Part 4: When Sexism is More Than Just Bad Table Manners
Turning Inside Out Upside Down

New here? Check out the table of contents or start at Part 1. Wondering why this review is so critical? Well, everyone else has already written plenty about why Inside Out is awesome, so I'm going to be focusing on aspects that need some more attention.

Okay, everybody...buckle up: we've got to talk about the dinner table scene.

Oh, no! NOT THAT!

Let me just say at the outset that this is an extremely ambitious concept to attempt, and Pixar has my genuine respect for trying something as conceptually complicated as this scene: you've got to get inside three people's heads, so instead of having three characters interacting in one location, you've got eighteen characters (counting each human separately from zir emotions), ten of which the audience has never met before, in four locations, in two of which the audience has never been before. I get that you have to rely on shorthand at some point. HOWEVER, there's good shorthand (e.g., the first 10 minutes of Up) and then there's lazy sexist stereotypes. I found myself sitting in the theater saying to myself "Well, I guess they had to dumb this down so people could follow it..." and if a viewer is consciously aware of your filmmaking constraints and trying to make excuses while watching the movie in realtime (the FIRST time I saw it, I might add!), your ambitious scene has failed.

I'm giving this scene a participation award.

Not only is this scene frustrating because it could have been so good, but Dear Maude what did they DO to Riley's father in this scene?!?! I've had my quibbles about him making some fairly rookie parenting mistakes, but up to this point he had always been an involved and invested father. Not anymore! For the sake of making the dinner table argument as predictable, simplistic, and easy-to-follow as possible, the screenwriters simply pasted in this incoherent mass of 1950s gender stereotypes that makes NO SENSE with his role in Riley's life and in the majority of the film. It would have made more sense if they'd opened the scene with this:

"Riley my dear, your father—whom this movie has hitherto established as an affectionate, involved & likable parent—had to work late at the startup, so I've inexplicably invited Hipster Ward Cleaver over to have Chinese takeout with us."

"OK, Mom. That totally sounds like a logical thing to do..."

"Huh? Where am I? Who are you? Am I correct in assuming the 21st century is like the Jetsons, and I don't have to worry about any changing social norms or anything? What's this Internet thing I've heard about? Is it really all about ethics in video games journalism?"

Let's remember: this is a pivotal dramatic moment in the breakdown of Riley's support system and her closeness with her family, that then precipitates her rash actions later on. It is essential that this scene resonates, so this is basically the worst possible time to get lazy with fleshing out your characters.

So with that in mind, let's look at the absolute clusterfuck that is Daddy Andersen's "character development." First off, when the family is at the dinner table after Riley's first day of school, we get a moment of brilliant comedy as Riley's father—being the manly man that he is—is hilariously ignoring his clearly upset child in order to fantasize about hockey.


Let's be clear, I'm referring to the screenwriting even more than the parenting.

How the fuck did we go from insightfully beautiful Pixar film to tired-ass '90s family sitcom cliche? WHAT? We are completely chucking out everything I'm supposed to believe about this character for a cheap laugh. And it's not even funny. And I don't mean "that's not funny" as in "I'm offended" or "that's unkind." I literally mean that I did not laugh. This joke was already threadbare TWENTY YEARS AGO. And more than that, this is just plain bullshit. It's an insult to actual good fathers everywhere. I've already talked about the Sitcom Dad trope and how it is demeaning to women, so this time let's talk about how it is demeaning to men (spoiler alert: the solution to this is not that women should just stop complaining and accept the patriarchy because everyone is equally miserable. 1: this situation still in aggregate makes women more miserable, and 2: I want social norms that aren't designed to make anyone miserable!).

Let's reiterate that at this juncture of the movie, Riley looks like this:

And I'm supposed to believe her loving father, with whom she is very close, is sitting THREE FEET AWAY from this and doesn't get that something is wrong? He isn't concerned about her well-being? He doesn't think this is a situation that merits his attention?

I have a good father. Good fathers are friends of mine. And you, sir, are no good father!

No, Patriarchy, men are not such emotionally barren sports-obsessed oafs that they will ignore their own children at an obviously critical moment in their lives. This not only saddles women with having to pick up the slack for emotionally lazy partners or discourages them from seeking support, it also actively discourages men from getting closer to their families and understanding the most important people in their lives. It shames fathers who might otherwise be invested in being full participants in domestic life, coddles fathers who consider their roles "babysitting," and insults those fathers (like my own) who are, stereotypes-be-damned, actually emotionally and intellectually present for their children.

Perhaps the absurdity of this situation would be best illustrated by a mealtime counterexample... you see, my mom and I love to go out to lunch and my dad is not really an out-to-lunch sort of guy. Sometime in the course of my adolescence, Mom and I developed this habit of checking our teeth at restaurants, where we would turn to each other and ask "Iiiiis eeeeveryyythiiiiing all riiiiiiiight?" to which the other would (hopefully) respond, "Oh, yeeees, do you agreeeee?" while basically looking like this:

Then one day, we were at the Blue Bayou at Disneyland, which is one of the relatively rare occasions where our whole family eats out rather than at home. At the end of the meal Mom and I did our usual "Iiiiis eeeeveryyythiiiiing all riiiiiiiight?" at which point Dad becomes quite confused and asks (with evident concern!) "What? Is something not all right? What's wrong?" Mom and I have no idea what he's even asking about before we realize that he hasn't been initiated into the Sacred Rituals of Restaurant Teeth-Checking, and we (through giggles) explain that this is just the routine spinach-in-the-teeth-check.

The terror is real, you guys. The terror is real.

Anyway, let's recap...

Actual good father, hearing somewhat cryptic conversations at the table about whether things are all right: "Something could be wrong! This merits my attention and concern!"

Cheap sitcom cut-out sock father character, faced with this:

"Eh, nothing here looks like I could possibly need to pay attention to my surroundings. Let's put on the game!"

On top of which, has it seriously not occurred to him before this to ask how Riley's day at school was? Is this man not HER FATHER?! Even through all the stresses of running a startup, he is still supposed to be a human being with human emotions. Anyone, parent or not, can figure out that starting a new school is going to be a huge deal for an 11-year-old kid. How is this not foremost in his mind? Hasn't he been wondering about this all day? And then look how insincerely he asks Riley about school: it's like he's never had a conversation with her before! Growing up, I never understood why movie & TV characters seemed to hate the "how was your day at school?" question, because when my parents asked this, which was typical mid-afternoon conversation around our house, they were—and this'll blow your mind—ACTUALLY INTERESTED IN MY DAY. And this was just for mundane everyday stuff (not like moving to a whole new school!!), and then we'd watch Bill Nye the Science Guy. Here, I've illustrated myself trying to imagine me having a major life change and my Dad not thinking to ask about it:

But of course, when Daddy Andersen does actually engage, things get even worse! So much worse, in fact, that they'll require an entire new post to deconstruct them...

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About the Author

Satiricalifragilistic grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and The Little Mermaid was the first movie she ever saw in theaters at age 3. Her mother flatly refused to let her leave the theater when Ursula got huge and terrifying, and maybe that explains her troubled psyche.

While she'll admit to being an inveterate nitpicker, she firmly believes in loving a piece of art even while criticizing it, and in the importance of engaging critically with what she loves. She has special contempt for anyone who tries to claim the politics in Disney films don't matter because "they're just movies," because she knows exactly how much the Disney Canon influenced her little gradeschool self—for good and for ill!

She loves art, design, music, dancing, movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and British comedy...expect a lot of these to turn up in her reviews and mashups!