Friday, March 20, 2015

Animated Movies Infographic Reveals Disney Is NOT All Over the Map

Disney Palaces and Castles in Movies by M.K. Reddington
(note: Tiana's restaurant is included - not a palace but still a key building)
You can probably get a quick overview of the bias referred to in the post title, just by looking at a selection of the different styles of Disney castles together (created a couple of years ago). Even this small selection of iconic Disney buildings tends to lean very... "West". (They're beautiful but they're not particularly diverse.)

The referenced infographic is ENORMOUS (you can see a small version of it near the bottom of the post) and very interesting to look around in. It's a map of the most popular animated movies  - also known as, the most influential children's films - from a variety of studios, showing the locations each of their films are set in. Disney's films are color coded red.

Why am I putting this on Once Upon A Blog? Because a large percentage of these films are considered fairy tales or overlap with people's definition of fairy tales, this is the overall impression many children are getting of story in general (especially if they're not being read to, or told other tales by family and carers).
At least 50 animated movies are set in North America and close to 40 in Europe.

It should come as no surprise that Disney's movies are "Western-centric, as The Independent calls is, since the people who created them initially were largely American and of European descent (meaning the stories they themselves were most influenced by were European). BUT as time has gone on, society has changed and the workload been distributed more evenly across the ethnic board, little has changed in this representation. Again, not a huge surprise considering the story influences perpetuated in American (and Disney) publishing BUT as more and more animators, story tellers, artists, designers, CG wizards and all round production people making these movies have hailed from places more and more distant and diverse, you would expect the stories being made to reflect that too. Instead it hints largely that the people in charge are making the decisions and what their (narrow) world view is.

Interestingly, the rest of animated cinema reflects the same trend, though not to quite the same extent.
There is a notably heavy concentration of movies in Europe and North America, clearly showing how Western-centric cinema remains. Just four of the most popular animated films of all-time have been set in South America and one of those, Rio 2, is a sequel. 
Only seven are based on African soil and most draw on common perceptions of the continent – The Lion KingMadagascar,Tarzan and The Wild for example. 
Australasia also fares badly, with four films set down under, while Asia boasts a relatively small proportion for its size with eighteen, including MulanThe Jungle BookBig Hero 6Kung Fu Panda and Aladdin.
(FTNH Edit: I don't count Big Hero 6 as taking place in Australasia at all. It's clearly an alternate San Francisco - officially an urban mash-up of Tokyo and San Francisco aka "Japanamerica" - and is discussed that way in the 'making of' interviews as well. The university where key story points are set is likely an alternate MIT as well, so definitely very American).

It's a very telling infographic and should make people sit up and take notice.

Thankfully we are seeing some signs of change recently, and, as with any giant machine, a little change can be the start of a big one. It's just been a long time in coming. For instance: 
Disney is making moves to address the skewed representation of countries in its films, with the first Latina princess, Elena of Avalor announced in January and another, Moana from Oceana revealed last October.
The infographic was created by Slovakian designer, Martin Vargic, known for his Map of the Internet and Map of Stereotypes projects on Halycon Maps. He pinned the 124 most popular animated films onto a world map, color coding each film for the studio that created it (there is a key at the bottom of the map).

Each location mapped was either explicitly stated or shown in the movies, such as in Madagascar, derived from evidence within them, as in Frozen and The Lion King, or taken from the original work in which the movie was based, as in Snow White and Pinocchio. 
Vargic researched the films in detail by reading fan theories and studying where various animal species are geographically distributed. He did not include movies set in radically different worlds such as Treasure Planet and Wreck-It Ralph.
Disney Palaces & Castle Part 2 by M.K. Reddington
(including Elsa's ice castle)
One thing that is very odd to me is to see almost NO animated films set in Russia. I realize this is a "popular animated films" list, and therefore selective, but considering how very many animated films have been made there, (particularly fairy tales! - so very many) with a large percentage of those focusing on Russian tales and literature, it either shows how underexposed the rest of the world is to their animated filmmaking or how insular the industry there is.

Click HERE to read the list of films and their locations. You can also see a huge version of the map there (just click on the link, which will take you to a new page but you will see there's a magnifying glass on that page too. Clicking on that will show you the map at 100% and you will need to move the blue scroll bar at the side AND the bottom of the window to see it all. As I said, it's HUGE.)

There's also this map below with most of the Disney animated movies (ie. just Disney movies) and their locations. Click HERE to read the list of exact locations.
Map by theantilove


  1. I'm surprised there aren't any Russian-derived movies, now that you mention it! Some of the best fairy tales are Russian, or even the standard ones have their Russian versions. I'm reading The Pageant of Russian History for the second time right now, so that's something I'm interested in. I would also really love a Mongolian fairy tale/movie.

    Still, this emphasis on westernism bothers me a bit; I guess because I'm particular sensitive to forced political correctness. Variety in culture and place is beautiful and enriching and one of my favorite interests as a child reading fairy tales (still is an adult), and I want to carry that on with my kids, but. But. Any kind of outside pressure to do this artificially is going to come off . . . well, artificial. Like with Moana, and the South American princess I hadn't heard of yet, it really feels to me like they're just picking plots by picking places on a map; so they can check off a box in their ethnic diversity list. As a creative, I'm very skeptical of that approach. :P

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Gypsy. Have you seen the map Jason Porath is compiling for his Rejected Princesses? I thought it might be of interest. :)