Disney/Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Trailer Presents Gender Stereotyping At Its Worst

Since the good ole days of DSL and dial-up internet, I’ve been obsessively tracking rumored or upcoming Disney and Disney/Pixar films. I remember in the early 2000s hunting down information about Disney’s version of Rapunzel (which of course became Tangled in 2010); the early version of Rapunzel’s story was plagued with problems. At one point, it was called Rapunzel: Unbraided, which followed a very Enchanted-like story arc where two modern day teenagers were transported to a fairy tale realm and essentially took up the mantle of Rapunzel and her prince.


Glen Keane’s concept art for Rapunzel: Unbraided

I devoured any and all information about Disney’s adaptation of The Snow Queen back when it was a darker, more faithful-to-the-original tale scored by Alan Menken before it became Frozen, the Tale of Two Sisters; Snow Queen rumors date back to the Walt-era, who had trouble adapting what is probably Hans Christian Andersen’s most intricately woven fairy tale.

tumblr_n0af65v2eq1qgwefso10_r1_250When Disney officially acquired Pixar in 2006, I had a whole new landscape of animated films to obsess over, including Inside Out, which was known for years in the Disney Blogosphere as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind.


Concept art for The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind Project, aka Inside Out

The concept of the film is excitingly fresh, even for a studio who produced groundbreaking films about washed-up, retired superheroes (The Incredibles); a rat who became the chef of a French restaurant in Paris (Ratatouille); a garbage-compacting robot whose sole task was to clean up Earth after humans completely ravaged all the natural resources (because we’re currently doing that right now) who single-handedly saves humans from a life of obesity by finding plant life on Earth (Wall-E); an old curmudgeon who sets out in search of adventure after his wife’s passing (Up!); one father’s ocean-wide trek to find his kidnapped son (Finding Nemo); and a rag-tag collection of personified toys in search of the true meaning of friendship and fulfilling their life’s purpose (the Toy Story trilogy), among others. Inside Out is the story of the emotions of an adolescent girl, main character Riley, which promises to take viewers inside her mind to the emotional command center of the brain and showcase how emotions drive her.

anigif_enhanced-27399-1416096991-11Exciting stuff, right?

tumblr_nd43vgYgRW1rcmk8po1_250And then the trailer came out.

And just as quickly as my excitement came, it went. And I facepalmed. Despite the ingenious creativity behind the idea, the gorgeous and colorful animation, and the rich world Pixar created, the trailer showcases the most dated views on gender that I’ve ever seen. Not only is it horribly stereotypical, but it’s reductive black-and-white representation of gender is, quite frankly, offensive.

Take a look:

The beginning of the trailer starts out promising. As an older brother, and the eldest cousin in my family, I know how moody teens can be. One minute, they’re sunshine, and the next minute, they’re plummeting down a hole of deep despair and taking you with them, all because you asked them how their day was. I like the prospect of a film diving into the emotional complexities of a pubescent teen; it’s different and daring. So far, so good.

Then we dive into mom’s brain.

Gender Offense #1: It’s minor, yes, but the cast of emotions looks like the ever-rotating cast of women on The View. They all look like various versions of 1950s housewives, equipped with pearls and coffee cups at the ready. Still, the female emotions represented inside mom’s brain are shrewd observers and rational thinkers, able to assess the situation at hand. Even mom’s version of “anger” is cool, calm, and collected. So, like I said, it’s a minor offense.


They decide that, in order to get through to daughter Riley, they need to signal the husband for support. This is a great job of representing the necessity of dual parenting, yes, but then…

Gender Offense #2: This one is a big one. The wife “ahems,” and of course the husband is not paying attention at the dinner table. Instead, he’s replaying a soccer game in his head, more focused on anything other than his wife and daughter. His emotions, much like mom’s, resemble that of 1950s working Ad men, complete with pornstaches.

inside-out-gif-pixarThen it becomes clear that the husband isn’t paying attention because he actively “tunes into” his wife, as if she’s a form of entertainment that he was selectively listening to. Then, his “anger” emotion somehow “rationalizes” that she’s irritated with him because he “left the toilet seat up,” because all major marital fights are rooted in urine on toilet seats, not something more important like, I don’t know, caring about the emotional state of your child…

tumblr_ngdquoyLDY1tjfvzso6_500I cringe when he screams, “What is it woman?!”


