It might sound strange on a site for men to promote what I am about to promote, but I would like to posit to you the best series of movies with manly, heroic, dominion taking men are the Pixar movies. What?! Crazy, you say. Yes. I understand, but hear me out. I’m not saying other movies aren’t also masculine, but they are interspersed, often only partially good, and infrequent. I will eventually get around to making some notes about The Dark Knight trilogy and perhaps making some movie commentaries, but for now you’re stuck with Pixar.
Pixar produces quality, stable films about heroes who win through service, self-sacrifice, and taking dominion of their surroundings. Many other kid’s movies often try to avoid the concept of dominion taking, or denigrate it as destructive. Dreamworks does this often, where men are evil, vicious, and cruel, and animals are sage, gentle, and loving. This is obvious as far back as Fern Gully, Once Upon a Forest, Pocohontas, Tarzan, Ice Age, How to Train Your Dragon, and many other movies mankind is vicious and it is only the human that sides with the animals that are righteous. Pixar movies that story is completely reversed.
Observe hence: in the Toy Story movies all the toys gladly accept they are toys there to make Andy happy. Yes, they are hurt if he casts them aside, and Andy is not morally perfect. He often forgets and does not appreciate his toys. Yet, they are there to serve and accept that “we are Andy’s Toys and if he wants us to go into the attic then that’s where we belong.” Toys desire to get back to Andy even when he has lost them. Their greatest tragedy is to be forgotten, yet they serve anyway. People are the object of their service. Toys are not morally or existentially superior like many Disney movies. Toys can be evil too, as in Lotso.
Brave considers being an animal a “curse,” and being a malicious animal “demonic.”
Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University provide more examples. In the movies the monsters exist in the dark, and are fearful of humans. In Monsters University Sully laments he can’t possibly scare adults, and when he’s forced to it is through subterfuge, not overpowering. The whole premise of the Monsters movies is that monsters have to live on the (emotional) scraps of people, and it is when they learn to serve people (laughter) they are benefitted more greatly. Monsters are terrified of us, only to learn we are both safe and helpful. Monsters are not bad, but they are neither morally, nor existentially superior to people. They are actually comically inferior (pass the odorant).
Another reprehensible trait not shared by Pixar, commonly portrayed in Disney and Dreamworks, is that the parents are stupid oafs, the children or animals are sages, and the nuclear family inherently abusive and unnecessary. Take Dreamworks How to Train Your Dragon where humans are unthinking, brutal killers of the otherwise well-meaning, peaceful dragons. Hiccup’s dad, “Stoick the Vast,” is a warlike imbecile who is calmed to see reason only when his son is willing to put himself between his axe-wielding father and a dragon. Likewise, Hiccup’s mother is a dragon tamer who serves the animals, instead of gently and benevolently mastering them, and harnessing them for good. She exists for them; not vice versa.
Even when men are the problem in Pixar the heroes and men are working together to find a solution. Wall-E serves mankind for 700 years. He continues to serve, even when not appreciated and the point of his work and Eve’s is to create a better world for humanity. They are not the point of their efforts—men are.
Pixar seems to promote a very much needed anti-egalitarianism in their movies. Monsters University does this clearly with Mike and Sully. Mike is just not scary, and needs to accept he cannot be a “scarer,” though it is a position of honor and he is quite knowledgeable on the topic. Professor Hardscrabble is not there to “make mediocre ‘scarers’ less mediocre; (she’s there) to make good ‘scarers’ great.” Mike simply does not have the natural potential to accomplish his dreams. He needs to accept this, and he does by the end of the movie learning to serve in the mail room. He eventually works on the scare floor, and even becomes a comedian at the end of Monsters, Inc. Sully on the other hand has all the natural potential anyone could ask for, but because he slacks off and doesn’t also work he is also denied his dreams. He also needs to learn to serve and work diligently to achieve his dream of scaring. Eventually this dream is taken from him upon his protecting Boo from Randall and Mr. Waternoose, but he is rewarded with the higher position of managing the factory, and still is granted the right to see his beloved Boo.
These trends are echoed in The Incredibles. The movie is highly anti-egalitarian and pro-family. The Parr’s are not normal. They are incredible. Mrs. Incredible wants Bob to give this up. He can’t, and he contends that his children can’t and shouldn’t. Normalcy is not great. Mediocrity is not to be celebrated. Being better is, well, better. That doesn’t mean the commoner is not significant, but it does mean they are not equals to The Incredibles. Bob Parr does not take time to apologize for his son Dash’s abilities saying “it would be unfair for all the normal kids to have to play on the team with a super.” He doesn’t care. His son was gifted with an ability that he has the right to use without being ashamed. The main villain, Syndrome, is unwilling to recognize this. “When everyone is super, no one will be.” What’s funny about Syndrome is, he is super. He’s a genius. He’s just not super in the way he wants to be. Bob Parr also needs to repent and recognize that being super in the way you were born doesn’t make up for the need to be super in other areas. His family needs him to be super as a dad, and not only as a hero. In all cases the point is to use the gifts you have and not to envy others gifts.
Even better, the nuclear family is perfectly sufficient and good. The parents with three kids are not dumb “breeders” while their children geniuses. Mrs. Parr is supportive and even desirous of him (horrors). The kids know nothing and the parents are the wise and learned. Not perfectly, but sufficiently to be teaching the children, unlike Disney movies where the fathers are dolts (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), fools (Little Mermaid, Pocohontas), or evil (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tangled). Pixar movies where the nuclear family does not exist, it is seen as a tragedy: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, UP, Ratatouille, and Brave. This is in keeping with the statistics about the necessity of fathers in the home, and the practical and moral superiority of the nuclear family.
UP continues as an example of both the tragedy of non-nuclear families, and the moral incumbency of service. Carl Fredricksen doesn’t have the children that likely would have tempered him, much to the tragedy of his wife and himself. Russell’s father is more interested in his girlfriend “Phyllis” who encourages Russell not to bother his father. The boy doesn’t even know how to set up a tent. His mother is not a sufficient substitute for Russell’s father, whom Russell is clearly lost without, trying desperately to learn to be a man through Wilderness Explorers. Carl, as a boy, is interested in taking dominion (“adventure is out there!”); so is Russell (“The wilderness must be explored.”). Charles Muntz is also interested in taking dominion, but he let pursuing dominion get in the way of the goal of dominion—serving people. Carl learned that by serving Russell he is taking dominion. Russell learned that taking dominion is not learned in a book and repeated, but requires bravery, strength, and masculinity.
One of Pixar’s more recent movies, Inside Out continues all of these trends. The nuclear family is good, and it is tragedy when it falls apart. The dad is portrayed as somewhat doltish, but also is enthusiastic about his daughter, involved, loving, and willing to learn. The wife, while perhaps a little more sensitive to feminine needs, is still desirous of him (I’ll pause while the feminist who read this stomp around the house screaming “patriarchy” and “rape culture” while vomiting bile). He’s striking out to make a better life for his family, and his wife respects this, and is supportive of it, though it is difficult. The thoughts of a child, while valid, are not wise. They are foolish. She grows up by listening to her parents, not sagely teaching her parents about the error of their ways. Joy needs to accept Sadness’s gifts and talents. Bing Bong sacrifices his life so Riley can live. San Francisco ruined pizza, which it did.
Hopefully Pixar will continue to portray the nuclear family as superior, and service as a heroic act. Unfortunately, as with all things, sooner or later it turns to garbage (see Disney), but maybe we can squeeze a few more good movies out before that happens.