Our country is in the middle of a long overdue conversation about sexual violence. The way children’s movies and TV shows often portray men and women may be part of the problem. Imagine a typical male hero character — he’s probably white, well-muscled, and punches, stabs, or shoots villains to save helpless female characters. Research shows that when children watch these types of shows and movies, they internalize the gender stereotypes they portray. Thankfully, Pixar has produced some great movies with heroic male characters who are diverse and non-violent. So, here are five Pixar films that have healthy male role models for young boys.
Pixar’s Coco is a beautiful visual and musical celebration of Mexican culture. Its male protagonist isn’t your typical “hero.” He doesn’t have bulging muscles, and his heroic journey has nothing to do with rescuing distressed damsels.
Instead, Miguel saves the day by pursuing his dreams and bringing his family closer together. Coco teaches lessons about how families can work through conflict, as well as the importance of legacy and memory. This movie is a great option for families who believe that representation matters, particularly in children’s movies, as it offers a different image of what a male hero can look like.
Carl, from Pixar’s Up, is a great male role model for many reasons. First, he shows that you don’t need to be young to be a hero. Second, while Carl’s story does include flying houses and mad scientists, his greatest acts of heroism are much simpler. Up’s most meaningful scenes are about Carl developing relationships with an awkward boy and a dog who needs a home.
Up also tells a beautiful love story in just under ten minutes. In too many other kids’ movies, all we get is a vague “happily ever after” following the wedding scene. Carl and Ellie’s marriage is a refreshing contrast to this pattern. They have a relationship that includes love, laughter, as well as tragedy and dreams they don’t get to accomplish together. This montage can open up a fantastic conversation about how healthy romantic relationships are based on friendship and teamwork.
The film also teaches that we can work through grief by honoring our loved ones’ memories and building new connections. It’s hard to imagine a better message for young boys to internalize.
Remy, the main character in Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille, doesn’t just lack muscles; he’s not even human! Better yet, his calling is to create delicious food, not destroy or shoot things. Remy must overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges by teaming up with and mentoring other characters, as opposed to competing with them.
While Remy’s human chef avatar, Alfredo, and fellow chef, Colette do develop a romance, Colette is hardly helpless or meek. In fact, she holds a position of authority over Alfredo for a good portion of the film.
Ratatouille teaches that we can form powerful friendships with people who are very different from us. Kids also learn that teamwork can bring even seemingly impossible goals within reach. After all, there’s almost nothing less likely than a rat opening up a five-star restaurant!
Cars is the film that most closely resembles a “typical boy movie” on this list. True to its name, it features cars and trucks, and the plot centers on a competitive race. Lightning McQueen also starts out like a pretty typical male protagonist. He is young, arrogant, refuses help from others, and is prone to careless, destructive actions.
Fortunately, Cars doesn’t celebrate these qualities. Instead, the movie is about Lightning McQueen finding a wise mentor and learning the importance of community. Better yet, McQueen gets his happy ending by helping a competitor rather than by winning the race. Cars teaches kids that good sportsmanship, interdependence, and integrity are much more important than outward appearances.
Marlin is another Pixar character who manages to be heroic while defying gender stereotypes. He is an extremely caring, but also over-protective and anxious, single father. He forms a supportive, hilarious, and completely platonic friendship with Dory (a female character).
While Finding Nemo is about a rescue mission, Marlin crosses an ocean to save his son, not a helpless princess. Furthermore, the climactic scene involves Marlin allowing Nemo to become a hero in his own right and on his own terms. Like so many of the other films on this list, Finding Nemo teaches kids that caring is the ultimate superpower. It also contains valuable lessons about overcoming anxiety and developing healthy relational boundaries.
Hollywood is still a long way away from promoting a culture where anyone but white men can feel truly safe and valued. However, more and more films demonstrate that there are multiple ways for boys to grow into successful men. Pixar has created some magical movies that allow parents and children to have meaningful conversations about diversity, non-violent solutions to problems, and kindness.