Gender Offense #3: Once inside Riley’s mind, the viewers meet her five emotions, and two out of the five are male. This is wonderfully progressive and shows that gender is more blurred and that it’s not just the black-and-white (all women are inherently and innately 100% feminine/all men are 100% masculine) gender tropes. However, this doesn’t jive with the depiction of mom and dad’s emotions and the stark contrasts between the two. Is Pixar implying that, as we age, we become more male or female? Is it meant to imply that children are more malleable when it comes to gender association, and that adults are set in their gender-specific ways? And more importantly, do the emotions in gender-specific child all start out proportionately, as depicted with Riley, and then spontaneously change gender? Is Pixar boldly setting out to define gender expectations?

It’s a tall order to assign gender to emotions. It’s a risky move, no doubt, to label “anger” as a male-dominated emotion and design the character as a hot-headed, suit-wearing, mustache-growing male. It’s reductive and boxing. It’s also absurd to say that emotions like “joy” and “disgust” are inherently feminine (even these emotions in dads brain look a bit effeminate…or maybe I’m just reaching.) This just perpetuates stereotypes of women that have persisted in media for decades now.

Had the gender assignment of these emotions been more varied and the design of the characters been progressive instead of redundant, then I wouldn’t be writing this piece at all. The problem is that we, as a society, Hollywood and seemingly Pixar included, are still so set in our antiquated notions of how gender seems to indicate and/or equal identity. However, blockbusters like The Hunger Games quadrilogy, Divergent, and even Disney’s own Frozen have striven to showcase strong female writers and directors, as well as heroes in Katniss, Tris, and Elsa, respectively; Marvel and DC are preparing to do the same with their respective heroes Captain Marvel (Black Widow, as an Avenger, was already a huge step forward) and Wonder Woman. I think there is a responsibility to NOT reinforce destructive stereotypes, to do better. Women deserve better. Men deserve better. But really, it’s the children growing up watching these films that deserve better; they deserve to see caring fathers and mothers who aren’t housewives, so that they might be able to one day realize their true potential lies outside of the confines of gender construction.

Identity has to be about more. Because it is about so much more that pinks versus blues, suit-and-ties versus, and penis- versus vagina- driven stereotypical behaviors.

I’ll reserve full judgement for the rest of the film, which I’ll still see opening weekend, as I do with every Disney and Disney/Pixar animated film. But I’ll definitely view it with analytical eyes, hoping that this trailer truly wasn’t indicative of the nature of the film. Pixar has, in fact, always been on the cutting edge of story telling and character development and going against the grain. I look forward to seeing if and how Inside Out fits into their groundbreaking canon.

What do you think about the trailer? Am I nitpicking? Or do the gender lines seem a bit too reductive? Sound off the comments below!

16 thoughts on “Disney/Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Trailer Presents Gender Stereotyping At Its Worst

  1. Omg you’re back!! Ahh! I’ve missed reading your amazing articles!

    I have to admit, I thought the trailer was super cute, and it looks so intriguing, as most Pixar movies do (Up is like, the best movie ever) but I totLly see your point about gender. I love how you’re constantly writing about these issues because you’re making people like me really take a look at everytjing around us and analyze. It’s not good to see these gender roles played out like this. It just like you said reinforces negative stereotypes for kids growing up. Not all men tune women out. Ugh now That in writing about this and it’s making me think it’s making me angry!! But I guess that’s the point of your amazing writing 🙂

    • Yup! I’m baaaaack!

      Thanks for welcoming me back! Nice to see some faithful readers are still checking in!

      Glad I made you think on this one…and like I said, I’ll wait until the full film is out to make any final judgments, but I think everyone should be aware of the gender issues here and in mainstream media in general.

  2. OMG I lit can’t eve with this archaic depiction of gender stereotypes!!! One of my favorite comments of yours in my MS btw was “your skewed perception of gender roles is really becoming a theme in this book…”


    BTW – the “what is it woman?!” made me cringe as well. It was done so much more tastefully in Clueless when Murray called Dionne “woman” and then she called him out and then he gave that whole bullshit soliloquy justifying its usage, and she was like too stupid to further call him out but it was all fine because the whole scene was done to satirize life, THAT movie is literally everything.

    • I’m always on the lookout for how gender is depicted…

      Also, I’m loving this Clueless reference. Seriously, any excuse to bring up Clueless, and you’re there. Sidenote: Dionne was everything. Love satire. Love Clueless. Love this comment. Just love.

  3. Hi. I’m ALL for crying misogynist wolf, but I do realize that I haven’t seen the movie yet. Neither have you, correct? We don’t want to give the good ole folks at Disney Pixar the opportunity to at least RELEASE the feature before we begin to straw man the message as it relates to gender?

