I’m an unabashed fan of mahou shojou as a genre in anime, but in American animation the trope of the oppressed girl who takes control of her own destiny has been done to death:
Ariel: follows her heart for true love despite overbearing father (and saves the day)
Belle: follows her heart for true love despite overbearing society (and lifts the curse)
Jasmine: follows her heart for true love despite overbearing law (and kicks some ass)
Pocahontas: follows her heart to save her people despite overbearing Clash of Civilizations (and gets the guy)
Mulan: follows her heart to save China despite overbearing culture (and gets the guy)
meanwhile, how do the Boys of Disney/Pixar fare?
Aladdin: lies about who he is, chases the girl, marries into royalty
Nemo: gets lost
Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story franchises meanwhile aren’t about boys at all – every character is basically an adult. It’s like a fantasy analogue to The Office.
The only two recent Disney stories with any real meaningful characters in them for boys are in Lion King and Brother Bear, and in both cases these are more about society and responsibility rather than any message about finding your own path. Cars doesn’t count, because it’s not about an ordinary “boy” it’s about Michael Freakin’ Jordan (note to storytellers: a superstar celebrity athlete has advantages that regular boys do not).
Ok, Ratatouille was sort of about that, but since it revolved around RATS and FOOD the message was kind of lost, especially since the boy in question had a rat (literally) pulling his strings (literally). And the boy in The Incredibles did have to come to terms with being Super but he had like 5 minutes of screen time, half of which was the admittedly awesome running-on-water-chuckle-in-amazement bit. Pinocchio was about the last movie from Disney that I can think of that had any kind of self-reliance and follow-dreams message, but that was decades ago.
And now we have Brave, Disney/Pixar’s latest:
The funny thing is that there’s all this antipathy towards Disney’s treatment of girls as forcing them into some kind of unhealthy self-image. I don’t see it at all, and believe me as the father of two young girls I am hyper-sensitive to it.
I’d just like to see a movie from Disney/Pixar for once where the main character is a young boy, who follows his heart and defies his own society and culture, and achieves something more than just mere personal happiness, but actually makes a difference.