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Lines Drawn On Disney/Pixar's Women Problem

By Kristy Puchko | Miscellaneous | March 18, 2015 |


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Disney has been doing well by betting big on female-fronted films like Frozen and Cinderella. But the House of Mouse is coming under fire for its apparent edict on how animated heroines MUST be portrayed.

Tumblr user Something Classy noticed a disheartening trend in Disney/Pixar’s designs of female characters when compared to male characters. Take a look below:

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Even a cursory glance reveals that the men of Disney/Pixar movies are allowed a variety of face shapes and expressions. The womenfolk on the other hand have a uniform button nose and very similar face shapes. Something Classy makes this clearer with some simple tracing:

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This criticism isn’t exactly new. When Frozen hit, some took issue that Anna and Elsa essentially looked just like Tangled’s Rapunzel with a variant paint job and new ‘do. But an unfortunate comment from a Disney animator suggested a none-too-sublte agenda in these designs. Lino DiSalvo, the head animator on Frozen infamously said:


“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

Basically it boils down to this: Disney seems to demand its heroines look pretty, even when they’re experiencing ugly feels. My educated guess as to why: Little girls prefer pretty dolls. So pretty heroines make for more successful movie merchandizing.

The motive may well be purely capitalist, but the effect is sexist. This promotes to girls the idea that it’s not enough to be strong, or brave or superpowered, you also have to be pretty. Sure, not all of these heroines care about their looks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pretty. But this tiresome trend isn’t the only problem with Disney’s implied “keep it cute” directive. The other is it makes for less exciting animation.

Consider the works of Hayao Miyazaki, where characters transform from things of beauty to disturbing beasts. Consider older Disney characters like Ursula, Maleficent, or Lady Tremaine, vilenesses who all broke the mold. These cartoon characters may no be “pretty,” but they are nonetheless beloved and in some instances all the more iconic.

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Even if the arguably unintended sexism of Disney/Pixar’s heroine conformity doesn’t bother you, the constraints on the creativity of their animators should. Breaking the beauty standards of these characters could only make for more possibility and fresher designs, instead of female characters who look more and more like copies of copies of copies.

Basically, I’m not sharing Something Classy’s revelation to yuck the yum of Disney or Pixar movies. They are fucking fantastic, and I’m a big fan. Which is why I’m hoping this studio that so often pushes the boundaries on animation will stop stifling the creativity of its incredible animators. And hey, maybe a bonus is we teach kids that there’s more than one way to be beautiful?

Kristy Puchko lives in perpetual fear that ice cream will become self-aware New York City.


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