, after seeing himself by Elastigirl’s marrying and Mirage’s
top. As these characters begin the film on Sid’s father’s television, is the most attracting the macho superhero.5 But it
in (or seeking) the tenuous alpha posi- clearly gendered of all. Realizing for is equally true that the recovery of Mr.
tion among fellow characters, each of the first time that Woody is right, he Incredible’s masculine identity happens
them is also stripped of this identity— is a “toy,” he defiantly attempts to fly primarily through his (albeit antagonis-
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dramatically emasculated—so that he anyway, landing sprawled on the floor tic) relationship with Buddy, suggesting
may learn, reform, and emerge again with a broken arm. Sid’s little sister that Eve Sedgwick’s notion of a homo-
with a different, and arguably more promptly finds him, dresses him in a social continuum is more appropriate to
feminine, self-concept. pink apron and hat, and installs him as an analysis of the film’s gender attitudes
“Emasculated” is not too strong a “Mrs. Nesbit” at her tea party. When than speculations about its reactionary
term for what happens to these male pro- Woody tries to wrest him from his heteronormativity, even homophobia.
tagonists; the decline of the alpha-male despair, Buzz wails, “Don’t you get it? Same-sex (male) bonds—to tem-
model is gender coded in all the films. I AM MRS. NESBIT. But does the hat porarily avoid the more loaded term
For his community service punishment, look good? Oh, tell me the hat looks desire—are obviously important to each
Lightning is chained to the giant, snort- good!” Woody’s “rock bottom” moment of these films. In fact, in all three,
ing, tar-spitting “Bessie” and ordered to finds him trapped under an overturned male/male relationships emerge that
repair the damage he has wrought. His milk crate, forcing him to ask Buzz for move the fallen alphas forward in their
own “horsepower” (as Sally cheerfully help and to admit that he “doesn’t stand journeys toward a new masculinity. In
points out) is used against him when a chance” against Buzz in the contest each case, the male lead’s first and/or
literally put in the service of a nomi- for Andy’s affection, which constitutes primary intimacy—his most immediate
nally feminized figure valued for the “everything that is important to me.” He transformative relationship—is with one
more “feminine” orientation of service is not figured into a woman, like Buzz or more male characters. Even before
to the community. If being under the is, or subordinated to a woman, like discovering Buddy as his nemesis, Mr.
thumb of this humongous “woman” is Lightning is, or forced to seek a wom- Incredible secretly pairs up with his old
not emasculating enough, Mater, who an’s affirmation of his macho self, like pal Frozone, and the two step out on
sees such subordination to Bessie as a Mr. Incredible is, but he does have to their wives to continue superheroing on
potentially pleasurable thing, names the acknowledge his own feminine values, the sly; Buddy and Frozone are each,
price, saying, “I’d give my left two lug from his need for communal support to in their ways, more influential on Mr.
nuts for something like that!” his deep, abiding (and, later, maternal) Incredible’s sense of self than his wife
Mr. Incredible’s downfall is most love of a boy. This “feminine” stamp or children are. Although Lightning
clearly marked as gendered by his is characteristic of the New Man model falls in love with Sally and her future
responses to it. As his wife’s domestic toward which these characters narra- vision of Radiator Springs, his almost
power and enthusiasm grow increasing- tively journey. accidentally having befriended the hap-
ly unbearable, and his children’s behav- less, warm Mater catalyzes more foun-
ior more and more out of his control, Homosociality, Intimacy, and Emotion dational lessons about the responsibili-
he surreptitiously turns to the mysteri- Regarding the “love of a boy,” the ties of friendship—demanding honesty,
ous, gorgeous “Mirage,” who gives him “mistress” tempting Mr. Incredible away sensitivity, and care—than the smell-
what he needs to feel like a man: super- from his wife and family is not Mirage the-roses lesson Sally represents. He
hero work. Overtly depicting her as the at all but Buddy, the boy he jilted in also ends up being mentored and taught
