The Problem With Princesses

If you’ve read my thoughts on Moana and Frozen, you know that I am done with new Disney Princess movies. I find that Disney is too focused on making their princess features as marketable and politically correct as possible, at the detriment of telling original, interesting stories and complex characters. But lately I realized that my disdain of new Disney Princesses is a symptom of a larger problem I’ve noticed: the overabundance of princess characters in media.

Princess Peach. Princess Zelda. Xena, Warrior Princess. Princess Serenity. Princess Sally Acorn. Princess Allura. Princess Diana of Themyscira. Princess Leia. Princess Bubblegum (and all the countless princesses in the land of Ooo). Even the great Miyazaki has some of his female characters be princesses when they could easily be ordinary girls. This is just a small sampling of the many, many, MANY princess characters in media aimed at kids. You can find a (possibly incomplete) list HERE. After looking at that list, what did you notice they all seem to have in common?

That, if they are in media aimed at boys, the princess is sometimes the ONLY prominent female character, and if they’re in media aimed at girls, it’s the princess who is the most important character out of all the other girls.

This is a problem for a few reasons. The biggest reason to me being the sheer lack of other roles female characters in kids media get. Boys can be soldiers, knights, kings, pilots, scientists, adventurers, speedsters, plumbers, and even complete average joes and still be important and heroes. Girls by and large still tend to only get the role of princesses, especially if they’re the main female character. Obviously, not ALL kid’s media shoehorns their female protagonists into the role of the princess, but it goes to show that, in a lot of instances, the first instinct is to make her a princess and not, well, anything else.

Let’s go back to Disney for a bit. Take a look at all the Disney Animated Canon films that center on human female characters: Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen and Moana (Aladdin doesn’t count because Jasmine is not the focus on the film, and I hesitate to include Lilo & Stitch because Stitch gets all the marketing focus and he carries the central plot). Out of 56 films released so far, only 12 films have female characters as the central protagonist, and with one exception, they’re all princess films. Meanwhile, Disney male heroes get a much wider range of roles like it’s no big deal. (No surprise: most of my most fave Disney movies are male-led because of this.)

There are two other problems with the princess trope. One of them being the sheer lack of positive QUEEN roles. Queens in media are either nonexistent, villains, or only provide a tiny supportive role. In either case, it’s the princess’s father who is more important. There are also situations where the princess is the only person in charge and her parents are either dead or out of commission, but she still doesn’t go by the title of queen. This is still apparently a problem today; in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Luna and Celestia were supposed to be queens, but the marketing team intervened to have them be called princesses instead. The princess role isn’t really that empowering the more you think of it (it’s a role you are assigned at since birth and you’re expected to look and act a certain way as you find a husband) but at least as a queen you get some real power. Apparently that’s too much for some people.

And finally, my big problem with the princess trope is that it kind of reinforces that only princesses get to be beautiful and important. In some cases, the princess character can be harder to sympathize with because they come from a place of immense privilege. Why should I care if you want more when you have everything you could possibly want? But more than anything, any other female character in the princess’s respective media gets left out in the cold so the audience and other characters can coo over her.

I feel like now is the time to introduce girls to other types of female characters. Show them that the they can be more than just princesses. Give us female knights, pilots, explorers, scientists and blue collar workers. Give ordinary, everyday girls the fantasy that they can save the world.

And of course, let’s have more female rulers that aren’t princesses. In a world where women still struggle to be in positions of power, I think it’s about time we show girls that it’s better to be a president than a princess.

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The Current State of Animation and How We Got Here

It’s the New Year! Am I officially out of hiatus? Not quite. But I have gotten some inspiration back.

Animation has struggled to be taken seriously for a long time, but people forget at the very beginning it was seen as a legitimate art form. The Golden Age of Animation (1920’s and 1930’s) was a time when the medium thrilled audiences of all ages for its ability to show literally anything. You could show action sequences that would be impossible to do with real people, offer political and social commentary, and get away with showing more risqué or scary content. But as the decades passed a chain reaction led to animation’s current state of frequently being seen as kid’s stuff, at least in North America.

First, the Hays Code eventually started to enforce censorship on animation, neutering them. There’s a great Prezi on the history of animation and the Hays Code HERE. This affected feature animation as well. The earliest Disney animated films could get pretty dark, but as time went on they adopted a softer image that ultimately made the edgier theatrical short obsolete. When animated shows became more prolific on television during after school hours, parents groups demanded that they be as kid friendly as possible, launching a plague of cheap animation in the 1970’s. The reinforcement of animation as a kids medium began to rear it’s ugly head in the 80’s, with animated shows being made mostly to sell toys. Animated films were few and far between.

