Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Disney's Ugly Princesses (Just Kidding. Pretty Is A Requirement. On the Record.)

This is the bottom half of one of the new Frozen posters. (Ugh)
Sometimes I want to change the name of this blog to Oh No They Didn't! but that's already taken...

(Coincidentally, I was preparing a two-part post on other controversies centering around Frozen that are affecting the public's opinion of fairy tales - slushee indeed...)

So here's the news out of Disney, originally posted in a 50 Things You May Not Know About Frozen article (intended as a publicity "cast-interview" and peek behind the scenes) but certain excerpts were quickly reposted (& shredded) by Tumblr, then quoted and well summarized HERE by Cartoon Brew:
Disney’s Frozen won’t be released theatrically for another month-and-half, but it’s already melting into one giant slushee of controversy. Some people have chosen to boycott the film because of the chauvinist revisions to its storyline. But the real shitsnowstorm of controversy started from within the studio after Lino DiSalvo, the head of animation on Frozenclaimed that it was “really, really difficult” to animate women because they have to be kept pretty while expressing emotions:
“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.”

Disney did NOT just confirm "pretty" as the most desirable attribute in their female leads, did they?
Yeah they did.
✒ ✒ ✒  ✒ (click the "Read more" link below this line) ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ 

Outspoken femme-inists, geek girls everywhere (& a whole lot of decent guys), are NOT happy right now (include me somewhere in that mix would you?):
When I saw this quote circulating around Tumblr last night I assumed it was made up. Did Lino DiSalvoFrozen‘s head of animation, really say that animating female characters is difficult because they’re so “sensitive” and “you have to keep them pretty”? Unlike male characters, who are far, far more stoic than we emotional womenfolk, amirite? But no. It appears that this is a legit thing that he actually said. 
Lino DiSalvo obviously knows more about animation than I do, so surely there’s some kernel of something in this statement that means it’s not solely a giant ball of sexist WTF-ery. Right? Right?! (The Mary Sue)

And I haven't even touched on the "role models for little girls" issue.

Here's an apropos visual:
Slush(ee) of controversy indeed... (Sorry I can't slow the blinking down)
To be fair, there is a technical consideration to this, which Cartoon Brew does attempt to point out:
In fairness to DiSalvo, I get what he’s saying as an animator. Female characters in animation typically have a more limited range of facial expressions than their male counterparts, and they are caricatured only in villainous (think Cruella de Vil or Medusa in The Rescuers) or comedic contexts. Even Golden Age Disney animators complained about being assigned princesses and other female leads because they were expected to keep these characters within a predictable range of acting. Put two on the screen at the same time, and it becomes an instant challenge.
But really it comes down to this:
But DiSalvo’s comments about women having to look pretty and having a limited range of expression are not inherent rules within animation; they are arbitrary aesthetic choices that have been handed down from one generation of Disney animators to the next. Feature film animators choose to use a recycled palette of expressions and they choose to portray woman as cardboard cutouts because directors choose to make these type of films—and entertainment companies profit handsomely when they do. (Cartoon Brew)
If you need further proof, check the Merida makeover debacle (that Disney still haven't officially withdrawn/apologized for). Merida - wild, wonderful, willful and WHITE was beloved by girls and their mothers the world over for how refreshingly different she was from the canon. And then came the marketing. With a makeover. Slimmer, bigger eyes, bustier, salon-worthy locks, evenly complexioned, and more color in her irises and cheeks.. oh and a princess dress (that the actual Merida would have hated) and sparkle, sparkle, sparkle! (Disneyland/World Merida is sticking with the made-over by the way). She was loved (despite being white) and, despite being cuter than many a child could ever hope to be, that still wasn't pretty good enough (according to Disney dollar expectations).

And it affects anyone who's working with fairy tales.

This is one of the drawbacks of becoming a visually driven society (something which I'm usually happy about, by the way). Recent market research has shown that visuals currently affect and reflect more communication between people and companies as well as drive consumerism, more than any other form of information (the percentage difference between visual influence and word influence is astonishing. Even texting, which uses words - or at least letters - is more of a visual medium now than a written one).
If one form of a visual (eg an apple, a dishwashing liquid or a princess) dominates, it affects everything related to that image, which is why Disney attempts to eradicate all other forms of a public domain tale by way of merchandising - if their images come to represent the standard for tale (that product) then they get your money. (It's genius really. Bordering on evil, but still genius).

I don't think it's a coincidence that POC activists have been ranting over this movie (in the form of This Could Have Been Frozen and references to "Tangled in the Snow", among others). The female lead aesthetics at Disney, in particular, are bothering a lot of us (and it's my personal belief that the trends in using CG as a medium have amped the problem beyond what it already was, but that's another topic). The look of "a fairy tale heroine" has become so formulaic (giant eyes, perky lips, cheekbones, heart shaped face, slim, slim, slim) they're now just... bland. Frankly, one of the quickest ways to shake that up is to add ethnicity to the mix and if that's what it takes, then go for it. It's a lousy reason by itself though. Clearly there are other issues on how Disney views women and female leads and that would ultimately just be transferred to POC heroines as well.

They say there's no such thing as bad publicity. Although that aphorism has historically seemed true, as far as "product" is concerned, I'm not sure it holds true anymore (especially when you see the numbers Disney requires for a film to be considered a success). There are bound to be truly wonderful and fantastic things about Frozen (and I honestly wish I could consider it without the fairy tale attachment it has, because that definitely muddies things for me). It has the potential to be a fun, snowy adventure film but already so much of it feels contrived. On top of that, "pretty" does not a good film make (I'm including shiny effects in that definition), and, as a movie overall, it will have to do some serious convincing for me to see it as "good". (Please don't misunderstand me: I hope it IS good. I'm just not seeing any signs of it being a solid and resonant movie. It feels... formulaic. And fluffy. :/ )

I still can't believe someone working at Disney Features actually said that quote out-loud and in the presence of a reporter! What were they thinking?! (Probably best you don't answer that.)

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