“other woman,” the film requires Elas- the opening scenes of the film (whose a comparable lesson about caring for
tigirl to intercept a suggestive-sounding last name, Pine, further conveys the others by Doc Hudson, who even more
phone call, and to trap her husband in unrequited nature of their relationship). explicitly encourages him to resist the
a lie, to be able to work toward healing Privileging his alpha-male emotional alpha path of the Piston Cup world by
his decimated masculinity. isolation, but adored by his wannabe relating his experiences of being used
In Toy Story, the emasculation of the sidekick, Mr. Incredible vehemently and then rejected. Woody and Buzz, as
alpha male is the most overt, and argu- protects his desire to “work alone.” rivals-cum-allies, discover the necessary
6 JPF&T—Journal of Popular Film and Television

truths about their masculine strength are the (arguably) feminized “Piston Buzz and Woody. Unable to catch up to
only as they discover how much they Cup” and the Dinoco sponsorship. The the moving van as Sid’s dog chases him,
need one another. Sedgwick further sponsor itself is established in romantic Woody achieves the pinnacle of the
describes the ways in which the homo- terms: with Lightning stuck in Radia- New Man narrative: armed with a new
social bond is negotiated through a tri- tor Springs, his agent says Dinoco has masculine identity, one that expresses
angulation of desire; that is, the intimacy had to “woo” Chick instead. Tia and feelings and acknowledges community
emerging “between men” is constructed Mia, Lightning’s “biggest fans,” who as a site of power, Woody is able to sac-
through an overt and shared desire for transfer their affection to Chick during rifice the competition with Buzz for his
a feminized object. Unlike homosocial his absence, offer viewers an even less object of desire. Letting go of the van
relationships between women—that is, subtly gendered goal, and Chick uses strap, sacrificing himself (he thinks) to
“the continuum between ‘women lov- this to taunt Lightning. It is in the pur- Sid’s dog, he plainly expresses a care-
ing women’ and ‘women promoting the suit of these objects, and in competition taking, nurturing love, and a surrender
interests of women’”—male homoso- with Chick and the King, that Lightning to the good of the beloved: “Take care
cial identity is necessarily homophobic first defines himself as a man; the Pis- of Andy for me,” he pleads. Buzz’s own
in patriarchal systems, which are struc- ton Cup also becomes the object around moment of truth comes from seizing
turally homophobic (3). This means the which he and Doc discover their rela- his power as a toy: holding Woody, he
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same-sex relationship demands social tionship to one another. glides into the family’s car and back
opportunities for a man to insist on, or into Andy’s care, correcting Woody by
prove, his heterosexuality. Citing Rene The New Man proudly repeating his earlier, critical
Girard’s Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, With the strength afforded by these words back to him: “This isn’t flying;
Sedgwick argues that “in any erotic homosocial intimacies, the male charac- it’s falling with style.” Buzz has found
rivalry, the bond that links the two rivals ters triumph over their respective plots, the value of being a “toy,” the self-ful-
is as intense and potent as the bond that demonstrating the desirable modifica- fillment that comes from being owned
links either of the rivals to the beloved” tions that Pixar makes to the alpha-male and loved. “Being a toy is a lot better
(21); women are ultimately symboli- model. To emerge victorious (and in one than being a space ranger,” Woody
cally exchangeable “for the primary piece) over the tyrannical neighbor boy, explains. “You’re his toy” (emphasis in
purpose of cementing the bonds of men Sid, Buzz, and Woody have to cooperate original).
with men” (26). not only with each other but also with Mr. Incredible likewise must embrace
This triangulation of male desire can the cannibalized toys lurking in the dark his own dependence, both physical and
be seen in Cars and Toy Story particu- places of Sid’s bedroom. Incidentally emotional. Trapped on the island of
larly, where the homosocial relationship learning a valuable lesson about dis- Chronos, at the mercy of Syndrome
rather obviously shares a desire for a crimination based on physical difference (Buddy’s new super-persona), Mr.
