Animator of “Frozen” says female characters must be pretty and sensitive

From The MarySue:

When I saw this quote circulating around Tumblr last night I assumed it was made up. Did Lino DiSalvo, Frozen‘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.

Here’s the quote:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — 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 (Kristen Bell) being angry.


I’m going to throw up. There you have it, the whole reason for the Minority Feisty. There’s basically one type of girl. What can you possibly do with 2, or 3, or 4, or more in a story? How can they all be different? A girl is a girl is a girl, right?

When storytellers challenge the dominance of the Minority Feisty, they will be forced to challenge the sexism and stereotypes that support allowing just one female character– or a tiny minority of them– in a story as well i.e. “Don’t all angry females look the same?” This is why, obviously, the Minority Feisty trope is so pernicious and has stuck around for so long. Change her, change everything.

It’s disturbing that DiSalvo’s sexist mindset is typical of those who have the massive power to create and distribute stories to a new generation of children. A mindset, by the way, that has been dictating stories, and who and what heroes are, through history, art, religion, and politics, for thousands of years.

Who’s ready for a new story? I sure am.

21 thoughts on “Animator of “Frozen” says female characters must be pretty and sensitive

  1. Pingback: Help! I’m obsessed with Disney’s ‘Frozen’. | In Motion.

  2. Dear animators at disney, please re-watch sleeping beauty, and then tell us again how it’s difficult to animate the expressions of make more than one female character. Maybe that story has other problems, but it does feature no less than six major female characters who never look alike over thousands of frames.

    • Hmn. I would argue that it’s a question of character design with Sleeping Beauty and 2D vs. 3D animation. The three fairies Merryweather, Flora, and the one whose name I never remember represent three distinct personality types and they are drawn differently from the start. I do think the more regal characters, the queen, Maleficent, and Aurora do look a little similar but they don’t share the screen very often because of the way the movie is structured and there’s no reason for them to ever have the same emotional response to the same scene. And of course, Aurora and the queen are the only characters who are related.

    • Uhhh… from what I’ve read from animators who worked on Sleeping Beauty, Aurora was very difficult to draw and animate convincingly. That’s why they got a brilliant animator like Marc Davis (who is known for his excellent design abilities as well as animation) to lead the character. And poor Milt Khal was stuck with the boring prince (ever notice how in the Disney “princess” classics the men are either boring or there for comic relief?).

      Animation is hard. Animating realistic or semi-realistic characters is harder, CGI or hand drawn.

  3. I didn’t see it the same way you did but this quote annoyed me because I took it to mean that as a protagonist (male or female) the character is meant to go through a range of emotions.

    But a male character doesn’t need to look perfect all the time so they can go slightly off model to create a wide range of expressions and the “problem” with the female is that her face has to be contained in a more rigid ideal, having to be pretty all the time (no matter how she feels) and pushing her expression might tarnish her perfect prettiness.

  4. Pingback: Boycott Disney’s Film “Frozen” | Fem It Up!

  5. What he says is entirely true. If you ever actually animated before or knew the slightest thing about the animation process, you’d know that.

    It’s not a “sexist” comment at all and you and these other bloggers are blowing an innocent quote about a technical animation issue way out of proportion.

    • Disney went out of its way to properly animate rapunzel’s hair, one of the most difficult things possible. Disney is also known to be able to showcase a full range of emotions in female and male characters from the beginning of its existence. You cannot tell me more than 2 distinguishable female characters with emotions are beyong their abilities or budget.

        • Hair is incredibly difficult to do in CGI animation. What Disney and Pixar did on Tangled and Brave are incredible technical achievements. That’s why its talked about so much. It has nothing to do with sexism.

          • Hi Animator,

            Huh, I haven’t read much about this kind of attention going to the hair of male characters.


          • Again, hair was very important to Tangled and male characters tend to have shorter hair that requires less animation as it’s not really flowing in the wind as much. But I do remember hearing about how they animated Sully’s hair in Monsters. Inc. And of course, if media outlets are going to focus on the hair, that’s no fault of the animators.

          • “Huh, I haven’t read much about this kind of attention going to the hair of male characters.”

            That’s because males have… well… less hair so there’s less to do.

            Rapunzel had A LOT of hair and it was central to her character. It was also touched by the characters, wrapped around objects, and waved around a lot.

            That’s difficult enough to do in hand-drawn animation but in CG animation it’s a nightmare and it’s incredibly impressive how well the Disney team pulled it off.


            Merida’s hair is curly and bouncy and was almost a “character” it it’s own right as well. Again, very tough to pull off in CG.

            Hair, fur, and cloth are the most difficult things to pull of on a CGI production. They have whole teams dedicated to hair, fur, and cloth simulations.

            Ever notice how on a lot of CGI TV shows (“Sofia the First” to pick a random one) the characters have hair and cloth that look like they’re made out of rubber instead of individual strands? And all the animals have no fur?

            That’s because it’s so time consuming just to do the simplest hair or cloth simulation. It eats up the budget.

      • To be fair, it’s Rapunzel, and with the changes they made to the character in Tangled it makes sense that the hair would be a lot of work. And they never say it was beyond their abilities or budget. They just said it was difficult. And they aren’t just two random female characters but sisters in a movie that has a unified art style (one that I happen to think is too simple as I miss the character that 2D animation brought to character designs and animation).

  6. Two female hero characters is not difficult, it’s only difficult if you’re using one basic type of female character.

    They also could’ve made the sidekick reindeer, Sven female instead of male. Making the reindeer character female could bring in another type of female character in the movie. Most sidekick characters in Disney Princess movies, and other Disney movies for that matter, are male and having a female sidekick character would be change of pace for the company. The female characters who aren’t villains don’t all have to be pretty, sensitive, or passive.

    Making the reindeer female would also make for an interesting female animal character. Human female characters are lacking in fictional media, but female animal characters are even more lacking in fictional media.

    Making the reindeer female would also make him more accurate to the species because male reindeer begin to grow antlers in February and shed their antlers in November whereas female reindeer begin to grow antlers in May and keep their antlers until they shed them next May. The movie takes place in the winter months, so Sven should’ve been female.

    The sidekick snowman, Olaf could’ve also been female-gendered. In other words, there would be a “snowoman” or “snowlady” instead.

  7. I don’t think I’m seeing what you’re seeing in that quote. For me, I read it as him saying that “historically speaking” they’ve been taught to animate female characters as displaying more emotions than male characters so in carrying on this tradition it was a lot of work to animate two female characters. And since a movie needs to have a unified style and the two female characters in this movie are sisters (and it has that awful generic Tangled look… but I’m getting sidetracked) they had to take care to make their expressions different. I don’t see how this is related to the Minority Feisty.

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