The 1990’s was probably one of the better decades for the medium, with Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. creating a plethora of well written and nice looking shows and movies…but they were all family friendly. There was also a distinct lack of competition during this time as well.

Come the 2000’s and there was a boom of cartoons from different studios. Some shows were crap, but there were also true classics like Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack, Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, and more. Again, though, they were all family friendly. The only animation for adults were crudely drawn comedies at night. Film animation was still struggling as it was mostly a battlefield between Pixar and DreamWorks.

As for our current decade of the 2010’s? I think it’s a mixed bag. Disney TV has proven successful, with hits like Gravity Falls, Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, Wander Over Yonder, and the new Tangled series. Nickelodeon has been dragging Spongebob Squarepants through the ground, and messed up the scheduling of the better received Legend of Korra. Cartoon Network is practically nothing but Teen Titans Go! aired ad nauseam. For some information on the state of TV animation, I highly recommend Saberspark’s videos. You can find his channel HERE, where he has info on the history and decline of the most prominent cartoon channels in America.

For animated films, it’s great that now there’s now a lot more competition than in the 2000’s, but I feel like since animation is more profitable than ever too many movies are made at too fast a pace. While Disney is doing better than ever and smaller animation studios are crafting some truly awesome films, Illumination, Sony, Blue Sky, and even DreamWorks have garnered a negative reputation for churning out mediocre to downright crappy films several times a year that offer no nutritional value for anyone over the age of 12. It seems that one year we’ll have a bunch of quality animated films only to be followed by a conga line of crap the next year.

At any rate, the damage has been done: too many studio executives see animation as something to make a quick buck out of kids and produce them as quick and cheaply as possible, not caring about actual quality. Now awards ceremonies and most of the general public see it as well.

I was originally going to make a list of animated films that are honest to god works of art to check out instead, but the list was getting too long! (Basically what you really need to know is that you need to forget everything bad you associate with DreamWorks and go watch The Prince of Egypt and Pinocchio is probably the best Disney animated film ever.) Instead, I’ll leave you off with this:

It will probably be several decades until animation is no longer considered cheap or kid’s stuff, so in order to make any real change, you have to actually SUPPORT quality animation whenever you can. Be selective of what you take your kids to in theaters, and don’t be afraid to buy the Blu Ray of that foreign cartoon. Don’t just complain on the situation and do nothing about it. Animation is a legitimate art form, and we need to make production companies realize that with your wallet.

 

How Coco Succeeded Where Moana Failed

Okay since it’s the last day of 2017 I want to finish the year on a high note with what little writing inspiration I have. Be warned for Coco spoilers!

So, as I’ve made it abundantly clear, I don’t like Moana. At all. Whenever I watch Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 I cry over how they’re so much better and lament on how I was hoping Moana would join their ranks of my ultimate faves. Alas, it was not meant to be.

But, I have found a new Disney movie that filled the void left by Moana. That film is Coco.

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For this movie I kept my expectations relatively low given the controversy surrounding it. Once it came out and it got a more welcome reception I decided to see it, and man, it is so good. Probably Pixar’s second best movie (after Up) and the best animated film of 2017.

So how did Coco fill the void Moana left?

Well, my biggest problem with Moana was the fact that the titular character is…kind of a Mary Sue. She lives a charmed life on an island where everyone adores her and she’s set to be the chief, is chosen to save the world, is able to outsmart and outrun monsters, and helps not one but TWO gods…but she feels like something is wrong with her because she wants to go sailing. Oh the horror. But don’t worry we’ll have contrived moments where we’re made to doubt about her legitimacy as a navigator and the chosen one, and she’ll turn out to be exactly right in the end.

Well, it turns out that the reason why her conflict is supposed to be so major is because, as one commentator pointed out to me, in Polynesia respect for your family and elders is paramount. You’re supposed to carry on the traditions of your family, and you need to be obedient to your parents. So, okay, that would make sense for Moana to feel conflicted if that was the case. The only problem?

THE MOVIE DOESN’T ESTABLISH THIS. Like for all the praise the movie gets for honoring Polynesian culture it couldn’t be assed to explain a VERY important custom and plot point. Because we, as the audience, aren’t informed of how important family piety is in Moana’s culture, her relationship with her father and her central conflict just come across as angsty for no reason. But again, Moana turns out to be EXACTLY right in the end because lo and behold navigating was part of her culture’s tradition all along.