feminized third. Buzz and Woody com- (the toys are not monsters at all, despite Incredible needs women—his wife’s
pete first, momentarily, for the affection their frightening appearance), they begin superpowers and Mirage’s guilty inter-
of Bo Peep, who is surprisingly sexual- to show sympathy, rather than violence vention—to escape. To overpower the
ized for a children’s movie (purring to born of their fear, to the victims of monster Syndrome has unleashed on
Woody an offer to “get someone else to Sid’s experimentation. They learn how to the city, and to achieve the pinnacle
watch the sheep tonight,” then rapidly humble themselves to ask for help from of the New Man model, he must also
choosing Buzz as her “moving buddy” the community. Until Woody’s grand admit to his emotional dependence on
after his “flying” display). More impor- plan to escape Sid unfolds, Sid could his wife and children. Initially confin-
tantly, they battle for the affection of be an object lesson in the unredeemed ing them to the safety of a bus, he
Andy—a male child alternately depict- alpha-male type: cruelly almighty over confesses to Elastigirl that his need to
ed as maternal (it is his responsibility the toy community, he wins at arcade fight the monster alone is not a typically
to get his baby sister out of her crib) games, bullies his sister, and, with stra- alpha (“I work alone”) sort of need but a
and in need of male protection (Woody tegically placed fireworks, exerts mili- loving one: “I can’t lose you again,” he
exhorts Buzz to “take care of Andy for taristic might over any toys he can find. tells her. The robot/monster is defeated,
me!”).6 Cars also features a sexualized Woody’s newfound ability to give and along with any vestiges of the alpha
romantic heroine; less coquettish than receive care empowers him to teach Sid model, as the combined forces of the
Bo Peep, Sally still fumbles over an a lesson of caring and sharing that might Incredible family locate a new model of
invitation to spend the night “not with be microcosmic to the movie as a whole. postfeminist strength in the family as a
me, but . . .” in the motel she owns. One Sid, of course, screams (like a girl) when whole. This communal strength is not
of Lightning and Mater’s moments of confronted with the evidence of his past simply physical but marked by coopera-
“bonding” happens when Mater con- cruelties, and when viewers last see him, tion, selflessness, and intelligence. The
fronts Lightning, stating his affection his younger sister is chasing him up the children learn that their best contribu-
for Sally and sharing a parallel story of stairs with her doll. tions protect the others; Mr. Incredible
heterosexual desire. The more principal Even with the unceremonious exit of figures out the robot/monster’s vulner-
objects of desire in Cars, however, Sid, the adventure is not quite over for ability and cleverly uses this against it.
Post-Princess Models of Gender 7

In a parallel motif to Mr. Incredi- completely from the Piston Cup world, Piston Cup itself, which slides onto the
ble’s inability to control his strength, even as he anticipates being released stage and hits him rudely in the side.
Buddy/Syndrome finally cannot control from his community service and thus
his robot/monster; in the defeat, he being able to return to racing. Conclusion
becomes the newly emasculated alpha Perhaps even more than Buzz, Woody, The trend of the New Man seems
male. But like his robot, he learns and Mr. Incredible do, the New Man neither insidious nor nefarious, nor is
quickly. His last attempt to injure Mr. McQueen shuns the remaining trappings it out of step with the larger cultural
Incredible, kidnapping his baby Jack- of the alpha role, actually refusing the movement. It is good, we believe, for
Jack, strikes at Mr. Incredible’s new Piston Cup. If the first three protagonists our son to be aware of the many sides
source of strength and value, his family. are ultimately qualified heroes—that of human existence, regardless of tra-
The strength of the cooperative family is, they still retain their authority and ditional gender stereotypes. However,
unit is even more clearly displayed in accomplish their various tasks, but with maintaining a critical consciousness of
this final rescue: for the shared, parental new values and perspectives acquired the many lessons taught by the cultural
goal of saving Jack-Jack, Mr. Incredible along the way—Lightning completely monolith of Disney remains imperative.
uses his physical strength and, with her and publicly refuses his former object These lessons—their pedagogical aims
consent, the shape-shifting body of his of desire. Early in the final race, he or results—become most immediately
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super-wife. He throws Elastigirl into the seems to somewhat devalue racing; his obvious to us as parents when we watch
air, where she catches their baby and, daydreams of Sally distract him, tempt- our son ingest and express them, when
flattening her body into a parachute, ing him to give up rather than to com- he misunderstands and makes his own
sails gently back to her husband and pete. The plot, however, needs him to sense of them, and when we can see
older children. dominate the race so his decision at the ways in which his perception of real-
Through Lightning McQueen’s end will be entirely his own. His friends ity is shaped by them, before our eyes.
many relationships with men, as well show up and encourage him to succeed. Without assuming that the values of the
as his burgeoning romance with Sally, This is where the other films end: the films are inherently evil or representa-
he also learns how to care about others, values of caring, sharing, nurturing, and tive of an evil “conspiracy to undermine
to focus on the well-being of the com- community being clearly present, the American youth” (Giroux 4), we are still
munity, and to privilege nurture and hero is at last able to achieve, improved compelled to critically examine the texts

T
kindness. It is Doc, not Sally, on which our son bases many
who explicitly challenges the of his attitudes, behaviors, and
race car with his selfishness he postfeminist preferences.
