Character Spotlight: Princess Atta

Every now and then, I decided that I’d like to write a post about one specific character and what makes them stand out, either to me personally or to general audiences.  Let’s start with Princess Atta from Pixar’s second animated film, A Bug’s Life.

 

AttaCompared to other beloved Disney and Pixar characters, Princess Atta isn’t exactly a household name.  A Bug’s Life itself doesn’t get too much attention from Disney anymore.  Nonetheless, I think Atta’s pretty interesting when you compare her to some of Disney’s other princesses and love interests in talking animal movies.

Before Merida came on to the scene and reminded us that a princess has more responsibilities than dancing, singing, and looking pretty, Pixar gave us Princess Atta.  Her mother, the Queen, rules the colony on Ant Island.  During A Bug’s Life, Atta has to learn how to be a queen herself and she’s not very good at it.  Or is she?

Unlike other Strong Female Characters, Atta isn’t reluctant to lead because she’d rather go off and do something else.  She genuinely wants to be a good queen.  That’s her whole problem.  She’s so nervous about the possibility of failure that she doesn’t inspire much confidence in anybody but her mother and Flik.  I really like the scene where she opens up to Flik for the first time and tells him about what’s going on inside her head:

“I know what everyone really thinks. […] Everyone.  The whole colony.  Nobody really believes I can do this job.  It’s like…they’re all watching me.  Just…just…”

And Flik finishes with, “Waiting for you to screw up.”

A Bug’s Life never confirms or denies whether the ant colony feels that way about Atta.  The opening scene shows one Council member calming her down and two others commenting that the Queen has “enough on her plate already, training her daughter.”  However, they do credit her with the idea to send Flik off to the city and cheer the plan to build the bird when she encourages them to do it.  So it might be all inside her head.  We just don’t know if Atta’s assessment is accurate or not, any more than we know how real people view us.  So, nice touch by Pixar.

Going off of that, it’s neat how Atta gets to have her own character arc that’s related to Flik’s, but isn’t solely based around falling in love with him.  She has her own family and her own goals.  Though she does come to admire Flik and treat him better, and his actions incite her character development, it’s all about Atta gaining confidence in herself.  She comes to like Flik because of what he does for the colony.  She gets aggravated by his antics mostly when she thinks they’re hurting the colony (and when they reflect poorly on her).  More than anything else, she wants what’s best for her people.

Additionally, Atta is aware that her own insecurities cause problems and tries to fix them.  In the aforementioned scene where she talks to Flik and he finishes her sentence about screwing up, that’s when she realizes that he deals with her fears every day.  He knows that nobody likes him and he knows that no matter how hard he tries to make things better, he still makes mistakes.  So Atta apologizes for the way she’s treated him in the past and tries to make amends.

Think about it: when does that ever happen in Disney films, or any animated family films?  How often do we see a female character admitting that she’s flawed and apologizing for it, especially to her love interest?  It usually doesn’t happen even when they have flaws.  Mulan didn’t apologize to the army; they needed to apologize to her.  Tiana didn’t have to apologize to Naveen, nor did Pocahontas ever apologize to anybody, or Jasmine, or Belle, or Cinderella.  Most of the time, they’re victims in some way and others need to help them and/or learn to appreciate them better.

Oh, and Atta saves Flik twice in the third act, not the other way around.  She flies in front of Hopper to stop him from squishing Flik, then outflies all of his friends when Hopper grabs Flik and takes off.  Flik ultimately comes up with the plan to kill Hopper once and for all, but he couldn’t have done it without Atta.

As a kid, I didn’t think much of Atta and couldn’t understand why Flik fell in love with her, when, by her own admission, she wasn’t very nice to him.  But as an adult, I admire how Pixar tried to do something different with this type of character: the princess who isn’t good at being a princess and the love interest who needs to learn to appreciate the protagonist better.  The writers treat her like a person (well, an ant) with her own goals and struggles, and as a result, her decisions feel more natural and less like “we need her to do/say this thing because that’s what this type of character does.”

So, kudos to you, Pixar.  Thank you for not taking us down Road of the “Strong Female Character” and giving us interesting, more layered female characters instead.

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Let’s Discuss: Pixar Movies!

Last week, I got a request to do a discussion about Pixar movies.  So, here we go: what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and why?

Here’s mine:

Picture found on Pixar Wiki

Why?  It has everything I could possibly want in a movie and then some.  It’s got great action sequences.  It has excellent humor that especially appeals to my inner geek.  (“You sly dog!  You got me monologing!”)  It tells an interesting story with great characters and it has a husband-and-wife conflict done so well, that I’m surprised the movie made it out of Hollywood!  Everything about this movie works really well!  The only reason it comes close to getting knocked down from my “favorite movie” slot is because I’ve watched it WAY too many times.

But every Pixar movie has adventure and humor and good character interaction.  For me, what sets The Incredibles apart from the others is just how much it appeals to my inner geek with the superhero genre.  Most importantly, it takes everything I love about the genre and takes it to the next level.  There are people who refuse to take a comic book or a movie about superheroes seriously because they can’t get over the fact that people with special powers and abilities don’t exist.  Some movies ignore that crowd, some address it by inserting lots of cheeky humor, but the best kind, like The Incredibles, The Dark Knight, Spiderman, X-Men: First Class, and most recently, The Avengers, take these fantastical situations and fill them with characters that feel like people we know, or at least people we would expect to encounter in our world.

The Parrs feel like a real family; they deal with daily little conflicts like bad traffic, Dash getting in trouble at school, and Violet struggling with self-confidence issues.  Bob and Helen love each other, but they often disagree on how best to raise their family.  All of these little conflicts are then magnified to reflect a more fantastical, unrealistic problem: hiding their superpowers from the rest of the world.  Bob thinks they should embrace who they are and resents having to live in hiding under government protection.  Helen doesn’t like it either but she decides to adapt in order to keep her family safe.  The kids have never even had the chance to really use their powers without restriction, leaving Violet feeling even more insecure about herself and wishing she didn’t have them at all.  Dash, like his dad, badly wants to embrace his powers and it’s his inability to do so that causes him to misbehave at school.

And then there’s the villain, Syndrome, who represents the frustrated geek in all of us fanboys and fangirls, albeit taken to the extreme.  In this sense, he represents a sizeable portion of The Incredibles‘s audience: who wouldn’t want to fight alongside his/her favorite heroes?  But his sympathetic backstory does not excuse his vicious actions, making him a very formidable villain for the Incredibles to face.  I also love how his dilemma is the polar opposite of the Parr family’s: their society doesn’t want to accept them as superhumans, but Syndrome’s problem is that he cannot accept himself.  In a way, they’re all struggling to suppress their true selves: the Parrs by pretending to be normal citizens, and Syndrome by pretending to be a superhero.

So yeah, this movie rocks.  Every second of every conversation, Omnidroid fight, and gorgeous visuals of Nomanisan Island just rocks.  And it teaches us the importance of always remembering where you put your supersuit:

So, what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and why?  Let’s discuss!