Pixar's latest short, "Day and Night," marks an exciting new direction in mixing 2D and 3D animation while hearkening back to animation styles of the past. And I appreciate that it strives to share a valuable lesson in understanding and acceptance.
Lots of people are raving about it, but overall I found the short rather depressing. To me, it was about two spoiled white boys who figure out that they have everything they need already, and they're exactly alike too.
But most troublesome for me were the representations of women, and in particular how men behave around women. It's even a step back from Knick Knack, from 1988, where at least the voiceless white buxom mer-woman was awake and active in her courting of the male snowman.
Side note: the mermaid in Knick Knack had digital breast reduction surgery early in the new millenium. John Lasseter is quoted as saying this was done because "it was just crossing the line for me personally as a father."
The clip I remember most from "Day and Night" was where Night discovers a bikini-clad woman inside Day's sleeping butt. If you haven't seen the film, that sentence may make absolutely no sense. Thankfully, the clip is available online as a part of an odd little making of video. Jump directly to timecode 1:17 if you want just the clip I'm discussing here, or watch the whole thing, below.
Anyway, the woman is sleeping on the beach. She's totally unaware of being spied on by a huge and phallic-nosed Night (just watch that nose when he first is aware of her existence - schwing!). He's a total voyeur, and she is utterly vulnerable.
Night's first reaction to discovering her? He looks around. Guilty and nervous. Like he found a wallet on the ground. I fear for that girl when he then lowers his eyelids and throws out his gigantic tongue. He transforms into a total sleazeball predator.
He finally makes his physical move to capture her inside his belly (animation theorists will have a field day with the metaphors this new technique offers). But when she's not there, he looks at his foot like he might have stepped in something. I can only assume he's trying to find her.
Women (silent, blond, sexy, white) as property to be acquired, hunted, and ultimately captured, by men who must be sneaky, tricky, aggressive, and physically superior over one another.
This isn't new stuff for animation, and many give "Day and Night" a nostalgic "Get out of Bad Gender Dynamics Free" card because Tex Avery and others did this kind of stuff generations ago. But I watched with my 6-year old daughter and 9-year old son, for whom nostalgia played zero part. For them, it was just another demonstration of how boys should behave around girls. Badly, I'm afraid.
Thanks to all the participants in the recent e-discussion about "Day and Night" that occurred on Hampshire College's animation mailing list.