(“When was the last time Moreover, the impact of
you cared about something world is a different Disney, as Henry Giroux has
except yourself, hot rod?”). effectively argued, is tremen-
His reformed behavior begins place for men, and dously more widespread than
with his generous contribu- our household. Citing Michael
tions to the Radiator Springs the post-princess Pixar is Eisner’s 1995 “Planetized
community. Not only does he Entertainment,” Giroux claims
provide much-needed cash for a different place for male that 200 million people a year
the local economy, but he also watch Disney videos or films,
listens to, praises, and values protagonists. and in a week, 395 million
the residents for their unique watch a Disney TV show, 3.8
offerings to Radiator Springs. He is the by having embraced those values. But million subscribe to the Disney Chan-
chosen auditor for Lizzy’s reminiscing Lightning, seeing the wrecked King and nel, and 810,000 make a purchase at
about her late husband, contrasting remembering the words of Doc Hudson, a Disney store (19). As Benjamin Bar-
the comic relief typically offered by screeches to a stop inches before the ber argued in 1995, “[T]he true tutors
the senile and deaf Model T with poi- finish line. Reversing, he approaches of our children are not schoolteachers
gnancy, if not quite sadness. Repairing the King, pushes him back on the track, or university professors but filmmak-
the town’s neon, he creates a romantic and acknowledges the relative insignifi- ers, advertising executives and pop cul-
dreamscape from the past, a setting for cance of the Piston Cup in comparison ture purveyors” (qtd. in Giroux 63).
both courting Sally (“cruising”) and, to his new and improved self. He then Thus we perform our “pedagogical
more importantly, winning her respect declines the Dinoco corporate offer in intervention[s]” of examining Disney’s
with his ability to share in her value favor of remaining faithful to his loyal power to “shap[e] national identity,
system. For this role, he is even physi- Rust-eze sponsors. Chick Hicks, the gender roles, and childhood values”
cally transformed: he hires the body only unredeemed alpha male at the end, (Giroux 10). It remains a necessary and
shop proprietor, Ramone, to paint over celebrates his ill-gotten victory and is ongoing task, not just for concerned
his sponsors’ stickers and his large race publicly rejected at the end by both his parents, but for all conscientious cul-
number, as if to remove himself almost fans, “the twins,” and, in a sense, by the tural critics.
8 JPF&T—Journal of Popular Film and Television

NOTES since the 1950s, when Dr. Fredric Wer- Jeffords, Susan. “The Curse of Masculinity:
1. See Susan Jeffords, “The Curse of tham’s Seduction of the Innocent claimed Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Bell,
Masculinity: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” that Batman and Robin were gay (Ameron From Mouse to Mermaid 161–72.
for an excellent analysis of that plot’s devel- Ltd, 1954). See Rob Lendrum’s “Queer- Lendrum, Rob. “Queering Super-Manhood:
oping the cruel Beast into a man who can ing Super-Manhood: Superhero Masculin- Superhero Masculinity, Camp, and Public
love and be loved in return: “Will he be able ity, Camp, and Public Relations as a Tex- Relations as a Textual Framework.” Inter-
to overcome his beastly temper and terroriz- tual Framework” (International Journal of national Journal of Comic Art 7.1 (2005):
ing attitude in order to learn to love?” (168). Comic Art 7.1 [2005]: 287–303) and Valerie 287–303.
But even in this film, she argues, the Beast’s Palmer-Mehtan and Kellie Hay’s “A Super- Palmer-Mehtan, Valerie, and Kellie Hay. “A
development is dependent on “other people, hero for Gays? Gay Masculinity and Green Superhero for Gays? Gay Masculinity
especially women,” whose job it is to tutor Lantern” (Journal of American Culture 28.4 and Green Lantern.” Journal of American
him into the new model of masculinity, the [2005]: 390–404), among myriad nonschol- Culture 28.4 (2005): 390–404.