    Based on WHAT LITTLE BIT I’M SEEING it seems like Riley’s mind has blends of both her parents emotions, both in attitude and physicality. I understand Disney operates in the realm of animation to make a point. So making “anger” a short tempered little business man makes me almost as upset as making damn near NONE of the black characters in princess and the frog speak proper English, which is to say hardly. I opt to use spectatorship to understand the function over form.

    I too look forward to seeing this film. Additionally, I look forward to seeing your review after watching the film.

    • I definitely agree. It’s too soon to blast the film, which is why I’m not blasting the film at all. I’m critiquing the trailer, which, as it stands, is one of 3-4 real glimpses into the final product. So even if Disney/Pixar only created and/or plan to emphasize the mom/dad emotions for the trailer (which is possible, though not probably because most animated films only produce animated sequences for what they have storyboarded), it’s STILL presenting an archaic view of gender.

      But like I said at the end, I’m reserving full judgment on the film for it’s release.

      And yes, I agree Re: Princess and the Frog to a degree. The film was set in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, so the characters ARE speaking in a southern creole accent. Also, the backwater bayou frog catchers, Reggie, Darnell, and Two Fingers, were white, and they were the most uneducated characters who barely spoke comprehensible English. Meanwhile, Tiana, and her parents all spoke very eloquently. And there were very subtle comments on race throughout the film that were more positive than negative. Plus, the fact that Tiana was a hardworking woman with a dream of owning her own business was so much more powerful than Charlotte, who was born rich and man-focused, and these portrayals were effective in creating a strong role model with Tiana, the first black Disney princess. Had the trailer for Princess and the Frog focused on the racial elements, skewing the film’s perception, I would’ve found a way to blast that trailer as well because that ultimately didn’t represent the film. Animation is the artful marriage of form and function, creativity and storytelling, and a company like Disney/Pixar should have more standards when it comes to its film and how they reflect the time in which they’re created. Princess and the Frog could’ve been MORE progressive with a more modern setting to reflect better ideals, but for what it is, it’s actually a fairly great film. The Little Mermaid was very much a part of the movement to oppress feminism. Frozen reflects the human rights movement and the struggle for LGBT acceptance. The jury is still out on Inside/Out, and I’m hopeful that Pixar’s message will be more progressive with the final product, like it has been with films like Brave and Wall-E, despite this trailer not reflecting that.

      • Hi Steven,

        I’m a new reader. I’m actually just wondering what your opinion is on the fact that every emotion in Riley’s head has the same radical colour skin as hair (same with the dad, though all the mom’s emotions have brown hair) except for Joy. I know that they made her skin yellow because that colour is often associated with being happy (sunshine and whatnot), but then why make her hair blue?

        When I first saw the trailer, I was a little shocked just because no other emotion really has a “race”, but since Joy’s hair and skin don’t match, she comes across as caucasian. Again, this isn’t as big of a problem with the mom’s emotions, since they all have colourful skin and uniform hair. But it’s the same with the dad – matching skin and hair, except for Joy.

        Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it makes me sort of uncomfortable if the studio’s intention was to give the film’s lead character a racial identity for audiences to connect with. In my opinion, it would have worked just fine if Joy had been given bright yellow hair, so as to keep up the racially ambiguous consistency of the other emotions.

        What are your thoughts on the matter?

  4. Agreed. Very disappointed with the trailer. Seemed like disney/pixar was going in such a great direction and then we get dad daydreaming about sport and forgetting his accesory family and mum daydreaming about sexy mum. What a wasted opportunity 😦

  5. Pingback: From 2014 to 2015: Bridging the Media Diversity Gap | HyperReality

  6. “Gender offense” alright.
    1) The mother cares about her daughter, and has a deep, instant insight on her reactions. Whereas
    2) The father is yet another Homer Simpson – like jerk who spends the meal thinking on sports and doesn`t notice a thing when his own daughter has a problem.
    3) Then daddy acknowledges he is clueless, and mommy indulges herself in a fantasy about “why did I marry this moron instead of the Brazilian pilot?” which I found brazenly disrespectful to all working, honest fathers out there.
    In short, SHE is a better person than he is, she is more clever, and SHE doesn`t respect him. And we are obviously expected to take HER side.

    And yet, you seem to believe that it is women who should feel “offended” because… Why? pearl necklaces?
    Wow, I mean… Will there ever be a portayal of male / female relations which is unfair enough to satisfy you feminists? Understanding the feminist mind, now THAT is a challenge.

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