And this is where Coco succeeds. We understand Miguel’s plight better because we know WHY it would be a huge deal for him. He has actual talent and passion for music, which has been forbidden from his family after his great-great-grandfather left the family to pursue it. And the movie shows us how important family is in Mexican culture in an organic manner because of how significant Miguel’s family members are to him (not just the one grandma who understands him). Therefore, we understand WHY his conflict is a big issue, and how it ties in with the story and world-building.

Adding to this, the characters in Coco are MUCH more likable than in Moana. Miguel is a sweet twelve year old boy who learns throughout the movie how important family and remembering the ones before him is, and is ultimately able to use music not to pursue his own interests, but to use it to bring his family together. Hector is a sympathetic and lovable companion who genuinely cares for Miguel and his family. Imelda starts off rather stubborn and strict but learns that reconnecting with your roots and loved ones is more important than holding a ban on music. And Ernesto is a chillingly realistic villain, who can be genuinely affable but ultimately puts fame and fortune above everyone else. And of course the character of Coco herself is the heart and soul of the movie. I can get attached to these characters more because Miguel’s central conflict is better established and goes through more natural development, and Hector isn’t an asshole companion.

You’re probably wondering why I feel it is necessary to compare these specific films. Well, that’s because they’re both meant to be authentic representations of non-white/non-American cultures made accessible to a worldwide audience. And because Coco actually takes the time to establish how significant family and music are in Mexican culture and weave it into the story, I walk out of the movie feeling like I’ve actually gotten a celebration of a different culture than mine. Moana felt like another by-the-numbers Princess movie with a different culture tacked on for diversity points. They’ll show you how they eat and dance and bits of their mythology, but they’ll spend most of the movie in the open ocean and not explore important customs that crucially explain parts of the story.

Happy New Year! Hope to get back to you soon to write about The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse!

Hiatus

Hey guys, it’s been a pretty rough couple of weeks. I’ve been feeling really tired from school (which includes field work) and I’ve found myself deleting a lot of posts I had just published over not feeling proud of them. The news of John Lasseter in particular really wore me down.

I want to use this blog for what I do best: analysis. And unfortunately my analytical brain has been kind of spent.

So with that in mind, consider this blog on hiatus for awhile. I want to refuel so I can feel truly inspired to write here. I hope to be back refreshed for the new year. That might not happen until school ends (I finish in May), so be patient.

In the meantime, check out my twitter for my thoughts on the latest media news. It’s easier to write quick thoughts there than try to make a post here.

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you soon,

Laura.

 

The Failure of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure: What This Means

So I went to see Coco yesterday and I absolutely loved it. It is easily on par with Up and Toy Story 3 and proof that there’s hope for Pixar yet. There was an audience applause when the movie ended. When I get it on Blu Ray I’ll definitely be sure to write more about it (I want to see it again already) but right now I want to talk about something else: the short that preceded it, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

This short, originally meant to air as a TV special, was suddenly placed in front of Coco, the unfortunate implication being that Disney did not have faith that a movie led by non white (and non American) people would do very well. Considering how much of a success this movie has proven to be already, beating out Justice League and becoming the highest grossing movie of all time in Mexico, it seems that this move was unnecessary.

And boy was it unnecessary because people fucking hate this short, drawing a slew of complaints from its 21 minute run time to its mediocre story and songs. It got so bad that it will be pulled from theaters in Coco‘s third weekend.

When I watched this short, I will admit I found it funny (one point honestly had me laughing out loud), but the characters have just gotten worse. I was actually rooting for Olaf to die at one point, and Elsa kept apologizing for EVERYTHING, even when it wasn’t her fault. My sister pointed out that the dialogue between her and Anna is sickeningly sweet and trite, not like something real sisters would say to each other. In other words, Anna and Elsa are less characters and more like cutouts for little girls to coo over. (My mental health side is saying “Elsa you’re STILL not better get the hell out of Arendelle”.)

So with the reaction towards the short, it looks like people are sick of Frozen. The first movie may still be relatively well received, but nobody needs to see this story continued, especially when it’s forced in your face.

The thing is, ultimately, Frozen isn’t a classic. It was a fad. Take a look at The Incredibles. That movie is 13 years old and it is still fondly remembered and the hype for a sequel NEVER died out. Now that the sequel has been announced the world is rejoicing. That movie is a definite classic.

But with Frozen, it’s been less that five years, any demand for a sequel has diminished significantly, and people are starting to realize that less and less effort is being put into the franchise. Too much time has passed since the first Frozen, and people have moved on to Disney’s other films, with demands for a Big Hero 6 sequel still going strong.