“New Man” (169, 170). arly pop-cultural sources. Payne, David. “Bambi.” Bell, From Mouse
2. Two articles demand that we qualify this 6. Interestingly, Andy and Toy Story in to Mermaid 137–47.
claim. Indirectly, they support the point of this general are apparently without (human) male Schoene-Harwood, Berthold. Writing Men:
essay by demonstrating a midcentury Disney role models. The only father present in the Literary Masculinities from Frankenstein
model of what we call “alpha” masculinity. film at all is Sid’s, sleeping in front of the to the New Man. Columbia: Columbia
David Payne’s “Bambi” parallels that film’s television in the middle of the day. Andy’s is UP, 2000.
coming-of-age plot, ostensibly representing absent at a dinner out, during a move, and on Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men:
the following Christmas morning. Andy him-
Downloaded by [University of Birmingham] at 09:35 31 August 2015

a “natural” world, with the military mindset English Literature and Male Homosocial
of the 1940s against which the film was self, at play, imagines splintering a nuclear Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.
drawn. Similarly, Claudia Card, in “Pinoc- family: when he makes Sheriff Woody catch Toy Story. Dir. John Lasseter. Walt Disney
chio,” claims that the Disneyfied version of the One-Eyed Black Bart in a criminal act, he Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios, 1995.
nineteenth-century Carlo Collodi tale replaces says, “Say goodbye to the wife and tater tots Wertham, Fredric. Seduction of the Inno-
the original’s model of bravery and honesty . . . you’re going to jail.” cent. New York: Reinhart, 1954.
with “a macho exercise in heroism [. . . and] Yabroff, Jennie. “Betas Rule.” Newsweek 4
avoid[ing] humiliation” (66–67). WORKS CITED
June 2007: 64–65.
3. Outside the animated classics, critics Bell, Elizabeth. “Somatexts at the Disney
have noted a trend toward a postfeminist Shop: Constructing the Pentimentos of
masculinity—one characterized by emotional Women’s Animated Bodies.” Bell, From Ken Gillam has a PhD in rhetoric and com-
wellness, sensitivity to family, and a con- Mouse to Mermaid 107–24. position from Illinois State University and
scious rejection of the most alpha male val- Bell, Elizabeth, Lynda Haas, and Laura has recently become director of composi-
ues—in Disney-produced films of the 1980s Sells, eds. From Mouse to Mermaid: the tion at Missouri State University. His work
and 1990s. Jeffords gives a sensible account Politics of Film, Gender, and Culture. ranges from original poetry to articles on
of the changing male lead in films ranging Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. ecological theory and composition to televi-
from Kindergarten Cop to Terminator 2. Card, Claudia. “Pinocchio.” Bell, From sion criticism. Shannon R. Wooden, PhD
4. In Disney criticism, the phrase “New Mouse to Mermaid 62–71. in British literature from the University of
Man” seems to belong to Susan Jeffords’s Cars. Dir. John Lasseter. Walt Disney Pic- North Carolina, is an assistant professor of
1995 essay on Beauty and the Beast, but it tures/Pixar Animation Studios, 2006. English at the University of Southern Indi-
is slowly coming into vogue for describing Collier, Richard. “The New Man: Fact or ana. Her publications include Reading and
other postfeminist trends in masculine iden- Fad?” Achilles Heel: The Radical Men’s Teaching British Women Writers 1750–1900,
tity. In popular culture, see Richard Collier’s Magazine 14 (1992–93). <http://www co-edited with Jeanne Moskal (2005), and
“The New Man: Fact or Fad?” online in .achillesheel.freeuk.com/article14_ articles on Mary Elizabeth Braddon and the
Achilles Heel: The Radical Men’s Magazine 9.html>. 1990s films of Jane Austen’s novels. Gillam
14 (Winter 1992/1993). http://www.achilles Eisner, Michael. “Planetized Entertain- and Wooden have previously collaborated
heel.freeuk.com/article14_9.html. For a lit- ment.” New Perspectives Quarterly 12.4 on an article in Angela Hague and David
erary-historical account, see Writing Men: (1995): 8. Lavery’s Teleparody: Prediction/Preventing
Literary Masculinities from Frankenstein to Giroux, Henry. The Mouse that Roared: the TV Discourse of Tomorrow. They are
the New Man by Berthold Schoene-Harwood Disney and the End of Innocence. Oxford, also the proud parents of two boys, Oscar
(Columbia UP, 2000). Eng.: Rowman, 1999. and Archie, and have consequently become
5. Critics have described the superhero The Incredibles. Dir. Brad Bird. Walt Disney connoisseurs of children’s media.
within some framework of queer theory Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios, 2004.

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