But I think the main problem is that Disney tried to treat this one singular movie like it was the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has a whole media franchise dedicated to it that released tons and tons of material while Disney’s other movies that are also very popular get next to nothing. You know how people got sick of the Minions after their faces were slapped on every single solitary product imaginable and taking the focus away from the rest of Despicable Me? This is what’s happening with Frozen.

From the beginning I knew Frozen 2 was never going to be as successful as the first movie, but now I’m starting to think that it might be Disney’s first actual failure in a long time. I’m especially worried that Disney’s not going to put any real effort into the sequel and try to rush it out in time to appease the remaining fans and little girls.

I guess we’ll ultimately have to see what happens, but Disney better be prepared for the sequel to not do very well and realize that they shouldn’t have propped the first movie up on so high a pedestal. They ran the movie into the ground, and now audiences have moved on. If their franchise ends on a bad note, they have no one to blame but themselves.

 

The Success of Baymax Returns: What This Means

According to Broadway World, Baymax Returns, the pilot for the upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, was a huge hit, garnering 2.2 million views when it first premiered on television and at least 12,800+ people watched it on the DisneyNOW App. It was also the #1 show debut for DisneyXD in ratings.

So what can we infer from this?

Well, it definitely shows that the love for Big Hero 6 is still alive and well. The show will definitely keep the hype going for how long it takes for a sequel. However, it also shows that the primary audience is going to be children rather than adult fans.

To be honest, that was pretty much the impression I got watching the pilot. Kids seem to love it (especially boys) but it got mixed reviews from older fans; I myself didn’t really like it because the plot is just absolutely ludicrous and it messed up the epilogue from the first movie. So this brings me to my biggest concern: is this show going to be canon, or just filler?

My guess is…probably filler. Not only are kids the primary audience, but they seem to be the only people who have actually heard about the show (beyond hardcore fans). When I meet people in real life who loved the movie and want a sequel, they act surprised when I tell them there’s going to be a series. There’s also the fact that a lot of shows based on Disney animated hits are typically ignored by supplementary and promotional material (I think I read somewhere that, if you ask a Face Character at the parks about anything related to a direct to video sequel or series, they’ll tell you it was just a dream). The fact that there’s zero continuity between the end of the first movie and the pilot kind of gives away that what I’m watching is probably not meant to be taken as gospel. I guess it will depend on whether the sequel takes place immediately after the first movie (and therefore renders the series moot) or skips ahead a few years to a more grown up Hiro (and therefore you can choose to consider the series canon or not).

At the end of the day, I think the series is basically meant to help appease fans and keep up hype for a sequel more than anything. Sort of similar to Tangled: The Series gives the fans something and continues the success of the first movie (even if in this case there very likely won’t be a sequel). And to be honest, that’s not a bad idea. It acknowledges that the movie is successful and helps create a bigger demand for it without being forceful. Whereas Frozen is being forced down everyone’s throats by playing two shorts before movies (one of them being a whopping 21 minutes long) and filling every corner of stores with it in order to remind people to see the sequel. Kind of proves Frozen was a fad, but Big Hero 6 will have a lasting impact.

Will I see the series? I’ll probably tune in for the first few episodes and see how I like it. Right now I’m mostly worried about the new Professor character giving Hiro too hard a time (and there’s one character who’s supposed to be an ‘antagonist rival’ to Hiro that does not sound appealing at all). But we’ll see. The main thing for me is that the first movie was popular and beloved enough to not be swept away, and that’s what matters most.

Compare and Contrast: Elsa and Cinderella

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Cinderella gets a really bad rap nowadays. I think a lot of it is due to how she’s marketed, where there’s more of a focus on her being pretty and feminine over any actual personality or talent she has. When people, particularly feminists, bring up everything wrong with Disney, she is usually the character they refer to.

When people bring up a Disney princess who they think is ‘feminist’, for the longest time they turned to Elsa from Frozen (and I’m guessing they still do, since Moana hasn’t nearly gotten the amount of praise Elsa has).

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I think it’s getting to the point where Elsa might be ousting Cinderella’s place as the most iconic Disney Princess. To a lot of people, Elsa is the modern woman, whereas Cinderella is the outdated doormat.

After looking at more analyses of Cinderella’s character, I can’t help but want to compare/contrast the two. In some ways, Elsa feels like a reboot of Cinderella, down to the similar palette and glitter. But, for me at least, it doesn’t work out too well.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look.

THE CHARACTER AND COSTUME DESIGN

Take a closer look at the above designs. You can tell that Cinderella is a young woman, but also physically mature. She has a face and body appropriate for a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She may be skinny, sure, but for the most part she’s realistically proportioned (her eyes don’t take up half of her face).

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And this is Elsa:

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Does this look like someone who’s 21 to you? Let alone a character who’s supposed to have the title of Queen? The body is about right, but the huge eyes and large, rounded face make her look really babyish.

Why does this matter? Well, at each point in their movies, Cinderella and Elsa get to wear their iconic dresses that represent their freedoms.

When Cinderella puts on her dress, she looks well and truly like a princess: stunning, serene, elegant, mature, respectable. Her outfit flatters her shape without being too sexualized, which is appropriate, since Cinderella is not very sexual. When she wears this outfit, it shows that Cinderella now looks and feels beautiful and important. It’s also appropriate for the occasion: she’s going to a royal ball where she’ll meet her true love. She has the appearance of a mature woman who is finally going to have a good time.

Now take a look at Elsa’s ice dress. Does that really look like the dress a youthful looking 21 year old who has been depressed all her life, is not sexual, and never really indicated that she liked the queenly life would wear if she wanted to be totally free and live in the mountains? That outfit looks more like something an older woman would wear at a very formal event, given how narrow and impractical it is. I get you want to show that Elsa is now a Snow Queen instead of an Arendelle Queen, but wouldn’t loose, flowing robes and bare feet make more sense? Show that she’s now comfortable and free? It’s pretty obvious the dress was designed more for audience appeal than to show Elsa’s character development.

HOW THEY BOTH HANDLE ABUSE AND ISOLATION

Both characters suffer from this. Cinderella’s parents died at an early age, and she was forced to live under the control of her Evil Stepmother, and only had animals for help and companionship. Elsa was raised to be scared of her powers (and herself) by her parents. They’re both pretty much cut off from the outside world. This is where most feminists would claim that Elsa is more feminist because while Elsa seeks to change her situation, Cinderella “waits around for a man to save her” (their words, not mine). But…that’s not accurate.

See, Cinderella is cut off because she’s a young, unmarried woman with no real status and no money. If she tried to run away…where do you think she’s going to go? Beg on the streets? Work as a maid somewhere else? Sure, Elsa runs away, but she ends up going all the way to the mountains, with no food or resources (and the movie shows that if someone wants to go after her, they can and will). For all the praise Elsa gets for being Strong and Independent, she spends most of the movie scared and crying. Which…yeah, is a valid reaction after being isolated for so long, but the problem is that she really makes no means to save herself or try to be a better person. She freezes her sister’s heart and makes no attempt to help her or ask if she’s okay, doesn’t even try to unfreeze the kingdom, and ends up deferring to her sister (who pushed her to run away in the first place).

Like, I wouldn’t mind if people were saying that Elsa proves it’s okay for people to need help, but people are saying Elsa is oh so badass and powerful and strong but she’s really not.

Oh, but you say, how is Cinderella any better?

Well, the thing about Cinderella is that even though she’s abused and alone, she does her best to not let it get to her. She may be sassy and sarcastic, but she’s never mean and doesn’t hurt people or animals, not even those that may wrong her. She is soft, kind hearted and optimistic, knowing that she will be free from her abusive situation (NOT that a man will come save her) if her patience and goodness pays off. She ultimately gets rewarded this with a trip to the ball. She has her moments of weakness, but at the end, she is able to save herself: she works together with her animal friends to escape the locked room and proves she is the girl the Prince danced with by showing the other glass slipper. She PERSEVERES despite all odds. Whereas Elsa melts down at the slightest form of adversity.

For those who still need convincing, please watch this excellent and informative video by ScreenPrism below:

CONCLUSION

At the risk of gaining the ire at other feminists, I would much rather have little girls look up to Cinderella than to Elsa. Cinderella is better designed, is a kinder person, and shows girls that they can make it through even the worst situations and that they’re not totally helpless. While Elsa, on the surface, looks like she’s meant to correct Cinderella’s supposed wrongs by being more active, she ends up being less strong because she gives up easily, ends up putting all her support on her sister, and ends up (intentionally or not) hurting others without properly making up for it.

While I admit that I’m not a HUGE fan of Cinderella, she really is so much better than people give her credit for. She’s not perfect, of course, but for people to dismiss her as a weak doormat while turning around to praise Elsa even though she can also be weak is unfair.

Is there a Disney Princess that is perfectly feminist? No, of course not. But just because Cinderella has a Prince Charming and no fighting skills doesn’t make her any lesser than someone who gets a lot of hype mostly for being single.